What are the top Illinois graphic design schools for 2023?

Top 10 Illinois Graphic Design School Programs - 2023 College Rankings
1School of the Art Institute of ChicagoChicago
2University of Illinois at ChicagoChicago
3University of Illinois at Urbana – ChampaignChampaign
4Columbia College ChicagoChicago
5Northern Illinois UniversityChicago
6Southern Illinois University CarbondaleCarbondale
7American Academy of Art CollegeChicago
8DePaul UniversityChicago
9Eastern Illinois UniversityCharleston
10Illinois State UniversityNormal

Our 2023 ranking of the top 10 graphic design school programs in Illinois. For an explanation of the ranking criteria, click here.

1. School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
School of the Art Institute of Chicago

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) houses the Visual Communication Design (VCD) Department, which has two pathways to study Graphic Design. At the undergraduate level, students can earn a BFA in Studio with a VCD Focus. At the graduate level the Department has a flexible Studio MFA that allows students to design their own plan of study.

The Continuing Studies Department at SAIC has an additional option for students seeking a shorter program. The Graphic Design Certificate consists of six courses including Introduction to Graphic Design, four studio courses to be selected by the student, and one elective course. Course examples include Digital Design: Adobe InDesign, Color Theory, and Digital Design: Adobe Illustrator.

The Studio BFA with a VCD focus explores physical media (environments, objects and print) and virtual media (interactive and time-based media). Course examples for the program include Symbol Design, Interaction design/Interface Design, Publication Design, Font/Typography Design, Website Design/Cross-Platform Design, Letterpress Printing and Book Binding, Exhibition Design, Environmental Graphics, Poster Design, and Motion Graphics Design.

VCD BFA students are encouraged to complete a Career and Professional Experience (CAPX) internship, and participate in the Fall or Spring Exhibition, and the year-end Visual Communication Design Show. Graduates of the SAIC VCD Program will enter the workforce with a professional portfolio of their best work.

The 60 credit hour Studio MFA is an interdisciplinary program that allows students to explore other SAIC departments such as Film, Video, New Media, and Animation (FVNMA), Designed Objects, Intermedia, Writing, Architecture, Photography, and Interior Architecture. Course examples for the program include Image Studio, Envisioning Information, Package Design, Letterpress Bookworks, Type and Image in Motion, Advanced Typography, 4D Design: Manipulating Media, and Electronic Publications.

A major component of the SAIC Studio MFA is the opportunity to complete a graduate project every semester. MFA students will work one-on-one with a faculty member and they may sign up with artists, writers, and other academics from different SAIC departments. Graduate seminars, such as Form-Configuration-Content and Narrative Architectures, are also part of the program. Successful completion of a Thesis is required to graduate.

Students in all SAIC Design Programs have access to the VCD AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) Chapter, which hosts local visiting designers, tours of Chicago studios, the annual Town Hall AIGA event, and a biannual portfolio preparation seminar. The VCD Department also offers the opportunity for students to participate in Exploratory Languages—the visiting designer lecture series; juror-led student workshops; and jurors’ lectures through the Chicago International Poster Biennial (CIPB).

Graduates of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago are employed at museums, advertising agencies, marketing firms, non-profit organizations, and major companies and studios across the U.S.

Founded in 1866 by a group of 35 artists, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago is one of the nation’s oldest accredited independent schools of art and design. Serving approximately 3,570 students, SAIC offers over 50 areas of study in 24 academic departments. The School of the Art Institute of Chicago is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). Since 1948, the school has been accredited as a charter member by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD).

2. University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
University of Illinois at Chicago

The College of Architecture, Design, and the Arts (CADA) at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) houses the School of Design, home to the Bachelor of Design (BDes) and Master of Design (MDes) Programs. The School of Design also houses a studio-based, interdisciplinary Design Studies BA for students who are interested in studying multiple areas of design. With a focus on collaboration and the human experience in design, the Design Studies BA explores Graphic and Industrial Design, Humanities, and the Sciences. 

The BDes and MDes Programs provide the opportunity to study Graphic Design or Industrial Design. The Graphic Design BDes consists of a Foundation Year, followed by Form + Systems (year two), Expressions + Interactions (year three), and Options (final year). The Foundations Year consists of courses such as Design Drawing, Form Studio, and Color Theory. Year two course examples include Digital Media Design II: Interactivity and III: Motion, Type I: Form and Type II: Systems, and Form + Image Studio. During the third year of the BDES Program, students will take a number of design history courses and advanced courses such as Type III: Dimension, Type IV: Experimentation, Digital Media Design IV: Advanced Interactivity, and Social Media Design.

In the final year of the Graphic Design BDes Program at UIC, students will complete two Senior Design Colloquium courses, Mobile App Design (MAD) I-II, and two Capstones including the Personal Capstone: Graphic Design Thesis I-II and Professional Capstone: Interdisciplinary Product Development.

The Graphic Design MDes at UIC is an intensive, collaborative program that takes two years to complete. Course examples include Advanced Graphic Design I-II, Combined Studio, Graduate Seminar, Documentation Studio, and Research Seminar I-II.

A major component of the Graphic MDes at University of Illinois at Chicago is the study abroad experience. All Chicago-based students will participate in the Basel School of Design summer workshops, which take place at the FHNW HGK Basel Visual Communication Institute in Münchenstein, Switzerland.

Serving nearly 34,000 students, University of Illinois at Chicago is the largest university in the Chicago area and one of the top five largest universities in the state. With roots dating back to 1859, when the Chicago College of Pharmacy was founded, UIC offers more than 250 degree programs and 85 minors across 16 colleges and schools. The University of Illinois at Chicago is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

3. University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign, Champaign, Urbana
University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign

The College of Fine & Applied Arts at University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign (UIUC) houses the School of Art & Design, home to Graphic Design BFA Program. Students in this 122 credit hour program have the option to explore other areas through an interdisciplinary selection of electives such as Advanced Interaction Design, Traditional Printmaking, and Video. Course examples for the program include Design Methods, Graphic Design Toolbox, Interaction Design, Typographic Systems, Graphic Design Inquiry, and Ethics of a Designer in a Global Economy.

Other BFA Program features include dedicated studio spaces, 24/7 access to computer labs, participation in the Annual BFA Exhibition held at UIUC’s Krannert Art Museum, the lecture series, and the Senior Portfolio Review held in Chicago. Graphic Design BFA students also have the opportunity to join the AIGA Student Chapter, which provides networking opportunities, workshops, and trips Chicago-based design studios. All Graphic Design BFA students have the opportunity to take advantage of enrichment programming such as minors, internships, and more than 300 study abroad programs in 50+ countries.

The Graphic Design BFA Program at UIUC ends with a Graphic Design Practicum and a Graphic Design Capstone.

For students seeking an advanced degree, the University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign has an Art and Design MFA with a Concentration in Design for Responsible Innovation (formerly Graphic Design). Consisting of 64 credit hours, this interdisciplinary program explores responsible practices in traditional print media and emerging technologies such as digital interaction, visual narrative, systems thinking, data visualization, and information design.

The UIUC Art and Design MFA has specialized tracks of study in Sustainable and Regenerative Design, Visual Cultural Studies, and Urban Sociology and Critical Race Design. Students may also focus on applied research in responsible innovation, engagement, and social impact. MFA students will complete a written thesis and participate in the graduation exhibition to complete the program.  

Graduates of the Design Programs at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign work in areas such as publication design, advertising, interaction design, consulting, photography, type design, art direction, and environmental design. Program alumni work for advertising agencies, design studios, start-ups, and on in-house design teams in a variety of settings. 

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was established in 1867 as Illinois Industrial University. The second oldest public school in the state, UIUC serves 55,000 students from 50 U.S. states and 126 countries. More than 150 undergraduate programs and more than 100 graduate and professional programs are offered across 16 colleges and instructional units. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

4. Columbia College Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Columbia College Chicago

The School of Fine and Performing Arts at Columbia College Chicago has three Graphic Design Degree Programs leading to a BA, second BA, and a BFA. A 21 credit our Graphic Design Minor is also available. This program explores graphic design, typography, visual culture, and website design.

The second BA Degree Program is designed for students who have earned a bachelor’s degree in another area. Students in the traditional BA Program may choose a concentration and a minor or double major. Concentration options include Web Design and Publication Design. Minors that complement the BA Program include Creative Advertising, User Experience, Design Management, Motion Graphics, Marketing, Entrepreneurship, and Photography.

Majors that complement the BA Program include Advertising, Arts Management, Communication, Computer Animation, Illustration, Immersive Media, Interaction Design, Marketing, Public Relations, and Social Media and Digital Strategy.

The Graphic Design BFA Program at Columbia College Chicago allows students to study in multiple areas of art and design. Course examples for the program include Graphic Design I-V (including topics such as Semiotics and Form, Branded Environments, and Visual Identity and Narrative), Experimental Typography for Graphic Design, Design Thinking, History of Communication Design, Business of Design, Letterpress Studio, Motion Graphics, Publication Design, Photo Communication, Website Design, and Design Lab.

Both the BA and BFA programs begin with foundations courses and cover design programs such as Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop. All Graphic Design students have opportunities to complete an internship. Past placements include firms and companies such as Leo Burnett, Foote, Cone & Belding (FCB), 50000feet Creative Agency, Cards Against Humanity, Pressley Johnson Design, and Pivot Design. The Graphic Design BA and BFA Programs culminate with the production of a professional portfolio of the student’s best work.

Graduates of the Graphic Design Programs at Columbia College Chicago work as Brand Designers, Creative Directors, Graphic Designers, and more at startups, design firms, ad agencies, nonprofits, and major corporations. Examples include Google, Leo Burnett, Fjord (part of Accenture Interactive), Modern Luxury, One Design Company, Cards Against Humanity, and Time Zone One.

Columbia College Chicago was established in 1890 as the Columbia School of Oratory. The school serves nearly 6,700 students enrolled in more than 60 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. In addition to programs in creative areas such as communication and writing, media and digital, and music and sound, Columbia offers business management programs. Columbia College Chicago is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

5. Northern Illinois University, Chicago, Illinois
Northern Illinois University

The College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) at Northern Illinois University (NIU) houses the School of Art and Design. An institutional member of the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) since 1969, the School of Art has an Art Studio and Design BFA Program with a Specialization in Visual Communications. All first-year students will complete the Foundation Program before entering the Visual Communication Specialization, which consists of 78 credit hours completed over three years.

The Art Studio and Design BFA Program with a Specialization in Visual Communications requires 120 credits to graduate. Core requirements for the program include courses such as Image in Visual Communication, Advanced Typography, Interaction Design, Visual Communication II, and Professional Practices in Design. Students will also take courses such as Knowledge Domain, Time Arts: Special Topics, Video Art, 3D Animation, and Advanced Topics: Interactive Art.

The Visual Communications Program at Northern Illinois University culminates with the Senior Project, and BFA Show. Graduates will enter the job market with a professional portfolio of their best work.  Potential careers include Graphic Designer, Book Designer, Brand Identity Designer, Packaging Designer, Creative Director, Layout Artist, Photo Editing Artist, Logo Designer, Advertising Designer, User Interface (UI) Designer, Publications Designer, User Experience (UX) Designer, and Exhibit Designer.

Chartered in 1895, Northern Illinois University opened as the Northern Illinois State Normal School in 1899. This former teachers' school has grown into a public research university that serves approximately 15,650 students enrolled in more than 180 different undergraduate and graduate programs across all disciplines. The academic programs at NIU are housed across 42 schools and departments within seven colleges. Northern Illinois University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

6. Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Carbondale, Illinois
Southern Illinois University Carbondale

The College of Arts and Media (CAM) at Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIU Carbondale) houses the School of Art and Design, which has two paths to study Graphic Design. At the undergraduate level, the School has a Communication Design BFA. At the graduate level, CAM School of Art and Design has a Design MFA. Across programs, all students have access to facilities, labs, and studios such as The Glove Factory—home to Surplus Gallery, where exhibitions include juried and student-organized group shows, the Rickert-Ziebold Exhibition, and BFA and MFA thesis displays; the 24,000 square foot Pulliam Design Wing, which houses studios, workshops, classrooms, and Design faculty offices; and Design Research Studio (DRS).

Launched in 2011, the DRS provides opportunities to work on projects such as app development, tradeshow booth athletic shoe design and marketing, outdoor furniture, corporate branding, and packaging for real clients. Past clients include: HARMAN/Yurbuds, Symrise Inc.; and Elan Polo International.

School of Art and Design students at SIU Carbondale also have access to individual studio and exhibition spaces, such as the 400 square foot Vergette Gallery for short-term exhibitions, as well as printmaking studios. In addition, the student organization Southern Illinois Printworks organizes The Four Rivers Print Biennial, a national juried exhibition which displays prints from across to the U.S.

The Communication Design BFA Program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale requires 120 credit hours. Course examples include Graphic Design I-III, The History of Things: Design and Material Culture, Computer Graphics, Digital Art and Design, Print Technology, Design Process and Presentation, and Typography I-II. The program culminates with the Design Capstone for Communication Design, which consists of the development of the Senior Thesis Project with formal promotion and documentation. Projects will be displayed at the BFA Exhibition.

Graduates of the Communication Design Program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale have the skills and experience needed to pursue titles such as Interactive Graphic Designer, Digital Imaging Specialist, Multimedia Graphic Designer, Web Designer, Art Director, Internet Communication Designer, Multimedia Designer, Creative Director, Graphic Communication Designer, Motion Graphics Specialist, and Web Communication Designer, among others.

The Design MFA at SIU Carbondale is a three-year, terminal degree program that requires 60 credit hours. Students will take 27 credit hours in a Primary Studio Emphasis, with at least 12 credit hours of Studio Electives within the Emphasis, and six credit hours of Electives from any area within the CAM School of Art and Design. Art History and the Thesis (or terminal project work) make up the remainder of the required credit hours.   

MFA Students have access to courses such as History and Theory of Media Arts, Advanced Topics in Interdisciplinary Studies, Moving Image Arts, Advanced Printmaking,  Graphic Design III, Advanced Digital Design, Experimental Photographic Techniques, and Integrated Design Practices. The program culminates with the Design Thesis or Terminal Project.

Graduates of the Design MFA Program at SIU Carbondale have a range of career options including, Graphic Design, Brand Design, Creative Direction, Company Design Team Management. Advertising Design, Consulting, Product Development and Design, and Innovation Management. Some Design MFA graduates have been hired by the companies that sponsored their Thesis Projects.

Founded in 1869, Southern Illinois University Carbondale is Illinois’ second teachers’ college. On the first day of classes, SIU welcomed 143 students enrolled in a variety of Education programs across 12 academic departments. Today, Southern Illinois University Carbondale is the flagship campus of the SIU System, serving approximately 11,110 students enrolled in more than 300 programs across 12 colleges and schools. Southern Illinois University Carbondale is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

7. American Academy of Art College, Chicago, Illinois
American Academy of Art College

American Academy of Art College has a Graphic Design Program that requires 122 semester credit hours of study. This project-based BFA Program begins with the Foundational Year, which introduces students to the study of Art. This first year features lectures, design and illustration projects, demonstrations, lectures, and life drawing courses. Students will also take courses in the Humanities and Sciences Department to complement their education and training.

In Graphic Design, students will explore Branding, Typography, Magazine Design, Advertising, Packaging, Web, Book Design, Pring, and Displays. Students will learn how to use industry-standard tools and technology, master production techniques, and develop project management skills. Course examples for the program include Design Methodology, Interactive Design, History of Graphic Design, Digital and Pre-Press Production, Editorial/Book Design, Packaging Design, Advertising, Corporate Branding Design, Studio Lighting Techniques, and Photographic Imaging.

An optional Internship in Visual Communication Design is part of the program as well as the Portfolio: Visual Communications course. The BFA can be completed in eight semesters, full-time.

Graduates of the Graphic Design BFA Program at American Academy of Art College are prepared to pursue positions at Advertising Agencies, Printing Companies, Design Studios, and Publishing Companies, among others. Potential job titles include Graphic Designer, Production Manager, Corporate Identity Designer, Digital Layout and Production Designer, Editorial Designer, Package Designer, Illustrator, and Creative Director.

Founded in 1923 as a school for aspiring fine and commercial artists, American Academy of Art College is a private Art and Design School that serves approximately 170 students enrolled in Graphic Design, Illustration, 3D Modeling and Animation, Oil Painting, Art Direction, and Photography BFA Programs. American Academy of Art College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

8. DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois
DePaul University

Jarvis College of Computing and Digital Media (CDM) at DePaul University houses the Graphic Design Program with BFA and Minor options. The BFA requires 208 quarter hours and the Minor consists of 32 quarter hours. Course examples across programs include Advertising Design, Prototyping Methods I-II, Typography: Systems, Trends in Contemporary Graphic Design, 3D Motion Graphics, Publication Design, Graphic Design: Projects, Logo, Branding & Visual Identity, Web Design for Commercial Projects, Typography: Projects, 3D Design & Modeling, Graphic Design: Form, Digital Illustration, and Production Design.  

DePaul Graphic Design students will also complete several intensive workshops where they will develop advanced skills in Web Design Tools, Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator.

Other program features include research opportunities with studios and non-profits in Chicago, collaborative projects, internships and study abroad experiences, and access to state-of-the-art studios and labs.

In the final year of the Graphic Design Program at DePaul University, students will complete a Capstone Project across two courses (Capstone I and Capstone II), and the Graphic Portfolio Development course. In this course, students will produce a professional portfolio of their best work and develop their own visual identity, resume, cover letter, and business cards. Time is also spent researching potential employers such as agencies, studios, and companies in order to strategically tailor each application process.

Graduates of the Graphic Design BFA Program at DePaul University are prepared to pursue positions in Advertising, Marketing, Web Design, and Publishing; with Non-Profit Organizations; and within in-house design departments across industries.

At the graduate level, DePaul University has a Digital Communication and Media Arts (DCMA) Program that provides the opportunity to study Graphic Design through required coursework and electives. Housed in the College of Computing and Digital Media, the DCMA leads to an MA and includes courses such a Design Workshop, Web/Media Delivery Workshop, Design and Human Experience, Designing Interfaces for Emerging Technologies, Design Thinking and Storytelling, Digital Media Ethics, and Moving Image Workshop. Thesis I-II and Portfolio courses are also required.

DCMA MA features include access to the state-of-the-art, 4,500 square foot Idea Realization Lab (IRL), housed in Chicago’s Daley Building (with a second location at the school’s main campus); guest speakers (School of Design Talks); the visiting artists series; access to a 32,000 square foot professional production facility; and participation in student organizations, professional incubators, and more. MA students also have the opportunity to participate in Kaleidoscope, the School of Design’s Annual Year-End Showcase, where they will present their Final Thesis Projects alongside Graphic Design seniors showcasing their Capstone Projects. Kaleidoscope takes place in June.

Graduates of the Digital Communication and Media Arts MA Program at DePaul University are prepared to pursue careers in areas such as Product Digital Media Art, Online Content Creation, Media Art Direction, Project Management, Design and Development, Interactive Media Design, Web Design, Mobile Communications, Social Media, Digital Media Management, and Online Marketing.

DePaul University provides exceptional academics and real-world experiences to prepare students for a changing world. With nearly 21,000 students across more than 300 academic programs, DePaul has two campus locations in Chicago. Students richly benefit from the city’s many opportunities. In turn, DePaul is one of the forces that shapes Chicago’s future. The university was founded in 1898 by the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians), a Roman Catholic religious community dedicated to following the ideals of St. Vincent de Paul. DePaul is among the nation’s top universities for diversity because of its long tradition of providing a high-quality education to students from a broad range of backgrounds. DePaul is one of the largest private, nonprofit universities in the Midwest and one of the largest Catholic universities in the nation.

9. Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, Illinois
Eastern Illinois University

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Eastern Illinois University (EIU) is home to the Department of Art + Design. Housed in the EIU Doudna Fine Arts Center, the Department has an Art Program with a Graphic Design Option. Degrees include the BA and BFA. A Graphic Design Minor is also available. The BA requires 54 credits in the major, the BFA requires 78, and the Minor consists of 18 credit hours.

All EIU Graphic Design Programs explore typography, motion graphics, web design, photography, animation, print applications, and video. Course examples across programs include 3D Fundamentals, Interactive/Motion Graphics I-IV, History of Graphic Design, Advanced Typography, Digital Imaging for Design, and Graphic Design I-III. Degree-seeking students will complete the Senior Seminar and Senior Portfolio courses, and participate in the EIU Graphic Design Show.

Graduates of the Graphic Design Programs at Eastern Illinois University are prepared for graduate study or to pursue positions in the field. Examples include Graphic Designer, Advertising Designer, Interactive designer, Motion Graphics Designer/Editor, Package Designer, Creative Director, Book Designer, Exhibit Designer, Layout Artist, Corporate Brand Designer, Publications Designer, Communications Specialist, Web Designer, and Educator.

Founded in 1895, Eastern Illinois University serves 7,415 students enrolled in nearly 100 degree and certificate programs across six colleges and the Graduate School. Eastern Illinois University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

10. Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois
Illinois State University

Illinois State University (ISU) is home to Wonsook Kim College of Fine Arts, which houses the School of Art. Within the School is a Graphic Design Program with BA, BFA, and BS options. Across programs, Design students explore topics such as time-based media, brand identity, design history, interaction, typography, civic engagement, and multicultural perspectives. Course examples for the program include Graphic Design History, Typography, Graphic Design I-III, Digital Photography, Visual Culture, Expanded Media, Intaglio I-II, Topics in Graphic Design, Digital 3D, Digital Media Design I-II, and Color Theory.

All ISU Graphic Design students have the opportunity to gain work experience through the campus-based, social innovation lab Design Streak Studio. The Graphic Design Internship, offered each semester, provides additional opportunities to gain experience with a local company, organization, or design studio. Students also have networking opportunities through the Graphic Design student club CrossPlatform.

Depending on the program, Graphic Design students at Illinois State University will complete a professional portfolio, final project and/or participate in the Senior Exhibition. Graduates are prepared to pursue positions such as Graphic Designer, Package Designer, Corporate Brand Designer, UX Designer, Exhibit Designer, Art Director, Advertising Designer, Graphic Designer/Billboard Artist, Packaging Designer, Publications Designer, Environmental Designer, and Marketing Team Member.

Founded in 1857 as Illinois State Normal University (ISNU), Illinois State University is Illinois’ first public university. Serving approximately 20,685 students from 47 states and 74 countries, ISU provides more than 200 degree programs across six colleges and dozens of schools and departments. Illinois State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).