What are the top graphic design school programs in Washington for 2021?

Top 5 Washington Graphic Design Schools - 2021 College Rankings
1University of WashingtonSeattle
2Western Washington UniversityBellingham
3Cornish College of the ArtsSeattle
4Eastern Washington UniversityCheney
5Central Washington UniversityEllensburg

Our 2021 ranking of the top graphic design school programs in Washington. For an explanation of the ranking criteria, click here.

1. University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
University of Washington

Established in 1861, University of Washington (UW) serves more than 54,000 students at campuses in Seattle, Tacoma, and Bothell. The UW’s 18 colleges and schools offer more than 570 degree options across 300+ programs, with more than 1,800 undergraduate courses alone each quarter. Each year, UW Bothell confers more than 12,000 bachelors, masters, doctoral, and professional degrees.

The school’s College of Arts & Sciences houses the School of Art + Art History + Design (SoA+AH+D), which offers a Bachelor of Design (BDes) in Visual Communication Design and a Master of Design (MDes). One of the largest undergraduate programs at the University of Washington, Visual Communication Design is a professional program “primarily aimed at visual communication in the corporate, institutional and municipal sectors,” says the school.

Students in the programs engage in all phases of typography, information design, design systems, exhibition design, publication design, new media, and visual methods/processes. Course highlights for the BDes include Corporate Identity, Exhibition Design, Information Design, Interface Design, Marks + Symbols, Publication Design, and Visual Systems. A Design Capstone is also part of the program as well the opportunity to complete an internship.

The two-year MDes is a terminal degree “for designers who wish to deepen their practice by engaging in advanced research and scholarship, or who are interested in pursuing academic careers.” The program “stresses interdisciplinary work and research-driven design practice.” MDes students have taken courses and participated in research projects with the Business School, the College of Engineering, the Department of Biomedical Informatics, the Department of Communication, the Department of Psychology and the School of Nursing. Theses have addressed topics such as topics as aviation, healthcare, information visualization, and urban planning.

Students in both programs will have the opportunity to compete for more than 100 seats in the SoA+AH+D study abroad program to explore art, art history, and design in an international context. Past students have studied in Japan, Rome, Spain, and Tuscany.

2. Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington
Western Washington University

Western Washington University (WWU) was founded in 1893 as the New Whatcom Normal School. Serving more than 16,000 students, the school offers more than 175 academic programs in seven colleges. The College of Fine and Performing Arts houses the Department of Design, which offers Design BA and BFA degrees.

The BFA is the professional degree option for students admitted to the Design Program. The degree is highly competitive, so it’s limited to a maximum of 18 students per year. Course highlights for both programs include Design View, Visual Communication, Graphic Design Concepts, Graphic Design 2D, Typography, Graphic Design in the 20th Century, Print and Finishing Lab, Digital Media Design, and Professional Practices in Visual Communication Design. Students in the BFA program will complete the BFA workshop.

Other program highlights include access to the Production Lab, opportunities to work with faculty outside of class, and Field Trips. The Lab “provides student’s access to equipment found in the industry and establishes a learning environment that allows for hands-on education,” says the school. The Field Trip component of the program allows students to travel to San Francisco each year. Recently, the students visited Chronicle Books, Elixir, Hatch, Highlight, Hybrid, Manual, McSweeney's Publishing, Neo, Public, Salesforce, and Volume.

Students will also have the opportunity to complete an internship (required and paid) during the final years of the program, and participate in the Summer Design Abroad Program at WWU. This “extensive workshop/field trip format combines lectures by prominent designers, visitations to design firms and international corporations as well as opportunities to attend museums and expositions featuring design.”

Recent internship opportunities include Disney, Highlight (San Francisco) Curator, Ratio, LiveAreaLabs, Ten Gun Design, Push Design, Smashing Ideas, Superfeet, and Toolhouse.  

WWU Design graduates go on to work in Advertising Agencies, Design Firms, Paper Companies, and Printing Firms. They also work as private consultants in Corporate Identity, Environmental Graphic Design, Packaging, Publications, and Web Design.

3. Cornish College of the Arts, Seattle, Washington
Cornish College of the Arts

Cornish College of the Arts was founded by teaching artist Nellie Cornish in 1914. Serving more than 600 students, the school offers BFA degrees in the Performing and Visual Arts and a Bachelor of Music degree, along with year-round public programs and extension courses.

The Cornish BFA in Design offers a Specialization in Visual Communication and Motion Design. The program is administered through the Design Department, which requires all students to spend the first year in FOUNDATIONS. This “shared experience for all visual arts students is an immersive, project-based, interdisciplinary experience” says the school, “that introduces {them} to a variety of approaches toward making and thinking.” For the next three years, students will “use the most current digital tools to create 2D and 3D art for gaming, user interfaces for app development, web development, and VR/AR applications.”

The program covers three areas: Narrative Systems, Type and Image, and User Experience (UX). Course highlights in Type and Image include Branding, Graphic Design, Illustration, Poster Design, Printmaking/Bookarts, Product Packaging, Publishing, and Typography. Narrative Systems and User Experience course topics include 2D Animation, Brand Experience, Brand Storytelling, Graphic Novels, HoloLens, Information Visualization, Prototyping, User Research, Wearables, and Web Design.

In the final year of the program, students will focus on the Capstone Project, "in which all of the student’s skills in design process, systems thinking, creative planning, and hand and digital skills come together in an exhibition at the end of the year."

Graduates of the program are prepared for careers in 2D/3D Animation, Design for Social Activism, Experience Design (UX, AR, and VR), Graphic Design, Illustration, Interaction Design, Packaging Design, Transition Design, and Typography.

4. Eastern Washington University, Cheney, Washington
Eastern Washington University

Eastern Washington University (EWU) began as Cheney Academy in 1882. The school, which houses the only undergraduate industrial robotics and automation program in the three-state area, serves around 12,330 students enrolled in more than 300 programs across campuses in Bellevue, Cheney, Everett, North Seattle, and Spokane. Programs are offered in five colleges including Arts, Letters & Education (CALE), Business (COB), Health Sciences & Public Health (CHSPH), Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (CSTEM), and Social Sciences (CSS).

CSTEM offers a BDES in Visual Communication Design and a Minor in Design. CALE offers a BFA in Visual Communication Design. The 26 credit hour Minor provides hands-on experience working with images and text. Students will master digital tools such as Adobe Creative Cloud apps. The CSTEM BDES requires 75 credit hours in the major. Digital Photography, Production Design, Typography, and Visual Communication Design are just a few course highlights. Students are required to complete a Senior Capstone, and a Portfolio or Professional Practice course.

The CALE BFA requires a minimum of 180 credit hours of study. Course highlights include Color Design, Digital Art, Drawing for Communication, Production Design, The Visual Art Experience, User Experience Design, Visual Communication Design, and Web Design, BFA students will complete the Senior Capstone, three Senior Exhibitions, and the Design Internship.

5. Central Washington University, Ellensburg, Washington
Central Washington University

Central Washington University (CWU) opened as Washington State Normal School in 1891.The school serves around 15,800 students enrolled in more than 135 majors and 32 master’s degree programs in seven colleges and schools. The College of Arts and Humanities houses the Department of Art + Design, which offers a BFA and MFA degrees in Graphic Design.

The 90 credit hour MFA is a terminal degree program providing students with professional levels of competency and experience in studio art. The program covers Art Concepts and Criticism, Art History, Electives, the Concentration, and a Creative Thesis. Students typically complete the MFA program in three years. Graduates are prepared for careers as teachers in higher education, as professional studio artists, and other studio-arts-related vocations.

The BFA requires all students to begin as a BA in Art Major. The Department offers advising for the Graphic Design Track. Students enrolled in the BA in Art may choose to submit an application for entrance into the BFA program during their Junior year (90 credits or more).

The Graphic Design BFA Program “emphasizes critical thinking through the exploration of digital and print media,” says the school. “As part of the BFA Graphic Design sequence, students also complete a 10–12 credit Cooperative Education summer internship.” Graduates are prepared for careers as Graphic Designers in just about any industry and for entry into the MFA program at CWU or other university.