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

Top Arizona Graphic Design Schools - 2021 College Rankings
1Arizona State UniversityTempe
2University of ArizonaTucson
3Northern Arizona UniversityFlagstaff

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

1. Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona
Arizona State University

Founded in 1885, Arizona State University (ASU) serves more than 110,000 students across five campuses and more than 45,000 on one additional campus. The Tempe campus serves more than 53,000 students, making it the largest campus in the ASU system and one of the largest in the U.S.

The ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts houses the Design School, which offers programs in the areas of Architecture, Environmental Design, Industrial Design, Interior Design, Landscape Architecture, Urban Design and Visual Communication Design/VCD (Graphic Design). Visual Communication Design (VCD) options include a Bachelor of Science in Design (BSD in Graphic Design), a Master of Science in Design (MSD) with a Concentration in Visual Communication Design (VCD MSD), and a Master of Visual Communication Design (MVCD).

The BSD “curriculum develops a strong foundation of design principles through lower-division studio and lecture courses, using this to build an overall understanding of how design can shape perception and meaning using visual media,” says the school. “Upper-division studio courses provide opportunities for students to work in collaborative teams addressing professional projects in information design, interaction design, exhibition design, animation, motion graphics, branding, publication design, web design, interface design and the multiple contemporary facets of sensorial design.”

The MSD for individuals interested in “advanced studies in visual language, history, theory, criticism and methodology, design processes and technology.” The degree “develops an understanding of contemporary graphic design issues through specialized research and design skills. It also prepares the graduate student for a career in graphic design education.” Course highlights for the program include Contemporary Issues (Seminar), Methods in Visual Communication, Qualitative Research and Design, and Visiting Designers.

In addition to an internship in teaching design, a major component of the MSD program curriculum is the Travel Studio. Completed in the fall semester of the final year, students have the opportunity to “travel all over the world” and “experience a foreign place or country for one week.” The trip is faculty led and the cost is inclusive within tuition fees. 

The MVCD has two options—a two-year studio-based program and a three-plus program. The two-year studio program is designed for students with a degree in VCD or Graphic Design and a three-plus program (three years plus one summer) is designed to be a first professional degree for those students who do not have an undergraduate degree in VCD or Graphic Design. Course highlights for the programs include Advanced Exhibit Design, Advanced VCD Studio, Creative Environment and Collaborative Leadership, Dynamic Visual Representation, Information Design, Motion Graphics/Interaction Design, Principles for Collaboration in Design, Sustainable Visual Communication, and Technology for Design. Several internships are part of the program as well as Visiting Designers and the Travel Studio.

2. University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona
University of Arizona

Established in 1885, University of Arizona was the state’s first university. The school serves nearly 47,000 students enrolled in hundreds of bachelors, masters, and doctoral degree, first professional and specialist programs in dozens of colleges and schools. The College of Fine Arts houses the School of Art, which offers BFA and MFA degrees in Studio Art with an Illustration and Design (I+D) Emphasis. Separate Tracks in Illustration and Design are offered to undergraduates.

The I+D program “encompasses a diverse faculty with expertise in graphic design, illustration, letterpress, book arts, visual narratives, animation, motion graphics, information design, and interdisciplinary collaborations with the environmental sciences,” says the school. “These specializations are reflected in a broad array of curricular offerings including: field trips, team projects with community clients, internships, and study abroad programs.”

The Illustration Track provides “rigorous education in constructive anatomy,” says the school. Students will “learn to describe the human form realistically and expressively and find personal methodologies in traditional and digital media.” Graduates will leave the program with a high quality portfolio and a web presence.”

The Design Track “provides a foundation in design principles and methodologies, creative problem solving and digital processes.” As students advance in the program, they will gain “knowledge and skills in professional practice including identity systems, web design, typography, motion graphics, history, contemporary criticism, and theory.” Graduates will leave the program with a professional portfolio and “a broad understanding of the business of design as well as its potential as a medium of critical inquiry and community involvement.”

The MFA is a 60 unit terminal degree comprised of interdisciplinary, graphic design and illustration courses as well as seminars, and independent studies “developing a body of self-authored work that contributes to the broad and expanding field of illustration, design and art.”

“Focused studio and course structures explore the theory, philosophy, and making of contemporary illustration, design and art. The program provides a range of opportunities for focus in visual narratives, community engagement, social practice, environmental projects, and technology, with a firm grounding in contemporary and historical contexts.”

Students in all programs have access to studio spaces, computer labs with Wacom Cintiq Touch screens and animation stations, a digital imaging lab with large format printing, mounting and other services, letterpress equipment, photopolymer platemaking equipment, metal and wood type collections, binding equipment, darkrooms, wood and metal shops, sculpture foundry, and ceramics labs.

Students also benefit from external resources such as a library that houses an extensive book art collection, the Center for Creative Photography, the Poetry Center, and the University Museum of Art.

3. Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, Arizona
Northern Arizona University

Founded in 1899, Northern Arizona University (NAU) serves around 29,600 students enrolled in nearly 250 academic programs in more than a dozen colleges and schools. The School of Communication offers a BFA in Visual Communication with two Emphasis Areas: Graphic Design and Motion Design. Students in both programs have access to the VisualDESIGNLab (VDL), which is a “collaborative space for faculty, students, and community to work together, as active partners,” says the school.

The multi-disciplinary BFA highlights the integration of “cutting-edge software and technological applications” into the program, a collaborative learning environment where students co-create projects in teams, and internship opportunities. Classrooms are small, and courses are studio-based, allowing for one-on-one mentoring.

Students must complete 120 credit hours to graduate, including the major, liberal studies requirements, and university requirements. A Capstone is also required.

Career opportunities that can be pursued include Advertising Design, Corporate Media Design Experience/Interface Design, Graphic Design, Illustration, Interaction Design, and Print Production Design. “With further education” any of following paths are possible: Academic Professional, Art Director, Content Developer, Design Manager, Mobile Designer, Motion Graphics Designer, Museum Curator, or Web Producer.

NAU Graphic Design BFA graduates have started their own independent design practices and work for firms such as including Body Glove, Nike, Teva, and Yahoo! Games.