your adventure in

Graphic Design

View PDF


The Curriculum in Graphic Design leads to a 124-credit undergraduate Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design including the 31-credit Core Design Program.

Admission into the professional program depends upon available resources and is subject to the approval of a faculty committee at the completion of the Core Design Program. Information on admission criteria is posted each year on the College of Design website.

Transfer students with studio credits from other programs, colleges, and universities must present for departmental review a portfolio of work done in those courses in order to have the credits apply toward studio requirements. Students are required to present this portfolio upon admission and prior to registration for classes. Arrangements for this process must be made with department advisors.

A 30-graduate-credit program is offered leading to the Master of Arts with a specialization in Graphic Design for students planning to undertake a professional degree. (NOTE: Applicants without a degree background in graphic design may be required to complete up to 18 additional credits of coursework).

A 60-graduate-credit post-professional graduate program is also offered leading to the degree Master of Fine Arts.

Student Learning Outcomes

Students in this program will be able to:  

  • Use creative problem solving and design processes when faced with graphic design challenges; 
  • Employ visual organization skills in a variety of communication media; 
  • Understand applications of visual communication including animation, branding, image creation, information design, interaction design, symbology, typography, video, through contemporary and emerging technologies; and
  • Integrate cultural, ethical, and historical considerations in preparation for professional practice.

Degree Requirements

Total Degree Requirement: 124 credits

Only 65 credits from a two-year institution may apply, which may include up to 16 technical credits; 9 P-NP credits of free electives; 2.00 minimum GPA.

International Perspective: 3 credits

U.S. Diversity: 3 credits

Communications: 10 credits

ENGL 150Critical Thinking and Communication *3
ENGL 250Written, Oral, Visual, and Electronic Composition *3
LIB 160Introduction to College Level Research1
One of the following:3
Introduction to Communication Studies
Interpersonal Communication
Fundamentals of Public Speaking
Total Credits10

with a C or better

Humanities: 6 credits

6 credits from program curriculum sheet.

Social Sciences: 6 credits

6 credits from program curriculum sheet.

Math/Physics/Biol. Sciences: 6 credits

COM S 106Introduction to Web Programming3
3 credits from program curriculum sheet3
Total Credits6

General Education Courses: 12 credits

6 credits of course level 300-400 from program curriculum sheet; Complete 6 credits from department curriculum sheet.

College of Design Core: 13 credits

DSN S 102Design Studio I4
DSN S 115Design Collaborative Seminar1
or DSN S 110 Design Exchange Seminar I
DSN S 131Drawing I4
DSN S 132Digital Design Literacy1
DSN S 183Design in Context3
Total Credits13

Art and Design History: 12 credits

ART H 280History of Art I3
ART H 281History of Art II3
Six credits from program curriculum sheet6
Total Credits12

Studio Options: 6 credits

6 credits from ARTIS, ARTID, LA, ARCH, or other approved studio course.

Graphic Design: 52 credits

ARTGR 270Graphic Design Studio I3
ARTGR 271Graphic Design Studio II3
ARTGR 272Digital Photography for Graphic Design3
ARTGR 273Typography I3
ARTGR 274Typography II3
ARTGR 377Graphic Design Internship Seminar1
ARTGR 370Graphic Design Studio III3
ARTGR 371Graphic Design Studio IV3
ARTGR 387Graphic Design History/Theory/ Criticism I3
ARTGR 372Graphic Materials and Processes3
ARTGR 470Graphic Design Studio V3
ARTGR 471Graphic Design Capstone3
ARTGR 480Graphic Design Internship3
ARTGR 489Design Ethics.3
Twelve credit options from program curriculum sheet12
Total Credits52

Electives: 1 credits

Remaining electives sufficient to complete graduation requirements.

Graphic Design, B.F.A.

First Year
DSN S 102 or 1314DSN S 102 or 1314 
DSN S 1321DSN S 183 (or General Education)3 
DSN S 183 (or General Education)3ENGL 150 (or General Education)3 
DSN S 110 or 1151General Education3 
ENGL 150 (or General Education)3General Education3 
General Education3LIB 1601 
General Education3  
 18 17
Second Year
ARTGR 2703ARTGR 2713 
ARTGR 2733ARTGR 2743 
ART H 2803ART H 2813 
ARTIS, ARTID, LA, or ARCH Studio or ARTGR 2723ARTIS, ARTID, LA or ARCH studio or ARTGR 2723 
ENGL 250 (or Communication Study)3ENGL 250 (or Communication Study)3 
 15 15
Third Year
ARTGR 3703ARTGR 3713ARTGR 480 (or)
ARTGR 3723ARTGR Option3ARTGR 4953
ARTGR 3873ART or DSN History, General Education, or Rome Prep3Students who elect to participate in the Rome Program need to take additional 3 elective credits to reach the 123.5 needed to graduate.
ARTGR Option3DSN S 3011 
ARTIS, ARTID, LA, or ARCH Studio3 Elective: ROME, Italian1 
ARTGR 3771General Education3 
 16 14 3
Fourth Year
ARTGR 4703ARTGR 4713 
ARTGR Option3Elective2-3 
ART & DESIGN History or General Education3General Education3 
ARTIS, ARTID, LA or ARCH Studio or General Ed3General Education3 
ARTGR 4893ARTGR Option3 
 15 14-15

Admission into the BFA in Graphic Design Program depends upon available resources and is subject to the approval of a faculty committee at the completion of the Core Design Program. Information on the admission criteria is posted each year on the College of Design website.

Graduate Programs

The department offers the degrees of Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) in Graphic Design and Master of Arts (M.A.) in Experiential Graphic Design.

Credit earned at Iowa State University or other institution for the Master of Arts degree may be applied toward the Master of Fine Arts degree at the discretion of the program of study committee.

Applicants to the graduate program should have an undergraduate major in an art or design area and demonstrate the ability to do technically competent and original work through the presentation of a digital portfolio for faculty review. Past academic performance and the quality of studio work are critical in the admission process. A minimum 3.0 GPA in the student's undergraduate major is the standard for full admission to the graduate program. Admission is also determined by studio space available within the program area, which changes yearly due to graduate students' progress in their programs of study.

Graduate students who have not completed an undergraduate program of study substantially equivalent to that required of undergraduates in the department can expect that additional supporting coursework, determined by the graduate faculty, may be required.

Prospective students are advised to contact the graduate coordinator with specific questions about admission procedures and portfolio review. Application and additional program information may be obtained from the Department of Graphic Design, College of Design, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011-3092.

Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design (M.F.A.)

The Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design is recognized as the terminal degree in the field and requires a minimum of 60 credits. M.F.A. graduates in Graphic Design are skilled in communication design, problem solving, and are adept in the use of visual language, symbology, and interaction. Graduates are proficient in the design of communications and the use of technologies that incorporate human interaction with environments, objects, and electronic and traditional publications. Students and faculty work collaboratively on a required thesis; integrating theory, creation, research, and design problem solving.

Master of Arts in Experiential Graphic Design (M.A.)

This 30-credit degree focuses on preparing students for visual communication. This degree provides a comprehensive exposure to all aspects of user experience, including but not exclusive to wayfinding, exhibition design, interaction, information design, and placemaking. 

The MAXGD is for those seeking a graphic design specialization with little to no previous experience in the area. Students may use the degree as a complement to a bachelor's degree in graphic design or another design field to enhance their skills and qualifications for employment. It can also be used to complement those students with an undergraduate degree in a graphic design area that would like to add an additional graduate level study to their coursework prior to enter the field.

MFA in Graphic Design Degree Requirements

Graphic Design Requirements, 27 cr.

ARTGR 511Graphic Design Graduate Studio I3
ARTGR 512Audience and Perception3
ARTGR 521Graphic Design Graduate Studio II3
ARTGR 522Critical Media3
ARTGR 530User Engagement3
ARTGR 540Design for Behavioral Change.3
ARTGR 610Thesis Preparation Studio3
ARTGR 620Graduate Thesis Studio I3
ARTGR 630Graduate Thesis Studio II3
Total Credits27

Graphic Design Seminar Requirements, 10 cr.

ARTGR 510Graphic Design Theory3
ARTGR 520Design & Cultural Semiotics3
ARTGR 531Graphic Design Graduate Project Preparation1
DSN S 501Introduction to Research Design3
Total Credits10

 Elective Focus Area, 9 cr.

Outside of graphic design but supports area of research, may be studio (ex. DSN S 546) or other class outside the College of Design: See Graphic Design MFA Suggested Minor Course List

May also include ISU Preparing Future Faculty (PFF): 3-11 cr.

Art History, Theory, Criticism, 12 cr.

Grad-level art/design history, theory, criticism courses in the College of Design12
Total Credits12

Thesis, 3-6 cr.

ARTGR 699Research-Thesis3-6

Total 60 cr. minimum (not including any potential prerequisites)