Best Graphic Design Schools in Illinois for Aspiring Designers

Looking for the best graphic design schools in Illinois? This guide covers the top programs that offer strong curricula, industry connections, and various resources to help aspiring designers launch their careers.

  • Illinois offers a range of prestigious graphic design programs at institutions like UIUC, Columbia College Chicago, UIC, DePaul University, and Bradley University, noted for their comprehensive education and industry connections.
  • These programs provide a well-rounded curriculum including both foundational and advanced courses, interdisciplinary electives, and access to state-of-the-art technology and tools, ensuring students are well-prepared for diverse career paths in graphic design.
  • Supplementary learning opportunities such as design summer workshops, study abroad programs, and guest lectures from industry professionals further enhance students’ educational experience, offering practical exposure and keeping them abreast of current trends and challenges in the field.

Leading Graphic Design Programs in Illinois

Illinois boasts several prestigious graphic design programs that nurture creativity and innovation while providing robust education. This article presents an overview of top schools distinguished by their exceptional academic programs and industry connections.

Highly regarded for its graphic design program, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) offers a diverse curriculum encompassing both conventional and digital design skills. Columbia College Chicago, on the other hand, emphasizes hands-on learning and provides numerous opportunities for students to connect with industry professionals. Then there’s the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC), which integrates technology and creative processes to prepare students for the professional world.

DePaul University is known for its interdisciplinary approach, combining graphic design with fields like marketing and communication. Lastly, Bradley University focuses on advanced topics and professional portfolio development, ensuring students are well-prepared for their careers.

These institutions offer a diverse range of programs and resources, making Illinois a prime destination for aspiring graphic designers. We will now explore in detail what each of these schools offers.

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC)

Ranked #34 out of 2,217 colleges nationwide for its graphic design program, UIUC provides a comprehensive education that equips students with both traditional and digital design skills. The curriculum includes a mix of studio work and theoretical courses covering:

  • Graphic design fundamentals
  • Design history
  • Research methods
  • User experience
  • Social responsibility

This robust curriculum, totaling 122 credit hours, ensures that students are well-prepared for professional practice in visual communications.

UIUC also emphasizes interdisciplinary learning, offering electives in:

  • photography
  • video
  • traditional printmaking
  • sustainability

The Advanced Interaction Design course, ARTD 418, helps students tackle complex problems and identify design opportunities. Such a well-rounded education prepares UIUC graphic design students for a wide array of careers in the field.

Columbia College Chicago

Columbia College Chicago stands out for its hands-on learning approach and strong industry connections. Offering both a Bachelor of Arts (BA) and a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in graphic design, the program is designed to immerse students in real-world projects and collaborations. Faculty members like Guy Villa and Kevin Henry integrate digital design tools and methodologies into their teaching, ensuring students gain practical experience alongside theoretical knowledge.

With approximately 76 graphic design students graduating each year, Columbia College provides ample opportunities for internships and networking, making it an ideal choice for Chicago-based students looking to make industry connections and gain professional experience.

University of Illinois Chicago (UIC)

UIC’s graphic design program is tailored to integrate technology with creative processes, preparing students for various professional roles. The curriculum emphasizes the use of cutting-edge technology and innovative design practices, ensuring that graduates are well-equipped to meet the demands of the modern design industry.

DePaul University

DePaul University’s graphic design program is known for its interdisciplinary approach, melding design with fields like marketing and communication. This unique combination allows students to develop a broad skill set that is highly valued in the industry, making them versatile candidates for various roles in design and beyond.

Bradley University

Bradley University emphasizes advanced topics and professional portfolio development in its graphic design program. This focus ensures that students are not only skilled in the latest design techniques but also prepared to present their work effectively to potential employers, setting them up for successful careers in the design field.

Comprehensive Curriculum Breakdown

Prospective students should familiarize themselves with the curriculum of a graphic design program. These curricula are designed to provide a broad range of skills and knowledge, from foundational courses to advanced interaction design and interdisciplinary electives. The aim is to prepare students comprehensively for the diverse challenges they will face in their careers.

These academic programs encompass key areas such as:

  • Typography
  • Critical thinking
  • Image making
  • Design history
  • Contemporary practices
  • Research methods
  • User experience
  • Social responsibility

This well-rounded approach ensures that students develop advanced skills across various facets of advanced graphic design.

With a wealth of interdisciplinary electives, students can explore diverse areas such as:

  • photography
  • video
  • traditional printmaking
  • sustainability
  • advanced interaction design

These electives enable students to tailor their education to their personal interests and career goals.

Core Courses

Core courses form the backbone of any graphic design program, introducing students to essential skills and knowledge. At UIUC, these include Introduction to Graphic Design, Typographic Practice, and Graphic Design Toolbox, among others. Such courses are crucial for developing a strong foundation in design principles.

Advanced typography and systems design courses further refine these skills, focusing on the intricacies of type and image, which are fundamental to effective visual communication. These core courses are designed to build a solid base upon which students can develop advanced skills and techniques.

Advanced Interaction Design

Advanced interaction design is a critical component of modern graphic design education. Courses in this area, such as Design Methods and Interaction Design Foundation, teach students how to create engaging, user-friendly digital experiences. These courses emphasize the importance of interaction and time-based media, which are increasingly relevant in today’s digital landscape.

By applying user experience knowledge to both digital and print media, students learn to craft compelling messages that resonate with audiences. The advanced interaction design course also helps students understand the professional relationship between image and typography, further enhancing their design capabilities.

Interdisciplinary Electives

Interdisciplinary electives allow graphic design students to broaden their horizons and explore new areas of interest. At UIUC, these electives include courses in:

  • Photography
  • Video
  • Traditional printmaking
  • Sustainability

Such options enable students to develop a more diverse skill set.

Electives like:

  • Digital Media
  • Video
  • Photography
  • Game Design
  • Expanded Media

provide additional opportunities for creative exploration. By offering a wide range of elective courses, these programs allow students to tailor their education to their specific interests and career goals.

Technology and Tools

The success of students in graphic design hinges on their access to the appropriate technology and tools. Most programs require students to have a functioning Macintosh platform laptop and the latest Adobe Creative Suite software. This combination ensures that students are well-prepared to tackle their coursework and develop their design skills effectively.

In addition to personal equipment, universities also provide access to various campus resources. These resources include:

  • Computer labs
  • Large format printers
  • Laser cutters
  • 3-D printers
  • CNC routers
  • Professional audio & video equipment

These resources are essential for producing high-quality work and gaining hands-on experience with industry-standard tools.

Required Equipment

A functioning Macintosh platform laptop and the latest Adobe Creative Suite software are mandatory for graphic design students. These tools are available through the University of Illinois Webstore, ensuring students can access the necessary software at a reduced cost.

Campus Resources

Graphic design students benefit from extensive campus resources, including:

  • 24-hour access to computer labs equipped with the latest production and output devices
  • The Siebel Center for Design, which offers rentable spaces for collaborative projects, seminars, and workshops
  • The Shop, a fabrication lab that provides students with the tools and environments necessary for creative experimentation and professional development

These facilities provide students with the tools and environments necessary for creative experimentation and professional development.

Access to professional audio & video equipment also allows students to enhance their online portfolios with high-quality projects. Such resources are invaluable in helping students produce work that stands out in the competitive job market.

Career Pathways for Graduates

A wide array of career opportunities awaits graduates of graphic design programs in Illinois. Some of these career paths include:

  • Branding
  • Animation
  • UX/UI design
  • Advertising

These programs often include career support and placement guarantees, ensuring that students can transition smoothly into the professional world.

Graphic design graduates can pursue careers in both traditional print media and digital platforms, including digital media design, expanding their career possibilities. Whether working in client-based design, self-initiated research, or as brand designers, the skills acquired in these programs, such as those developed through a graphic design thesis, open doors to diverse and rewarding career paths.

Employment Opportunities

Graphic design graduates are well-positioned to take on roles such as art directors, web designers, and environmental designers. Art direction involves overseeing the visual aspects of marketing and advertising campaigns, while web design focuses on creating visually appealing and user-friendly websites.

Graduates can also find employment in environmental design, where they create visual experiences in physical spaces like museums and retail stores. These roles allow designers to apply their skills in innovative ways, contributing to the visual identity and user experience of various settings.

Internship Programs

A graphic design internship is a crucial part of a graphic design education, providing students with:

  • Real-world experience
  • Networking opportunities
  • The chance to work closely with seasoned professionals on real-world projects
  • The opportunity to hone their practical design skills
  • Learning about industry standards

Columbia College Chicago offers internships with firms such as Leo Burnett and Cards Against Humanity, providing valuable professional experience. These internships help students broaden their professional network and establish a competitive advantage in the job market.

Alumni Success Stories

Notable alumni from Illinois graphic design programs have made significant contributions to the industry. Christina Landon, an award-winning graphic designer, and Barry Huber, the first MFA Graphic Design alumnus from UIUC, exemplify the success that graduates can achieve. These stories highlight the effectiveness of the education provided by Illinois schools and inspire current students to strive for excellence.

Showcasing Student Work

Displaying student work plays an integral role in graphic design education. Annual exhibitions, publications, and online portfolios provide platforms for students to present their projects and gain recognition. These showcases not only celebrate student achievements but also help them build professional portfolios that attract potential employers.

At the University of Illinois, the annual BFA Exhibition at the Krannert Art Museum is a major event, highlighting the work of graduating students. Other universities collaborate with local galleries to host exhibitions, providing additional opportunities for students to display their work.

Annual Exhibitions

Annual exhibitions, such as the BFA Exhibition at the University of Illinois’ Krannert Art Museum, play a crucial role in showcasing student projects. These events provide a platform for students to present their work to the public, including potential employers and industry professionals. The exhibitions often feature a variety of media, from traditional print to digital installations, reflecting the diverse skills and creativity of the students.

Collaborations with local galleries and organizations like the Champaign-Urbana Design Organization (CUDO) further expand these opportunities, allowing students to gain broader exposure and engage with the wider artistic community. Such events are instrumental in helping students build their professional portfolios and gain recognition for their work.

Publications and Catalogs

Exhibition catalogs serve as comprehensive records of student achievements, documenting their work in both print and digital formats. Produced by the School of Art & Design, these catalogs not only celebrate student accomplishments but also provide a valuable resource for future reference and professional use. With a focus on publication design, the catalogs ensure a visually appealing and informative presentation of the students’ work.

They are essential for preserving the legacy of student work and promoting it to a broader audience.

Online Portfolios

Online portfolios are vital for promoting student work and attracting potential employers. Universities encourage students to develop digital portfolios, which allow them to showcase their skills and projects to a global audience. These portfolios are often integral to the application and review process within graphic design programs, serving as a key component in evaluating a student’s capabilities and fit for the program.

By building a strong online presence, students can effectively market themselves to prospective employers and clients, enhancing their career prospects and professional growth. Digital portfolios also provide a platform for continuous updates, ensuring that students can keep their work current and relevant.

Faculty Expertise and Research

Graphic design students benefit significantly from the expertise and research interests of faculty members. At institutions like the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, faculty research spans a broad range of areas, including sustainable materials, social innovation, and visual communication. These diverse research interests enrich the curriculum and provide students with insights into cutting-edge design practices.

Faculty members like Eric Benson and Molly Catherine Briggs bring their specialized knowledge into the classroom, fostering a learning environment that encourages innovation and critical thinking. Their research contributions, such as integrating sustainable practices within the design curriculum and exploring immersive rhetorics in print design, help students stay abreast of the latest trends and challenges in the field.

Moreover, faculty members with significant industry experience, such as those at Columbia College Chicago, bring practical insights and contemporary practices into their teaching. This industry involvement enhances the educational experience by incorporating real-world design challenges and providing exclusive internship opportunities for students.

Research Areas

Faculty research at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign covers areas like participatory design, life-centered systems thinking, and speculative futures. These research interests lead to innovative projects that address contemporary issues and promote sustainable design practices. For example, Eric Benson’s work on sustainable materials and speculative futures provides students with a forward-thinking perspective on design.

Other faculty members, such as Jena Marble, focus on topics like:

  • design theory
  • the design process
  • the impact of design on health
  • brand history

This diversity in research areas ensures that students receive a well-rounded education that prepares them for various challenges in the design industry.

Industry Experience

The industry experience of faculty members at Columbia College Chicago greatly benefits students. Award-winning designers and professionals with extensive industry backgrounds bring real-world insights into the classroom, enriching the learning experience. Their involvement in high-profile design firms and major projects globally provides students with a comprehensive understanding of contemporary design practices.

Faculty members like Richard Laurent, who specializes in illustration and teaches art with a focus on oil painting, integrate their practical knowledge into their teaching, helping students develop advanced skills and a deeper appreciation for art history and the practice of design. This blend of academic and industry expertise ensures that students are well-prepared for professional success.

Additional Learning Opportunities

Aside from the core curriculum, Illinois’ graphic design programs offer an array of supplementary learning opportunities for enhancing students’ skills and creativity. These additional opportunities include design summer workshops, study abroad programs, and guest lectures and seminars. Such experiences provide valuable hands-on learning and exposure to diverse design perspectives.

Design summer workshops are particularly beneficial, offering students the chance to work on practical projects and explore different verticals of graphic design. Study abroad programs further enrich the educational experience by exposing students to global design practices and cultural influences. Guest lectures and seminars by industry professionals provide insights into current trends and real-world challenges, helping students stay updated and competitive in the field.

These supplementary learning opportunities are essential for continuous learning and professional growth, ensuring that students are well-equipped to navigate the ever-evolving landscape of graphic design.

Design Summer Workshops

Participating in design summer workshops helps students enhance their practical skills and creativity. These workshops offer hands-on experience, allowing students to:

  • Work on real-world projects that enhance both their skills and portfolios
  • Explore different verticals of graphic design, such as packaging, print, and motion graphics
  • Broaden their expertise and discover new areas of interest

By participating in these workshops, students can gain valuable experience and knowledge in the field of design.

These workshops offer the following benefits:

  • An excellent way for students to stay engaged during the summer months
  • Opportunities to continue developing their design abilities
  • Networking and collaboration opportunities for professional growth.

Study Abroad Programs

Study abroad programs offer graphic design students:

  • A chance to gain exposure to global design practices and diverse cultural perspectives, enriching their educational experience
  • Collaborative projects with international students, enhancing cross-cultural communication skills
  • A broader understanding of design

These programs, including cover design programs, can greatly enhance a student’s educational experience and provide valuable skills and knowledge for their future career in graphic design.

Popular destinations for study abroad programs include Argentina and Costa Rica, where students can immerse themselves in unique cultural experiences and learn from international design experts. Such experiences are invaluable for developing a well-rounded design perspective and preparing for a globalized design industry.

Guest Lectures and Seminars

Guest lectures and seminars by industry professionals offer students insights into current trends and real-world challenges in graphic design. These events provide a platform for students to ask questions and gain advice directly from seasoned designers, enriching their educational experience. Additionally, it arranges a senior Design Illinois career fair in Chicago, and it hosts a lively lecture series with regional and national designers.

Other events organized by the School of Art & Design include design seminars and workshops, often held at the Siebel Center for Design. These opportunities are essential for continuous learning and professional development, helping students stay updated on evolving design trends and practices.