Art Direction Degree and Certificate Program Information

Many schools offer degree and undergraduate certificate programs in graphic design that can train students for careers in art direction. Explore the program options, common coursework and employment outlook in the field.

Essential Information

Art directors create and oversee the layouts of visual designs that illustrate artistic styles and concepts in a wide variety of industries, including advertising, publishing and public relations. A bachelor's degree and work experience are generally the minimum requirements needed for a career as an art director.

Typically, a bachelor's-level student can enroll in a graphic design program to receive the training necessary to become an art director. However, art directors can also get trained by completing bachelor's degree programs in related areas, such as set design, industrial design and photography. Many classes involve studio work, and students often compile professional portfolios of their work or complete intensive final projects. Applicants need a high school diploma and standardized test scores. Submission of a portfolio may also be required.

Individuals with bachelor's degrees in the field can pursue a master's degree in graphic design. These programs take about two years to complete. Students work on developing advanced skills in graphic design through coursework, seminars and research. There may be opportunities to study abroad. Research is emphasized, and a thesis is usually required. Applicants may need related experience, and most schools want to review a portfolio of the student's work along with standardized test scores and undergraduate transcripts.

Certificate programs offer basic training in the graphic arts for high school graduates who aren't interested in a degree. Most programs take a year or two to complete. Students learn about web design, color theory, screen printing and digital imaging. They may be allowed to choose an area of specialization, and internships may be available as well. Undergraduate admission information and a high school diploma may be required for admission.

Bachelor's Degrees in Graphic Design

Graphic design bachelor's programs lead to a variety of degrees, including a Bachelor of Arts, a Bachelor of Fine Arts or a Bachelor of Graphic Design. Some programs include study abroad options. In these 4-year programs, students must complete general education courses in mathematics, science and English composition, among other subjects. Typical core coursework includes the following:

  • Design thinking
  • Design culture
  • Photography
  • Web design
  • Typography

Master's Degrees in Graphic Design

Completing a master's program in graphic design may lead to career advancement and/or increased opportunities in the field. Students can earn a Master of Fine Arts or a Master of Graphic Design degree. Programs require around 48-60 credits. Students gain practical experience through studio courses. Some of the courses a graphic design student can take include the following:

  • Graphic design thesis
  • History of graphic design
  • Critical writing in design
  • Advanced typography
  • Interaction theory and design

Certificates in Graphic Design

Certificate programs in graphic design or digital publishing are generally geared toward students who want an intensive graphic design education for job advancement possibilities, but do not have the time or resources to complete a full degree program. Graphic design certificate programs are available at the undergraduate level and can usually be completed on a part-time basis with one or two courses taken per academic term. Some programs have a flexible format, allowing students to complete courses on-campus, online or through a blend of both.

Certificate programs can include areas of specialization, depending on whether a student's interests lie in Web or print media. Students receive theoretical and technical training through lecture and studio courses. Some typical graphic design certificate courses include:

  • Web graphics
  • Production design
  • 2-D design fundamentals
  • Color theory
  • Digital collage creation
  • Digital imaging
  • Screenprinting

Popular Career Options

Earning a bachelor's degree in graphic design can qualify individuals for a number of other occupations that require technical skills, artistic vision and innovation. Some potential careers include:

  • Graphic designer
  • Fine artist
  • Industrial designer
  • Multimedia artist
  • Set designer

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 34,690 art directors were employed across the nation as of May 2015, and this group earned a median annual salary of around $89,760 as of May 2015. The BLS predicted that there would be a 2% increase in the employment of art directors from 2014-2024. Factors affecting the industry, such as online media replacing many traditional forms of print publications, account for this projected growth rate, which is slower than the average for all occupations. Art director positions were expected to see keen competition due to the large number of qualified applicants (

Aspiring art directors can pursue a bachelor's degree, master's degree or certificate in graphic design to study advanced art concepts and design techniques for various kinds of digital and print media. Graduates can also find employment opportunities as different kinds of artists and designers.

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