Online Degree in Communication Design: Program Overview

Research online communication design courses and programs. Find out what you can learn in these courses and what you'll need in order to participate in online learning to determine if it's right for you.

Essential Information

Communication design programs can be found online at the associate's, bachelor's and master's degree levels, though associate's programs are the most common and graduate programs are the rarest. Such programs may go by major names like visual design or graphic design, and bachelor's degree programs may offer concentration areas.

Some of these degree programs can be completed 100% online, though they are rarer at the graduate level. Students may also be able to complete a voluntary internship. Completing an internship or other practical project can help students build their portfolio, which is essential for obtaining employment in many design fields.

Online students should be aware that the list of required computer hardware and software equipment for these programs can be quite lengthy. Prospective students may want to find out if they have access to campus laboratory equipment. Often, course specific software, such as Adobe Creative Suite, Adobe Acrobat, QuickTime and Microsoft Office are required. Programs may also require a minimum computer RAM, hard-disk space or processing speed. Required hardware may include a DVD-ROM drive, digital camera, flatbed scanner, digital drawing tablet and printer.

Associate's Degree in Communication Design

Associate's degree programs in communication or graphic design are commonly offered online. Students learn the different components of communication design, including typography, packaging, branding and identity. They learn how to use different tools to create their designs, including Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, computer scanners and digital photography.

Program Information and Requirements

These programs usually take two years to complete, and many schools offer programs that can be completed fully online.

Students may be required to have certain software programs on their computers, such as Adobe Creative Suite, Adobe Acrobat, QuickTime and Microsoft Office. Students may also be required to have certain specifications on their computers, such as a minimum amount of RAM, hard-disk space and processing speeds.

List of Common Communication Design Courses

In addition to design courses, students have to take general education courses in social science, natural science, humanities, math and communication.

Color Theory

Students learn both practical and aesthetic applications of color. The topics cover the role color plays in communication and the expression of ideas.


In this course, students learn the different aspects of typography and letterforms, including kerning, copy fitting and type specification. Typography is looked at as a design element, and students learn how to use type as a means of communicating ideas with others.

Digital Image Manipulation

Students learn different means of manipulating images, including airbrushing, photo retouching, photo restoration, compositing and color correction. Students also learn batch processing, color spotting and how to deal with production issues.

History of Design

This course introduces students to important designers and typographers that have shaped graphic and communication design. Students also learn about the technical innovations, cultural events and design movements that have influenced communication design.

Bachelor of Fine Arts in Communication Design

Bachelor's degree programs in communication design allow students to choose an area of concentration, such as digital design, graphic design, web design or illustration. Throughout their course of study, students learn how to solve design problems by developing concepts, thinking strategically and coming up with innovative applications of design techniques. Some of the topics covered include typography, branding, identity, packaging, digital media and different print mediums.

Program Information and Requirements

A bachelor's degree program can typically be completed within four years. Some programs may also be offered as degree completion programs for students who have already completed their lower division requirements, and others may offer condensed programs for those who have earned a bachelor's degree in another area. In these cases, students can earn their degrees in as little as two years after starting their program. It is possible to find programs that are offered fully online.

Students need to have e-mail and understand how to use instant messaging, chat forums and message boards. While instructors require students to participate in online discussions through these mediums, they also allow students to ask questions and get feedback about assignments and tests.

List of Common Communication Design Courses

Students enrolled in bachelor's degree programs in communication design need to take general education courses and core design courses. Some of these courses may include social science, natural science and communication.


The typography course focuses on both digital and printed formats. Students learn how to apply typography to their personal design styles through different projects.

Design Development

Students are encouraged to conduct research and critically assess the designs of others. Keeping in mind what needs to be communicated to their audience, students apply innovative uses of typography, imagery and formatting to their designs.

Computer Design

Students are taught how to digitally manipulate images in their work. This is an opportunity for students to become familiar with various software programs and applications.

Print and Digital Media

After identifying a target audience, students develop concepts and designs that appeal to a specific audience. Students learn the best visual formats in a variety of different media for effectively communicating desired messages.

Senior Portfolio

Students compile a professional body of work to market themselves to potential employers. Students assess the work they have done and modify it in order to showcase their design skills in the best way possible.

Master of Fine Arts in Communication Design

Master's degree programs are rarely offered online, but some online programs do exist. Students enrolled in these programs learn to think strategically, conceptually and innovatively. Students continue to refine their skills in the areas of typography, branding, packaging, identity, print media and digital media. Emphasis is placed on the mastery of communication design techniques.

Program Information and Requirements

Communication design students enrolled in master's degree programs typically need to complete between 60 to 65 semester units. The time required to complete a master's degree is often just over two years. Students communicate with their classmates and instructors through online discussions, e-mail, telephone and fax.

Computers may be required to have a certain operating system and DVD-ROM drive. Certain electronic equipment may also be necessary, such as a digital camera, flatbed scanner, digital drawing tablet and printer. In addition to having the technical requirements, students may be required to purchase software programs and textbooks for specific courses.

List of Common Communication Design Courses

Course requirements include a combination of studio, academic, directed study and elective courses. Prior to graduation, students must complete a thesis project, which is evaluated by a graduate final review committee.

Type Systems

In this course, students expand upon their knowledge of typography. Students are encouraged to think innovatively and take more risks with regards to type in their designs.

Digital Design

Advanced concepts in digital design are discussed in this course. Students master the use of digital tools in the creation of imagery and refine their skills in typography and layout design.

Visual Communications

In this course, students come up with innovative ideas and translate these ideas into messages. Students learn to communicate their work through design, identity, imagery, products or experiences.

Branding and Identity

Students take a look at businesses and determine their personalities and identities. They learn how to create a brand and communicate both visually and verbally, while identifying the substance of the business.

Visual Literacy

Students are introduced to visual language and develop an understanding of visual syntax. With this knowledge, students then create visual imagery that clearly communicates desired messages.

Career Information


Graduates are prepared for careers as graphic designers, illustrators, website developers and advertising specialists. Possible employers include advertising agencies, government agencies, corporations and entertainment companies. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment of graphic designers to increase by 1% between 2014 and 2024, which is little to no change ( The BLS shows that graphic designers earned an average salary of $51,640 in 2015.


Potential careers for graduates include typography designer, graphic designer, production artist, brand designer and communications director. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salaries of graphic designers vary based on the industry in which they are employed ( Those who worked in advertising earned an average salary of $52,440 in 2015, while those who worked in the newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers industry earned an average of $45,500. Depending on the industry, graphic designers can expect to earn anywhere from around $27,560 to over $81,320 per year.


Graduates with a master's degree often earn additional promotional and advancement opportunities. Possible areas of employment for graduates include web design, multimedia design, graphic design and packaging design. According to, web designers earned between $30,107 and $79,722 in 2016, while packaging designers earned between $32,353 and $68,000.

Associate's, bachelor's and master's degree programs in communication design are available completely online but often have specific software and hardware requirements. Career opportunities vary depending on a graduate's level of education, but possible job titles include graphic designer, web designer or packaging designer.

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