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Online Design Schools: How to Choose

Online design programs are available at a variety of levels, from undergraduate certificates to bachelor's degrees. Find out what path options are available along with factors to consider.

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Online design schools are widely available, but vary greatly in areas of focus, level of awards and methods of program delivery. Here we discuss these different considerations and explore some of the program and school options.

How to Select an Online Design School

Online design programs can be found through colleges, universities and art and design schools. Schools may offer programs in many different specializations of the broad field of design, such as Web design and game design. Along with the area of design, the award level and program delivery should be considered.

Area of Design

Many different types of design programs are available through distance learning, such as interior design, game design, Web design and graphic design, so individuals need to know which area of design they're interested in prior to enrolling in an online program.

Level of Award

Students should also consider which credential level they'll pursue when choosing a design school. Certificate programs may be completed in a shorter period of time since they don't include the general education requirements that associate's and bachelor's degree programs do. However, some careers, such as interior designer, require applicants to hold an undergraduate degree.

Program Delivery

While several schools offer distance education options in design, not all programs are completely online. Some design programs are in a hybrid format, which involves both online and on-campus classes. Fully online design programs allow tests to be taken and submitted online; however, some schools require exams to be proctored by a third party and completed in-person.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Advertising and Commercial Design
  • Commercial Photography
  • Fashion Design
  • General Visual Communications Design
  • Graphic Design
  • Illustration and Drawing
  • Industrial Design
  • Interior Design and Decorating

List of Online Design Programs

Online Certificate in Graphic Design

This program introduces individuals to preparing printed and electronic materials using digital and multimedia applications. Students take courses in:

  • Typography
  • Photo image editing
  • Graphic design and production
  • Electronic publishing
  • Designing art in an electronic age

Online Certificate in Web Design

The goal of a Web design certificate program is to teach students to design functional and visually appealing websites. Students learn to create and maintain websites with graphics and animation software; some programs require familiarity with coding. Students take courses in:

  • Photoshop basics
  • Fundamentals of typography
  • Dreamweaver
  • Javascript for designers
  • Color theory

Online Associate's Degree in Graphic Design

A distance learning associate's degree program allows graphic design students to create a portfolio. The portfolio is a collection of their work that demonstrates a graduate's application of visual and design principles to industry-standard software. Through discussion forums, demonstration videos and class exercises, students learn to design websites, animate virtual objects and edit presentations. In addition to general education requirements, students take classes in:

  • Concept and layout design
  • Design fundamentals
  • Image manipulation
  • Life, perspective and observational drawing
  • History and analysis of design

Online Bachelor's Degree in Game Design

In order to design and create video games, individuals learn about programming and animation. Specialty software is often necessary to demonstrate simulation techniques. Course topics include:

  • Programming foundations
  • Game testing and design
  • Prototyping
  • Game systems integration

Online Bachelor's Degree in Interior Design

This program covers sketching and drafting, which may require specific software. Graduates can design retail, business, residential and commercial spaces, and some interior design programs offer education in sustainable design. Students in these programs study:

  • Architectural perspective
  • Rendering techniques
  • Lighting layout and design
  • Interior materials

Schools With Online Programs in Design

The University of California Irvine offers an online certificate in web design and development with a web design track or web development track. Students must complete 15 units, including 9 required units and 6 elective units. This program is designed for those who wish to work professionally within the field of web development and design.

Penn Foster College has an online associate's degree program in graphic design that requires proctored exams. Students develop a professional portfolio and take courses in topics like color theory, web graphics and more. The program can be completed in four semesters and requires high-speed Internet, email and Windows 7 or later or Apple Mac OS X or later.

Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interior Design that can be taken online or on-campus. The program includes a portfolio requirement. Students also learn to work with computer-aided drafting technology.

There is a wide variety of online certificate, associate's and bachelor's degree programs available in various areas of design. Prospective students need to consider the area of design and level of award they want to pursue, as well as how the program is formatted and any in-person internship or course requirements.

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