Online Masters Degrees in Design: Program Options

Learn about online master's degree programs with design courses. Get an overview of the program types, requirements and course descriptions available for this field.

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Essential Information

The design field encompasses many specialties, including interior design, graphic design, fashion design and industrial design. However, this article discusses master's degree programs in graphic and interior design. Master's degree programs in design fields are available in fully online and hybrid formats. Students will typically need to have access to creative imaging software for graphic design programs, like Adobe Creative Suite. Both the master's degree in graphic design and interior design take about two years of full-time study to complete, and students may complete a final research project requirement prior to graduation.

Master's Degree - Graphic Design

Typically offered as a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree, online programs in graphic design provide students the opportunity to fine tune their drawing and design skills, as well as advance their technical knowledge. Areas of study typically include visual literacy, print publication, typography and design strategies. Emphasis is placed on the mastery of key components involved in the profession, such as presentations skills, narrative abilities, problem solving, innovative conceptual solutions and strategic thinking.

Information and Requirements

Online graphic design degree programs at the master's level can typically be completed within two years through coursework that is offered entirely online. Students may be asked to complete assignments on their own or with an assigned group. A final project or thesis may also be required. In order to complete project assignments, technology requirements for distance learning programs include the use of graphic design software, such as the Adobe Master Suite CS5.

Common Coursework

An online curriculum for a graphic design degree incorporates courses that enhance technical design skills and knowledge of audience-based marketing strategies. The coursework typically includes topics that explore the tactical and collaborative planning processes involved in executing graphic design projects. Common courses build skills in motion graphics, Web design, branding, packaging and presentation.

Digital Design Studio

Students explore the use of advanced digital design tools for the development of sophisticated visual communications. Online graduate students demonstrate their knowledge of layout, design nuances and typography through the execution of original projects.

Brand Development

This design course examines the complex process of brand development. Students learn to create their own personal brand by exploring the process of structuring the values of an entity and then create materials that further support and promote those values.

Ethics of Design

This distance education class covers the power of intellectual property and how it shapes opinions and buying decisions. Topics covered include font licensing, copyrights, trademark protection and ethical responsibilities.

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Master's Degree - Interior Design

An online master's degree program in interior design incorporates instruction in design principles, theory, technology and current industry standards. Students learn how to work with clients and use design innovation, spatial issues and the importance of attention to detail to create functional and inviting spaces. Courses advance the student's knowledge of interior design as it relates to the client's needs.

Information and Requirements

This type of master's-level design program can be completed 100% online and provides the necessary coursework to equip students with the skills needed to be a professional interior designer. Students are expected to access course materials and keep in touch with instructors and classmates through online discussion boards, e-mail, file sharing, live chat sessions and assignment postings. The curriculum includes the examination of design methodologies, scholarly design articles and key works of practitioners and critics. Program requirements typically take two years to complete.

Common Coursework

Common coursework for interior design degrees are designed to teach creative expression and intellectual leadership skills through the study of ethical procedures, professional standards and industry models. Graphic communication and drawing skills needed for the profession are also emphasized.

Lighting Design

Students study the technical and aesthetic principles of lighting design. Costs and budgets are also covered.

Design Theory and Criticism

This online course explores the design process for creating interior spaces, including problem solving, innovative methodologies and cultural developments. Topics include sketching alternatives, appropriate media for design communication and applied research.

Inclusive Design

Focus is placed on the functional, ergonomic and cultural needs of design solutions for interior spaces. Alternative design processes, material options, global design and governmental regulations are also discussed.

Career and Information

Career opportunities for graduates of an online master's degree program in graphic design include branding and identity designer, lead graphic designer or corporate communications director. Experienced graphic designers with a master's degree may advance to creative director, chief designer or other supervisory positions with large firms.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment in this field was projected to grow at an average rate of 1% between 2014 and 2024 ( In 2014, the American Institute of Graphic Arts reported that senior designers in a supervisory role earned a median annual wage of $62,500. This organization also reported that design directors and creative heads within design firms or in-house corporate design departments earned an average annual salary of $100,000.

Graduates with a master's degree in interior design, meanwhile, are qualified for job opportunities in residential and commercial interior design. Some interior designers also find employment opportunities as set designers or lighting designers. Experienced designers earning a master's degree in the field may have the opportunity to advance to design department head, chief designer or other supervisory positions within large design firms. According to the BLS, keen competition for interior design positions is expected, however employment growth within the industry was projected to increase by 4% during the 2014-2024 decade. The BLS reported that as of May 2015, the average annual wage for interior designers was $55,510, with the top 90% earning an average of $91,360.

Continuing Education Information

Some states require interior designers to obtain a license in order to practice. A passing score on a licensing exam administered by the National Council for Interior Design Qualification is typically required for licensure. Candidates are usually required to have at least six years of combined experience and education in interior design in order to qualify to take the licensing exam. Once candidates have earned a passing score, they are granted the designation of Certified, Registered or Licensed Interior Designer, depending on the state. Continuing education is typically required to maintain and renew licensure.

Online master's degree programs with design can prepare students for the fields of graphic and interior design, among others. Students develop drawing and technical skills, as they learn about industry software, brand development and consumer needs.

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