What Makes a Great Graphic Design School?

Graphic design is both an art and a skill that requires a high level of creativity. Being able to think outside the box is critical for being successful. There is no way around that in this particular business. But like any other skill in life, it needs to be acquired, sharpened, and polished, both inside and outside the classroom. Finding and attending one of the best graphic design schools will place you on the path to becoming a professional graphic designer. If you pursue this route, you can also feel confident that there are numerous jobs just waiting to be filled. We live in a world where it’s impossible not to see the work of graphic designers all around us. This is because human beings are increasingly visual people. It would be a pretty boring world if all our content was delivered in plain text.

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Everything from the morning newspaper, to the billboards you see along the highway on your commute to work have one thing in common — they were both designed and influenced by graphic designers. This is a real skill that is used in every aspect of the real world.

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Graphic designers are also responsible for designing beautiful logos, website graphics, book designs, product packaging, magazine layouts, greeting cards, business cards, and much more. If you look at anything in life with a design, it was probably designed by a graphic design professional. So we have established that this is a profitable and in demand skill. The next logical step is to discuss what separates the “average” graphic design schools from those that are “great” and will really prepare you for a career in this lucrative and rewarding field.

Graphic design adds a visual component to traditional communication. By combining images and words effectively, you have now created a new avenue for reaching your target audience. We aren’t a society that is opposed to reading. And some people enjoy reading text far more than others. But you need to capture the attention of your audience almost immediately. There is a very short span of time where you will either gain or lose their interest. With text alone, unless the writing is very engaging, and even the best copywriters struggle with that, then a visual component must be added. Graphic design allows you to get into the visual cortex of the readers brain. This can be powerful and effective!

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looking over graphic drawings

It can also make all the difference in the world for individuals trying to get their message across, companies trying to boost their sales, and even life-changing organizations that are devoted to the greater good. Graphic design is more than a skill that allows you to make a living and survive. It’s one of those skills that can change lives and even the direction of the world. This is why it’s so imperative that you develop your skill set by attending a great graphic design school. It will unlock countless doors and opportunities that go far beyond a weekly paycheck. By choosing a great school over an average one, you will also be in a better position to reach your maximum creative potential.

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Great graphic design schools have one thing in common — they have a curriculum in place that takes a comprehensive look at the in and outs of effective graphic design. While it would be easier to simply focus on how to design different things, it won’t make you a well-rounded or effective graphic designer. In order to be successful, you must be able to capture, and perhaps even enhance the vision of the client or company. If the customer or business has one vision, but you happen to have another, then you need to get on the same page. This doesn’t mean compromising on your ideas, especially if they are better and more effective. But you must have the ability to communicate your views clearly and effectively. And in order to do that, you must have a strong graphic design background. Having the necessary skills to complete a project is great. Being able to tell your client or employer why a particular design will be effective or ineffective is even better. This is one of the skills that separates average designers from great designers. It’s the difference between being viewed as an employee or an asset in the real world.

girl and guy looking at computer screen

Average graphic design schools focus on teaching their students how to use a particular piece of software. This in turn places students at a big disadvantage. There are certain software titles that prospective graphic designers must be able to use. But in order to be become a professional in this field, your skills need to span beyond the software. Some of the best graphic design schools will help you build your designer’s signature. This is what separates your individual style from the crowd. With every project you complete, your goal should be for your design to embed itself in the minds of your audience. Your skill set needs to be well rounded. Your individual style on the other hand should not attempt to harness multiple styles that pollute your own particular style.

Great design schools will have instructors and courses will have instructors and courses that teach you how to do that. Project management, typography, and creative thinking are three other skills you need to develop in an effective graphic design program. Staying organized is critical for completing projects on time. One major trait that separates great designers from average ones is the ability to work without much oversight. If you constantly need to be told what to do, and are wasting valuable time at every stage waiting for input, the company or client will not view you as an asset. An established graphic design school will teach you how to work independently, as well as how to assume a leadership role on projects. Typography and being able to use different fonts effectively is the next essential skill.

looking at graphics on screen

Having a working knowledge of typography is essential for making the leap from novice to professional. Being able to distinguish and use the different font families, as well as being able to work with line-heights and character spacing is important. Typography allows graphic designers to add more style, personality, and flavor to their individual designs. When searching for one of the better graphic design schools, you want to make sure their degree program includes one or more courses on typography. On a side note, if you have any plans to work at an advertising firm, this is a huge skill they look for when making hiring decisions. The next big skill you need to have is the ability to think creatively. Even if your boss or the client gives you something dull and boring, you must be able to convert it to something that is beautiful, creative, and engaging.

Graphic design programs worth considering will include a digital print production component. As a graphic designer, you will need the ability to work with the popular page layout programs. Adobe InDesign and QuarkXpress are the two popular titles used widely in the industry. This is what you will be using for creating brochures, flyers, and more. For illustration, such as creating logos or vector-based graphics, Adobe Illustrator is the title of choice. Adobe Photoshop is what designers use for creating and manipulating pixel-based graphics. For website editing, Adobe Dreamweaver is the software program of choice. And while it’s possible install this software on both Mac and PC, there is a growing trend in the industry towards Apple Macs. If you work for yourself and find your own clients, this is not really an issue or concern. On the other hand, if your an employee working for a company, there is a good chance they will have you working on a Mac. Make sure the graphic design school you are considering covers all the software titles we have mentioned. It’s also a big plus if their computer labs are filled with Macs.

graphic arts buildingEven though most graphic designers aren’t coding web pages, it’s good to have at least a basic and working knowledge of HTML and CSS. Being familiar with what constitutes good design standards is also important. Some companies keep the web and graphics people segregated into two separate departments. Other businesses are looking to hire graphic designers that can work directly with the web designers. This eliminates the need for a middle person to be involved in the process. It also saves the company time, money, and results in faster turnaround on projects. As a designer, you won’t be expected to write a lot of code. If they wanted you to do that, they would eliminate the web position. But if you know enough to make minor edits here and there, and can talk directly with the web designers, it will put you at a major advantage in most cases. For that reason, look for graphic design schools that offer a few courses on HTML/CSS. The benefits are numerous when you choose a great school over an average one. It might be more challenging, but at the end of the day, the skills and experience you gain will pay off for a lifetime.