MFA | 2 + 3-year programs

RISD's graduate program in Graphic Design prepares students for professional practice by emphasizing the roles of social context, media and aesthetics in the production of visible language systems. As a reflection of the discipline itself, the program encourages a nimble and intelligent response to constant change and burgeoning technology, while building a strong foundation of formal, aesthetic and analytical knowledge. MFA candidates choose between two program tracks: a two-year option for students entering with undergraduate degrees in graphic design or other visual communication, and a three-year option for those with degrees in liberal arts, the sciences or fine arts. Built on a sequence of required courses, the curricula for both allow candidates to tailor individual courses of study through cross-disciplinary electives.

Learning outcomes

Graduates are prepared to:

  • interrogate the use of contemporary and historical tools, software and theory while contributing innovative and critical formal responses to the field of graphic design
  • produce visual form as proof of concept and demonstration of theory
  • contribute, evaluate and critique visual communication work at an advanced strategic level
  • participate effectively in a professional graphic design studio environment
  • initiate an individual or collaborative studio practice
  • convey their expertise through teaching and/or mentoring
  • curate exhibitions of their work and that of others
  • conduct original research and convey it through appropriate modes of writing, publishing, curating and/or exhibiting


MFA | 2-year program

MFA candidates with a BFA or BA in Graphic Design or an equivalent degree such as Visual Communications enroll in the two-year program. Since these students typically also have at least two years of professional experience in the field, the program is designed to offer an opportunity for a more sustained and intensive investigation of critical graphic design thinking and making.

The Graduate Studio sequence explores the range of skills and activities within the design process, from an initial visual/verbal response to content, to the narrative shaping and communication of messages. Students in both tracks meet in the Graduate Seminar sequence, which initially builds a sophisticated sense of context through discussion of design history and contemporary critical issues, and later helps develop individual approaches to the exploration, investigation and construction of a well-designed thesis proposal.

MFA first year

Fall
Graduate Seminar I
Graduate Studio I
Graphic Design Studies and/or Open Electives
Graduate Education Seminar
Wintersession
Graduate Design Studies and/or Open Electives
Graduate Education Seminar
Spring
Graduate Seminar II
Graduate Studio II
Graphic Design Studies and/or Open Electives
Graduate Education Seminar

MFA second year

Fall
Graduate Thesis I
Graphic Design Studies and/or Open Electives
Graduate Education Seminar
Wintersession
Graduate Thesis Open Re/Search
Graduate Education Seminar
Spring
Graduate Thesis II
Graphic Design Studies and/or Open Electives
Graduate Education Seminar

MFA | 3-year program

MFA candidates with the visual/verbal aptitude to enter the field but who hold undergraduate degrees in majors such as architecture, biology, computer science, history, journalism, literature and so forth need a foundational year of study to gain the requisite skills in typography, color, theory, image and design application to move on to a thesis investigation in the subsequent two years. After successful completion of the intensive first year, three-year track students merge studies with two-year track candidates, taking one more typography course but otherwise sharing the same increasingly open curriculum.

MFA preliminary year

Fall
Design Studio
Design Studio II

MFA first year

Fall
Graduate Typography I
Graduate Form I
Graduate Seminar I
Wintersession
Graphic Design Studies and/or Open Electives
Spring
History of Graphic Design
Graduate Type Design
Graduate Typography II
Graduate Form II

MFA second year

Fall
Graduate Typography III
Graduate Studio I
Graphic Design Studies and/or Open Electives
Graduate Education Seminar
Wintersession
Graphic Design Studies and/or Open Electives
Graduate Education Seminar
Spring
Graduate Studio II
Graduate Seminar II
Graphic Design Studies and/or Open Electives
Graduate Education Seminar

MFA third year

Fall
Graduate Thesis I
Graphic Design Studies and/or Open Electives
Graduate Education Seminar
Wintersession
Graduate Thesis Open Research
Graphic Design Studies or Open Elective
Spring
Graduate Thesis II
Graphic Design Studies and/or Open Electives
Graduate Education Seminar

Bethany Johns | graduate program director

Inspiring community

Each year approximately 40 highly motivated and engaged graduate students at various stages in the program work together, inspiring and supporting one another through open discussion and an exchange of perspectives from the wide variety of backgrounds and interests they bring to campus. The department's accomplished professors extend the energy and ideas students bring to the studio and foster generative thinking and making. In addition, visiting designers offer varied models for critical practice and introduce students to a wide range of resources in the larger design world.

Learning environment

Graduate students in Graphic Design share individual workspaces in a large design studio on the 5th floor of RISD's Center for Integrative Technologies (CIT), home to several graduate programs along with the campus-wide graduate student gallery. This facility downtown separates grad students from undergraduates in the program — who are housed in the Design Center — but allows for ready interaction with grad students in Digital + Media, Teaching + Learning in Art + Design, Interior Architecture and Textiles. The center is also adjacent to the Fletcher Building, which offers graduate studio space for MFA candidates in five fine arts programs.

Thesis project

Individual thesis investigation is central to the final year of MFA study and culminates in the comprehensive presentation of work representing an original voice for visual and verbal expression of design thinking. The thesis should be equal parts exploration, explanation, provocation and contribution. Guest critics participate throughout the year and in the year-end thesis review, which offers a forum for critical dialogue focused on each student's contribution to the field of graphic design. All MFA candidates also submit a written thesis and as a group participate in the RISD Graduate Thesis Exhibition, a large-scale public show held in the Rhode Island Convention Center.

Application requirements

  1. Application form

    Submit your RISD application form, and all other credentials, through the RISD Applicant Portal. The application fee is $60.

  2. Academic transcripts

    Initially, you must provide unofficial transcripts of all undergraduate and/or graduate study indicating satisfactory completion, or evidence of anticipated completion, of an undergraduate degree program from an accredited college or university. You can upload your unofficial transcripts within the RISD Applicant Portal. If your academic credentials are prepared in a language other than English, they must be translated into English by an approved translator before submitting. Enrolling students will later be required to submit official transcripts.

  3. Portfolio

    Graduate applicants to studio programs are required to submit 10–20 examples of visual work, with certain programs suggesting more specific ideas or portfolio requirements. Applicants to the MA programs in Global Arts and Cultures and Nature–Culture–Sustainability Studies are required to submit an example of critical and/or analytical writing. See below for all program-specific instructions.

    Use Slideroom to submit your graduate portfolio here.

    Specific program instructions:

    Digital + Media | Your portfolio should contain 10 samples total, which can be a combination of images and videos. You may submit up to 5 videos, with a total run time of no more than five minutes for all videos combined. Please do not submit multi-page PDF files. Each sample should be accompanied by text identifying the medium and year, and a four-sentence description explaining the concepts that inform your work and is no more than 50 words. If collaborative projects are presented, you must clearly identify your individual contribution.

    Furniture Design | In the MFA programs, students make their own work as part of learning from, and with, materials. This applies to tests and models as well as to full-size objects at human scale. Material experimentation includes traditional, new and hybrid materials as appropriate to individual student interests.

    In addition to your portfolio materials uploaded to Slideroom, we invite you to include a self-made video no more than 20 seconds duration of you making something. We are not looking for video with professional production values; we are interested in seeing you making something – small, large, modest or complex, any making action can work, the choice is yours. This is an option you might enjoy adding to your submission for us to learn more about your interests. Finally, please title your video.

    Global Arts and Cultures | Applicants to the master’s program in Global Arts and Cultures are required to submit a writing sample of 6,000–8,000 words. This writing sample should represent your strongest critical and/or analytical writing on a topic clearly related to Global Arts and Cultures. Please keep your submission within the word limit.

    In evaluating your writing sample, the Admissions Committee will assess your ability to write well and successfully navigate the challenges of graduate-level scholarship. Please indicate if your writing sample is excerpted from a longer work. If it is, please make sure your selection(s) form a coherent argument and is framed so the Admissions Committee understands their function as part of a longer work.

    Landscape Architecture | All applicants to the Master's of Landscape Architecture degree programs are required to submit a portfolio and an additional video essay. Your portfolio should contain 10 individually produced and carefully chosen images of work that reflects your interests in landscape and the discipline of landscape architecture. Applicants to the MLA-1 program who have no prior design training may include photographs, sketches or written work that conveys their ability to observe, identify and explore spatial conditions within the landscape. All other applicants should include a selection of work that best represents the development of their interest in this field of study. All work should be labeled to indicate if it is academic, professional or personal. If team projects are presented, your individual contribution must be clearly identified. The portfolio should include a minimal amount of text.

    Prepare a short video of yourself telling us:

    • The most important reason you are motivated to study landscape architecture
    • At least one goal you hope to achieve in your graduate education
    • Why you think RISD is the best place to achieve your goals

    You are encouraged to be authentic and heartfelt in your response. This essay will function as the beginning of a conversation you will continue to have if you enter the program at RISD and it does not have to be the same information provided in your written essay. Cell phone videos are accepted as well. Maximum length: 2 minutes.

    Master of Arts in Teaching | MAT | Your portfolio should consist of 20 images exhibiting the depth and breadth of your studio experience. Ten images should represent work that reflects your investigations within a single medium; seven images should represent your confidence in handling a variety of media; and three images need to be samples of drawings.

    Master of Arts in Art + Design Education | MA | Submit a portfolio of 20 images that most clearly represent your creative practice as an artist or designer.

    Nature–Culture–Sustainability Studies | Applicants to the master’s in Nature–Culture–Sustainability Studies are required to submit a writing sample of 6,000–8,000 words. This writing sample should represent your strongest critical and/or analytical writing on a topic clearly related to Nature–Culture–Sustainability Studies. Please keep your submission within the word limit.

    In evaluating your writing sample, the Admissions Committee will assess your ability to write well and successfully navigate the challenges of graduate-level scholarship. Please indicate if your writing sample is excerpted from a longer work. If it is, please make sure your selection(s) form a coherent argument and is framed so the Admissions Committee understands their function as part of a longer work.

  4. Statement of purpose

    Graduate applicants must submit a written statement (500–750 words) outlining their interest and goals in pursuing graduate study. Several programs suggest more specific ideas or written requirements as outlined below.

    Specific program instructions:

    Digital + Media | Within the statement of purpose, the committee seeks a clear explanation of the applicant’s goals for both their time in school and afterwards, and how the MFA in Digital + Media is specifically suited to support these goals. This statement should address the following questions: what are you interested in exploring conceptually? What outcomes do you hope to get from the degree? Where do you see yourself after graduation? In addition to the statement of purpose, applicants should outline their working methodology or practice from initial research to project realization.

    Global Arts and Cultures | Applicants to the master’s program in Global Arts and Cultures must submit an academic statement of purpose of 1,000–2,000 words. The object of your statement is to introduce yourself to the Admissions Committee as a thinker, scholar and writer, and you should address in detail your intellectual interests and proposed topic(s) of graduate study. Be as specific as possible in describing your prior college-level experience in areas encompassed by Global Arts and Cultures and how this work has contributed to your professional and personal goals in pursuing a master’s degree. Your statement should also reflect your understanding of the contours and demands of graduate study in Global Arts and Cultures at RISD.

    Landscape Architecture | Your essay should describe how your interest in landscape developed, how the work in your portfolio is indicative of that development and why the landscape architecture program at RISD seems well suited to your goals.

    Master of Arts in Teaching | MAT | Submit a statement (500–700 words) describing your work as an artist or designer. What is it about? How do you feel your academic, studio or work experience prepares you for entry to a graduate teacher education program? Discuss how, in your opinion, the quality of an educator’s artistic practice contributes to high-quality arts learning for children and youth. Since the significance of arts education in K–12 schools is not universally recognized, please provide a succinct argument for including the visual arts as a required core subject for all students at this level.

    Master of Arts in Art + Design Education | MA | Submit a written statement (500–750 words) describing your interest in pursuing the MA. Describe how you might customize a program of study that maximizes the resources of RISD, Brown and the city in support of your particular interest in art and design education. In what ways do you, at this time, anticipate that earning an MA will advance your professional development and career aspirations?

    Nature–Culture–Sustainability Studies | Applicants to the master’s in Nature–Culture–Sustainability Studies must submit an academic statement of purpose of 1,000–2,000 words. The object of your statement is to introduce yourself to the Admissions Committee as a thinker, scholar and writer, and you should address in detail your intellectual interests and proposed topic(s) of graduate study. You should be as specific as possible in describing your prior college-level experience in the areas of Nature–Culture–Sustainability Studies and how this work has contributed to your professional and personal goals in pursuing a master’s degree. Your statement should also reflect your understanding of the contours and demands of graduate study in Nature–Culture–Sustainability Studies at RISD.

    Photography | In addition to a statement of purpose, applicants should send an artist’s statement describing the work included in their portfolio. In other words, the artist’s statement should be about the work submitted, while the statement of purpose should address why you are seeking a graduate degree.

  5. Letters of recommendation

    Applicants are required to submit three letters of recommendation. Recommendation letters should be written by teachers or other professionals who have firsthand knowledge of your art or academic achievements and can comment on your potential for graduate study. You may invite your recommenders to upload their letters through your Applicant Portal. If your recommenders are unable to submit using this method, their letters may be emailed to admissions@risd.edu or mailed to the Graduate Admissions Office.

  6. Tests

    All applicants who speak English as a second language, including US citizens, must submit results from either TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or IELTS (International English Language Testing System). Since proficiency in English is a prerequisite for acceptance, applicants must attain an acceptable score on either test; RISD requires a minimum result of 93 on the TOEFL or 6.5 on IELTS. The language test requirement may be waived for applicants who are enrolled in an institution where English is the language of instruction.

    Plan to take the TOEFL or IELTS well in advance of the application deadline since it may take six weeks for your scores to be sent to RISD by the test agency. RISD’s College Board code is 3726.

    Graduate Record Exam (GRE) | Applicants to the MA programs in Global Arts and Cultures and Nature–Culture–Sustainability Studies are required to submit results from the GRE. Results from the Graduate Record Examination are otherwise not required, but MAT, MLA and all other MA candidates are encouraged to submit their scores.

Departments

Apparel Design Architecture Ceramics Digital + Media Experimental and Foundation Studies Film / Animation / Video Furniture Design Glass Graduate Studies Graphic Design History of Art + Visual Culture History, Philosophy + the Social Sciences Illustration Industrial Design Interior Architecture Jewelry + Metalsmithing Landscape Architecture Literary Arts + Studies Painting Photography Printmaking Sculpture Teaching + Learning in Art + Design Textiles