Academics Graphic Design

Bachelor’s Program

BFA | 4-year program

The undergraduate program in Graphic Design allows students to fully absorb an informed design process that provides lifelong support as they go on to engage in real-world design opportunities. Students gain a thorough understanding of the principles of design, theories of communication and strategies for problem solving.

Learning outcomes

The program educates students to become resourceful designers engaged in reflexive, responsible and sustainable practices. Graduates are prepared to:

  • evaluate and critique the effectiveness of visual communication work.
  • respond to a communication need by determining an appropriate perspective and following through by form-making using various means: editing, aesthetics and/or appropriation.
  • develop and refine personal methods that culminate in a cohesive body of work targeting professional practice, an independent studio practice and/or entrepreneurship.
  • work with contemporary and historical tools and software.

Inspiring community

Despite being one of the largest departments at RISD, Graphic Design offers approximately 165 undergraduate majors countless opportunities to collaborate within and beyond the discipline. MFA candidates in the department work in a separate facility but interact with undergraduates as TAs and informal mentors who appreciate all opportunities to engage in meaningful exchange about graphic communication.

Learning environment

Graphic Design majors work in dedicated studios in the Design Center, where they have access to a wide array of digital and traditional printing and photographic resources, as well as specialized facilities for bookbinding, papermaking and screenprinting. Faculty members assign challenging projects covering everything from designing books, magazines and posters to UX and websites, film graphics, identities, packaging and exhibits. Each year dozens of visiting designers and critics spend time at RISD complementing the talents of resident faculty and offering alternative design perspectives from around the world​.

Undergraduate student work

Curriculum

The core curriculum in Graphic Design builds a range of analytical, formal, sensory and technical design experiences. Sophomores begin exploring visual principles of form, image, color and typography. Conceptual thinking in areas such as communication theory, visual systems and information design forms the focus of the junior year. During senior year, emphasis is placed on design applications, with a range of electives available to expose students to specific areas of graphic design practice. Juniors and seniors also have opportunities to pursue professional internships over the summer or during the semester.

Foundation year

Fall
Drawing I
Design I
Spatial Dynamics I
First-year Literature Seminar
Theory and History of Art and Design I: Global Modernisms
Wintersession
Non-major studio elective
Spring
Drawing II
Design II
Spatial Dynamics II
Topics in History, Philosophy and the Social Sciences
Theory and History of Art and Design II: Premodern Worlds

Sophomore

Fall
Design Studio 1
Typography 1
History of Graphic Design
Liberal Arts electives
Open electives
Wintersession
Open elective
Spring
Design Studio 2
Typography 2
Color + Surface
Liberal Arts elective
Open electives

Junior

Fall
Design Studio 3
Typography 3
Liberal Arts elective
Open elective
Wintersession
Open elective
Wintersession
Design Studio 4
Liberal Arts electives
Open electives

Senior

Fall
Graphic design electives
Non-major elective
Liberal arts elective
Wintersession
Open elective
Spring
Degree Project
Graphic Design elective
Non-major elective
Liberal Arts elective

Degree project

Undergraduate study in Graphic Design culminates in a challenging, self-defined degree project that taps into each student's strengths, interests and experiences.

Application requirements

  1. You’ll begin and manage your RISD application process by completing the Common Application. There is a non-refundable application fee of $60 to use this service, plus a nonrefundable $10 fee to submit a required online portfolio via SlideRoom.

    Don’t let the admission application fee prevent you from applying! If the fee presents a hardship for you or your family, we’ll waive it for you. You can request a waiver two ways: 1. Navigate to the "Fee Waiver" portion on the Common App and check off the answer which most fits your family circumstances and you'll be able to submit your application without entering your credit card information. 2: If your situation does not match any of the waiver criteria on the Common App fee waiver section, email admissions@risd.edu and we’ll process the waiver manually. To receive a SlideRoom fee waiver, please email admissions@risd.edu.

  2. Applicants must provide official transcripts of all secondary academic work through the most recent grading period. Your counselor may submit your transcript through the Common Application, Parchment, email or mail. If your academic credentials are not written in English, they must be translated into English by an approved translator prior to submission.

  3. Test-Optional, SAT and ACT

    Beginning with students applying for entrance in 2021, RISD is offering all applicants the ability to be reviewed without submitting results from the SAT or ACT. Students may opt into this process by selecting this option within the RISD section of the Common Application. For students who choose to submit test scores, RISD will superscore your results, looking at your highest outcome across multiple test dates.

    RISD’s institution code number for the SAT is 3726; for ACT the code number is 003812.

    Transfer credits

    Some A-Level classes and IB credits can be used toward RISD liberal arts requirements. First-year students can transfer a maximum of nine credits from A-Level classes with an earned grade of C or higher or Higher Level IB grades of 5, 6, or 7. RISD will not accept IB credit from art or studio classes. View RISD's full transfer credit policy

    English language proficiency tests

    All applicants who speak English as a second language, including US citizens, must submit results from any one of these three options: TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), IELTS (International English Language Testing System) or Duolingo (an online English test). Since proficiency in English is a prerequisite for acceptance, applicants must attain an acceptable score on their chosen test; RISD requires a minimum result of 93 on the TOEFL or a 6.5 on the IELTS.

    Duolingo is changing its scoring system beginning with tests completed on July 15, 2019 and beyond. If you took this test prior to the change, we require a minimum result of 63. Applicants who completed the Duolingo test on or after July 15, 2019 must achieve a minimum score of 115, which is the equivalent of 63 in their prior scoring system.

    Plan to take the TOEFL or IELTS well in advance of the application deadline since it may take three weeks for your scores to be sent to RISD by the test agency. Duolingo test results may take up to four days to be received by RISD.

    The language test requirement may be waived for applicants who have studied in an institution where English is the language of instruction. You must contact the Admissions Office to explain your school history and determine if you are eligible.

  4. Your portfolio should present 12–20 examples of your most recent work that showcases your thinking and making. You will upload your portfolio in SlideRoom through the Common Application, where you will begin the application process.

    Your selected work should reflect a full range of your ideas, curiosity, experimentation and experience in creating and making. This can include work in any medium, in finished or sketch form, and can be the result of an assigned project or a self-directed exploration.

    We strongly recommend that you include some examples that involve drawing from direct observation (rather than from imagination or a photograph). Drawing is a fundamental tool for visual makers from initial concept to execution, so it is valuable for reviewers to see examples of your experience with and approach to drawing.

    While the majority of your portfolio should feature finished pieces, we suggest including some research or preparatory work in up to three—but no more than three—portfolio selections. This helps reviewers better understand how you develop your ideas.

    Finally, we strongly discourage including excessive visual elements and text descriptions in a single slide submission. These are difficult to view and are likely to exceed the allowed file limit. Additional angles or detail shots of some works can either be submitted as an individual image or video upload, or you can upload a composite including up to three images. Editing is an important part of curating your portfolio. You may need to devise creative solutions to best show your work within the limits of submission guidelines.

    Our recommended file formats are: jpeg, png, gif, mp4 and mov. These formats are most compatible with SlideRoom. Google Drive or zipped files are not recommended formats for sharing your artwork.

  5. Part I: Visual Response

    Identify something that is in need of repair. Use any material or approach to fix it.

    What you choose to fix can be anything: from a tangible object to an intangible system. You can choose something objectively broken, or something you personally believe is in need of repair. This could be a past art piece, a social or ecological issue, a historical era, technology, etc.

    Your process is entirely up to you, but your fix should involve intentional modifications that change the original state for the better. It can exist in the realm of aesthetics, function, structure, or in any other capacity.

    Visual responses will vary by applicant so how you document your assignment will depend on your repair. This could be photo documentation of your response, a digital outcome, or a short video. Our recommended file formats are: jpeg, png, gif, mp4 and mov. These formats are most compatible with SlideRoom. Google Drive, zipped files, and multiple page PDFs are not recommended formats for sharing your artwork.

    Part 2: Written Statement (250 word limit)

    Submit a written statement in a single page PDF that provides insight into the creative process you used in your visual response. Your written statement could speak to any of the following:

    • How you identified something in need of repair
      For applicants choosing a tangible object to repair, we recommend including a single image/recording of the original object in your written statement file. It’s helpful for reviewers to have a point of reference when viewing your ‘fix.’
    • Your considerations toward problem solving
    • Material choices

    For more info, check out our info session about the new Assignment.

  6. Submit your college essay, up to 650 words. You will find the writing prompts in the Personal Essay section of the Common Application.

    While we encourage you to adhere to the rules of good writing, we look for applicants who are not afraid to take risks in their expression. Please don't hesitate to use a writing style or method that may be outside the mainstream as you express a distinctive personal position in the essay you submit.

  7. Letters of recommendation can be very helpful to your application. One letter is required, although as many as three may be submitted. 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 as a student.

    Please use the Common Application to invite your recommendation writers to submit letters through that service. Letters may also be sent directly to our mailing address (see below) or emailed to admissions@risd.edu.