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.
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.
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.
Catherine Cieslewicz MFA 2013
James Grady MFA 2012
Virginia Chow MFA 2012
Ben Shaykin MFA 2011
Jonathan Hanahan MFA 2014
Andrew Leclair MFA 2012
Minsun Eo MFA 2013
Mat Stevens MFA 2011
Justin Chen MFA 2013
Amanda Sim MFA 2013
Yoonkung Kim MFA 2014
Colin Frazer & Eugene Park MFA 2013
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 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.
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 annually.
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