Master’s Programs

The MFA in Graphic Design prepares you for professional practice by emphasizing the roles of social context, media and aesthetics in the production of visible language systems.It 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. Both options allow you to tailor individual courses of study through cross-disciplinary electives.

Two-year curriculum

MFA candidates with a BFA or BA in Graphic Design or an equivalent degree such as Visual Communications enroll in the two-year program. Designed for students who also have professional experience in the field, the program offers a 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. In the Graduate Seminar sequence, you gain a sophisticated sense of context through discussion of design history and contemporary critical issues, and develop your own approach to exploring, investigating and constructing a well-designed thesis.

View the two-year curriculum

Three-year curriculum

For those with the visual/verbal aptitude to enter the field but who hold undergraduate degrees in loosely or unrelated majors need a foundational year of study to gain skills in typography, color, theory, image and design application to move on to a thesis investigation. After completing the first year, your studies merge with the largely open curriculum enjoyed by two-year track candidates.

View the three-year curriculum

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.

Inspiring community

Each year approximately 40 highly motivated and engaged graduate students at various stages in the program work together, supporting one another through open discussion and an exchange of perspectives. The department's accomplished faculty 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 you to a 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 fifth floor of RISD's Center for Integrative Technologies (CIT), home to several graduate programs along with the campus-wide graduate student gallery.

The CIT allows for ready interaction with grad students in Digital + Media, Teaching + Learning in Art + Design, Interior Architecture and Textiles. It 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, culminating in work that represents your 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 your contribution to the field of graphic design. All MFA candidates also submit a written thesis and participate in the annual graduate thesis exhibition, a large-scale public show of work by graduating advanced-degree students.