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

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 & History of Art & Design I
Wintersession
Non-major studio elective
Spring
Drawing II
Design II
Spatial Dynamics II
Topics in History, Philosophy and the Social Sciences
Theory & History of Art & Design II

Sophomore

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

Junior

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

Senior

Fall
Graphic design electives
Open electives
Liberal arts elective
Wintersession
Open electives
Spring
Graphic Design elective
Degree Project
Open 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. Common Application

    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; eligible students may apply for a fee waiver.

  2. Academic transcripts

    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. Tests

    SAT or ACT

    All applicants are required to submit the results of the SAT or the ACT (American College Testing program). RISD will superscore your results. Subject tests are not required.

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

    TOEFL or IELTS

    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. 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.

    RISD’s institution code number is 3726.

  4. Portfolio

    You will upload your portfolio in SlideRoom through the Common Application.

    Your portfolio should present 12–20 examples of your most recent work that showcases your thinking and making. The work should reflect a full range of your ideas, interests, experiences and abilities in the arts. 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 recommend that you include some developmental research and/or preparatory work for one of your submissions. It is helpful to show your process of thinking and investigation so we can see how you develop your ideas. A sketchbook or journal page may be an appropriate way to share your process. Consider also including the finished piece and preparatory work(s) in a single image. There is an area in SlideRoom where you can include brief text descriptions for your submissions.

    We strongly discourage the submission of works in PDF format that include multiple pages, especially when there are numerous elements on a single page. These are difficult for reviewers to view and assess and are likely to exceed the allowed limit of 20 work examples.

  5. The Assignment

    Choose one of the following three prompt options and create two responses using any medium (no restrictions).

    • error
    • verify
    • forge

    Each of these prompts has more than one meaning or usage. You might want to begin by referring to dictionary sources to expand your initial reaction and inform your direction. We consider this assignment to be as much about process as presentation. We encourage you to consider your submissions as exercises in experimental thinking and risk-taking more than final presentations or examples of technical proficiency. No mode of expression is valued more than another, so feel free to explore the full range of possibilities.

    Upload your responses in the specific section of SlideRoom dedicated to these works. Do not include them in the Portfolio area of SlideRoom.

    If the file size of either response exceeds 10MB, embed a link to direct us to another viewing platform such as a personal website, YouTube, Vimeo, etc.

    Along with these works, reflect on the two responses you are sharing and provide a brief, written response to this question: What are the other directions or ideas you would explore as a next step?

  6. Writing sample

    Submit one example of your writing, up to 650 words. Remember, this is the limit, not a goal. Use the full limit if you need it, but don’t feel obligated to do so.

    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 samples you submit.

  7. Letter(s) of recommendation

    Although not required, these letters can be very helpful to your application. One letter is suggested, 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.

Departments

Apparel Design Architecture Ceramics Digital + Media Experimental and Foundation Studies Film / Animation / Video Furniture Design Glass Graduate Studies Graphic Design 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 Theory + History of Art + Design