The Master of Graphic Design program focuses on preparing mature students for informed practice and teaching in the field of graphic design. The program acquaints students with research and theory within and outside graphic design that expands traditional design assumptions about audience and context. The main thrust of the program is to provide a research dimension to the field, with particular interest in taking theories about audience and context into practice.

Seminars include readings in cognitive and social psychology, anthropology, sociology, linguistics, social and cultural theory, and media studies. Students write about and discuss emerging research and critical frameworks in design. The co-requisite studio allows students to apply seminar information in faculty- and student-driven studio investigations.

The Master of Graphic Design is accredited as a terminal degree program by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. US News and World Report ranks it among the top seven graphic design programs nationally and second among public universities. It is a two-year, full-time course of advanced study that places primary importance on the ability of students to be critical agents and to pose researchable questions.

Graduate education differs from undergraduate education in many ways. The latter establishes a basic core of skills and knowledge with which to build a career in professional practice. The former, on the other hand, seeks to examine more thoroughly areas such as design history, theory, and criticism and to identify and anticipate research issues that will shape the profession in the future. Upon completion of the graduate degree, the graduate student may enter professional practice as a designer and researcher, or undertake a role in design education.


Graduate faculty in the Department of Graphic Design expect graduate students to exhibit behaviors and attitudes characteristic of advanced study, such as:

  • Intellectual curiosity that extends beyond the teacher-defined parameters of coursework;
  • Evidence of self-motivated strategies for acquainting oneself with literature and critical discourse in the discipline;
  • Evidence of a process for posing researchable questions and addressing research issues;
  • Ability to analyze and synthesize concepts and information from a variety of sources and to apply them in the exploration of visual communication problems;
  • Creative insight and the ability to recognize and develop significant research opportunities; and
  • Commitment to graduate education as demonstrated by time investment, level of inquiry, thoroughness and thoughtfulness of investigation, and responsiveness to faculty and peer student evaluations.
Design Studio (×3) projects 9 credits 1st–3rd sem.
Design Studio (×3) 9 credits 1st–3rd sem.
Motion Tagging (Rinnert); online annotation and tagging tools
Cyclocross Race Course Planning (Harjula); communication system
Service Design, Finding and Mobility (Muñoz); iPhone interface
Travelers (Cunningham); community narrative building
Digital Functions of Electronic Text (Wong Kung Fong); typographic interface
How to Build a Dinosaur from a Bone (Howard); animation
Making the Abstract Concrete (Wong Kung Fong); interactive space
AIGA Database Project (studio collaboration)
Seminar (×3) papers 3 credits 1st–3rd sem.
Seminar (×3) 3 credits 1st–3rd sem.
Inside Here, Outside There (Howard)
Seven Statements for Vacuous Illustrations in Scientific American (Peterson)
No Big Reveal or “Rollover, Balzac”: Interaction as a Narrative Medium Unto Itself (Harlow)
Now, It’s Personal: Narratives on the Web (Berkowitz)
Peering Through the Window of The Today Show (Berkowitz)
Televised Crime: Narrative in Transition (Gladstone)
Postmodern Television Comedies: Why Sitcoms No Longer Stand Still (Gladstone)
Jakob Nielsen is to Interface Design as Artificial Insemination is to Lovemaking (Galloway)
iTunes: Music Mediator, Social Facilitator (Galloway)
The Unfamiliar Gesture: GPS Drawing and Design Research (Hyland)
Final Project abstracts 6 credits 4th sem.
Final Project 6 credits 4th sem.
The Design of a Set of Software Tools to Support and Enhance Collaboration between Students and Industry (Harris)
Interaction for Understanding and Managing Complex Systems (Howard)
Performative Design for Learning through Educational Materials (Peterson)
Visualizing Phonemic Sounds for Dyslexic Readers 9–11 Years Old (Seward)
Designing the Conceptual Tools for Online Collecting Behaviors (Gray)
Time and Space as Map(ping) (Toth)
Digital Representations of Patterns in Scientific Information (Rohrbach)

The curriculum pairs a 3-credit seminar with a 9-credit studio in each of the first three semesters of study. Seminar students read in areas within and outside the discipline of design and engage in the analysis of design objects and interpretive contexts. Seminars may be taught by resident faculty or by visitors, who work through online instruction and/or periodic visits to campus. Co-requisite studios undertake speculative projects that anticipate future concerns and trends in design practice. The method is research through making and leads to a body of work that informs the fourth-semester final project. A third-semester course assists students in developing the final project proposal.

Writing in design

Faculty have backgrounds—and a strong interest—in writing on design, and encourage student development of critical writing skills. Seminars encourage and critique students’ critical writing on design as a necessary component of advanced study. Each semester’s topic engages students in the analysis of relevant issues and students often use these writing examples in submissions to conferences and publications. Recent seminars have focused on the culture of play, design and cognition, narrative, and the global design culture. Many students become active participants in design blogs and view writing as a significant enterprise in the practice of design and teaching.

Additional courses

Electives in advanced typography, interaction design, and theory allow students to focus their studies in particular areas of concern. Students also have access to graduate courses throughout the university for elective study.

For students whose first degrees are not in graphic design, the department offers a three-year program of study that includes a qualifying first year, followed by the regular two-year graduate course schedule. Students applying for this program should show interest in a research connection between their first and second degrees. Students seeking change-of-career, entry-level design skills should apply for admission as second-degree transfer students to the Bachelor of Graphic Design program.

Design Research Database Project

With help from the American Institute of Graphic Arts and a network of research professionals, the Master of Graphic Design students are developing a proof of concept for an international design research database. The project includes the protocol for development of keyword lists, recommendations about information architecture, and a suggested procedure for posting research findings online.

The work on this project raises important issues about the emerging research culture and how students and professionals use information about design. Extending beyond the typical search engine, the project features strategies for revealing information patterns in design publications and semantic networks of key concepts, and for using writing on design to support the work of scholars and practitioners. In executing the project, students interact with doctoral programs and research-focused offices around the world.

Design Textbook Project

Under a contract with Thames and Hudson, Ltd. / United Kingdom, Graphic Design professor Meredith Davis is writing and editing five undergraduate textbooks on design. NC State professors Denise Gonzales Crisp (on typography), Will Temple (on typography), and Martha Scotford (on history) are part of an authoring team that also includes Hugh Dubberly (Dubberly Design), Shelley Evenson (Carnegie Mellon University), Jamer Hunt (University of the Arts), Chris Myers (University of the Arts), and Lorraine Wild (California Institute of the Arts).

Master of Graphic Design students assist faculty on this project, providing design and research services in support of the writing.

Teaching Seminar

The Master of Graphic Design program offers one of the few teaching seminars in the country. Designed to prepare graduate students for teaching careers, the course covers topics such as curriculum and course development; classroom pedagogy; critique strategies; program assessment; balancing the teaching / research / service obligations of faculty; and grant writing in support of faculty research. Students have the option to be paired with senior faculty in the classroom and to apply for summer teaching positions in the college high school design camp. Students prepare a teaching portfolio in addition to their professional design portfolio, and are advised on job searches in education.

The Graduate Design Symposium

Every other fall, graduate students organize a graduate student symposium on the topic of their semester studies. Recent symposia addressed The Culture of Play and The Globalization of Design. The program includes visual and oral presentations by graduate students, as well as online participation by students and designers who are not able to attend the event. A call for papers will be announced in fall 2007.

In addition, graduate students have presented at other conferences, including one on new media at Duke University and the AIGA Schools of Thoughts conference in Los Angeles in spring 2007.

The Master of Graphic Design program is situated within the 700-student College of Design as one of several studio-based, professional degree offerings of advanced study, including architecture, landscape architecture, industrial design, and art and design. An interdisciplinary PhD in Design offers research-oriented study for students who wish to expand their investigations beyond studio-based coursework after completion of their master’s degree.

The college, in turn, resides within a major research university with on-campus resources that support inquiry in a variety of fields and that are accessible to design majors. University programs and faculty offer elective coursework in film, rhetoric, literature, anthropology, education, psychology, linguistics, and computer science, to name a few of recent interest to design majors.

NC State is one of three major universities in an area called the Triangle. Under NC State tuition, design students may attend classes, participate in lectures and symposia, and use library resources at Duke University in Durham and at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Research Triangle Park—a government, industry, and academic collaboration dating from the 1950s—provides access to the research and development centers of many high technology companies. The area is home to the IBM Design Center, National Humanities Center, Duke Center for Documentary Studies, J Walter Thompson Advertising Archive, and several state museums.

College resources

College of Design facilities include permanent studio space with 24-hour access for all 700 students majoring in the design disciplines. The Design Library has over 36,000 volumes and nearly 70,000 slides, including the digitized collection in Graphic Design. Information technology labs and the shop support student work and are professionally staffed. (More information on these and other facilities appears on the College of Design website under resources.) There are computing requirements for all students.

The faculty in the Graphic Design department shift between graduate and undergraduate duties. All full-time faculty are available for advising and can serve on thesis (final project) committees.

Meredith Davis: Professor and Director of Graduate Programs; Director of the PhD in Design program. Master of Education, Penn State University; MFA in Design, Cranbrook Academy of Art. Meredith’s research explores the use of design in achieving the goals of educational reform in K-12 schools. She is currently under contract to Thames and Hudson / UK for a series of college-level textbooks on graphic design, including an undergraduate introduction to design theory. Meredith teaches the cognitive studio and seminar, a teaching seminar, and the course for final project preparation.

Denise Gonzales Crisp: Associate Professor. MFA in Graphic Design, California Institute of the Arts. Denise’s research areas include defining what she calls the DecoRational, alternative design writing, and typography. She is currently writing a textbook on typography. Denise recently taught the cultural and narrative studios.

Santiago Piedrafita: Department Chair and Associate Professor. MS, Pratt Institute. Santiago recently taught the cognitive and narrative studios.

Will Temple: Assistant Professor. MFA in 2D Design, Cranbrook Academy of Art. Will is writing for the textbook on typography. He recently taught the cultural seminar.

Scott Townsend: Associate Professor. MFA in Photography, Cranbrook Academy of Art. Scott’s research in general focuses on the intersections between the individual and the community; of issues of personal identity and history, and the use of narrative and imagery. He teaches the narrative seminar.

Kermit Bailey: Associate Professor. Master of Product Design in Visual Design, NC State University. Kermit’s teaching responsibilities include coursework in interactive media, information design and typography.

Martha Scotford: Professor; PhD Faculty; Director of International Programs. MFA in Graphic Design, Yale University. Martha’s research is in design history, with a special emphasis on women in design and feminist theory. She is currently writing a textbook on graphic design history with Lorraine Wild.

Extended bios are available on the College of Design site.

Each year the department invites lecturers to present their work to students, faculty, and the public. While visiting, many lecturers spend additional time with graduate students in informal discussion and extended workshops.

Recent visiting faculty and lecturers

  • Andrew Blauvelt: designer and writer, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
  • Max Bruinsma: designer and writer, the Netherlands
  • Anne Burdick: designer, writer, and faculty, Art Center College, Los Angeles
  • Shelley Evenson: designer and strategiest, Scient, Chicago
  • Terry Irwin: designer (formerly of MetaDesign), San Francisco
  • J Abbott Miller and Ellen Lupton: designers and writers, New York
  • Katie Salen: designer and writer, New York
  • Piotr Szyhalski: media designer and faculty, Minneapolis College of Art and Design
  • Rob Wittig: writer, Chicago
  • Jan van Toorn: designer, writer, and former director, Jan van Eyck Akademie, the Netherlands

The College of Design offers only the second PhD program in the US including study in industrial and graphic design. The interdisciplinary, research-based degree program includes 14 faculty in architecture, landscape architecture, industrial design, and graphic design. The three-year program of study addresses research in the following areas:

  • Design for Health and Well-Being
  • Design for Learning
  • Design for Sustainability
  • Design and the Urban Context
  • Design and Technology
  • Design Methods
  • Design History and Criticism

Students who complete the Master of Graphic Design program are eligible to apply for the non-studio, research-focused PhD in Design program as a continuation of their studies in the College of Design.

The typical student

Generally, students who enroll in the terminal Master of Graphic Design degree program have a first degree in graphic design and several years of professional practice experience. Some students are sufficiently focused to begin their studies immediately after undergraduate study but should be prepared to identify areas of special interest among the many things they studied in their bachelor’s programs.

The reading and writing demands of the program complement studio activities. Students should expect to develop these skills, along with visual investigations that evidence criticality about the literature in design and research and writing in other fields.

Students without design degrees

On occasion, students who have bachelor’s study in something other than graphic design see a connection between their previous work and design. Many of these students have practice-based experience but are self-taught in design. Such students apply to the Track III (three-year) program and complete a year of preliminary work before undertaking full graduate coursework. The Graduate Record Exam is required for students whose previous degrees are not in graphic design.

The Master of Graphic Design program is not for students who lack prior design experiences and simply wish to make a career change to entry-level positions in the field. That educational goal is best served by a second bachelor’s degree, which is designed to build skills and knowledge incrementally through a scaffolded series of courses. The Master of Graphic Design is a terminal degree and qualifies students for faculty positions in colleges and universities; as such it does not deal with basic skills and introductory knowledge about the discipline. Most professional design offices will hire students with the bachelor’s degree, so the master’s is not required for entry-level employment.


January 5. (Applications received after the deadline will be considered on a space available basis.)

Application materials

Admission to the Master of Graphic Design program is competitive and based on the applicant’s portfolio of work, statement of intent, and academic record. Applicants submit the following:

  1. Application form and fee.
  2. Transcripts.
  3. Three letters of recommendation.
  4. GRE scores (not required of students whose first degree is a BFA or equivalent with a major in graphic design).
  5. TOEFL scores for international students.
  6. Residency statement.
  7. Personal Data Form
  8. Portfolio of 12–16 project examples (some examples may include multiple images).

Portfolio review

The department will review portfolios in either of the following formats:

  • Organized in a Powerpoint or PDF slide presentation with any interactive examples created in commonly used software on a CD. Baseline image files should be approximately 1024 × 768 dpi resolution. Submissions should include a brief descriptive list of projects at the front of the presentation or in a printed document that accompanies the CD.
  • Actual samples of work not to exceed 18 × 24" (with return postage and self-addressed packaging provided). Students submit one-of-a-kind work at their own risk.

The faculty will not review online portfolios or random image files. We cannot defer admissions decisions on the basis of lack of online site functionality and there is no way to ascertain if online portfolios remain consistent at various stages in the review process.

Applications must be complete and accompanied by the application fee; the department will not comment on incomplete applications. International students should consult the web for additional university requirements under the Office of International Affairs. Decisions on financial aid are made only after students have been notified of admission.

Delivery of materials

Items 1–7 should be submitted online.

Mail item 8 to:
Graduat Admissions
College of Design
NC State University
Box 7701 / Brooks Hall, Pullen Road
Raleigh, NC 27695-7701

Students who are successful in the first round of reviews will be invited to campus for an interview with other finalists in February. At this time, students have interviews with individual faculty, see presentations on curriculum and student projects, and meet socially with current students. Letters inviting students to the interview will be mailed in late January.

Students are welcome to visit the campus for informal discussion by appointment at any time.

The Department of Graphic Design has limited funds to assist students in paying for the cost of their education. The low tuition and liberal requirements for US citizens establishing residency usually makes attending NC State well below the cost of comparable education in other programs. Decisions about assistantships are made on the basis of the match between student skills and departmental needs. Fellowships are awarded at the second year on the basis of qualitative performance in first-year work. Decisions on financial aid are made only after students have been notified of admission.

How important is the letter of intent?

The letter of intent tells the faculty whether the student has done his/her homework in the search for a graduate program and is a good fit with what the NC State curriculum offers. Graduate study in graphic design is quite specific and it is important that applicants understand the focus of the program and find the curricular issues to be challenging. Choosing a school just for reputation or convenience is not the best strategy; applicants need to be interested in the particular kind of work done at NC State and understand its perspectives among possible approaches at other schools.

What does the faculty expect to see in the portfolio?

The faculty use the portfolio to confirm basic formal and technical skills, but more importantly, to consider the range and depth of design issues represented by the work. How far the student goes beyond a client-driven project or teacher’s assignment is revealing. The faculty also look for congruence (or an explanation of non-congruence) among the letter of intent, portfolio, and work/study history. In some cases, applicants want to change directions or have not been able to pursue certain lines of thinking in the workplace. In other cases, student work shows beginning interest in an area the applicant hopes to pursue under graduate study. How the student explains these issues is as important as the artifacts themselves.

This is a graphic design program, so work should be selected that is indicative of skills related to this field. Fine art and photography work may be submitted but should not comprise the total portfolio. Faculty will look also for typographic skills. Media-based work should be edited and copied files should be tested before submission.

The portfolios of students applying to the three-year master’s program should be consistent with studio work produced under the first 36 credits of design study in the undergraduate curriculum. Such evidence may arise from formal instruction in design or from on-the-job experience. Students with portfolios not equivalent to this level of study should apply for a second bachelor’s degree before pursuing graduate work in design.

How may the portfolio be submitted?

Applicants may submit a CD, 35mm slides, or actual work. Portfolios should be mailed with return packaging and postage if the applicant expects return after the review process. The department does not review online portfolios as it is impossible to verify consistency in the state of the information between faculty reviews and the admissions decision.

CDs should be prepared in some organized fashion. Files should be in an easily accessible software program (Powerpoint presentation, Flash presentation, or PDF slide show) and ordered for clarity. Entries should be named and accompanied by a brief explanation. Do not send random JPEG files and check files for functionality before posting.

Can I get help in preparing my portfolio or some advance indication of how well I might do in the review process?

Unfortunately, no. How applicants present themselves is part of what the faculty evaluate in the review process. Therefore, it is not appropriate for faculty to coach applicants on the preparation of their application. The department is happy to answer general technical questions about the submission but cannot review work in advance of the process.

International students frequently ask in email about admission chances prior to application. The university requires that students undergo the formal review process before any indication of admission potential be given. Immigration and financial requirements must also be met before the university will recommend approval of a visa.

How important are the academic components of the application?

The program requires considerable investment in reading and writing. Undergraduate transcripts and the GRE tell the faculty something about students’ preparation for this type of activity. Further, college transcripts indicate the breadth and depth of previous study. This is important information when determining the fit between the student and the curriculum. A 3.0 minimum GPA is required for admission.

Who must take the GRE?

Any student whose first degree is not in design must take the GRE. That includes students whose degrees are in fine arts.

How many students are admitted?

The program typically enrolls a combined total of 14–16 first- and second-year students in the program. Classes vary in size, but generally, 8 students begin the program each fall. Students are admitted for the fall semester only.

How can I find out about financial aid?

Prospective students may speak with the Financial Aid Office and International Student Services Office of the university about general loan and financial issues. Assistantships granted by the department are awarded after admissions decisions have been made and are usually in support of teaching. Student qualifications must be matched to the tasks for which the department needs assistance. Typically, the department has limited resources to assist students. Instead, the very low tuition at NC State University offsets the cost of education in comparison to our peer institutions, which are mostly private colleges and universities.

Is there a mid-year, January admission?

No. Spring courses build on fall semester study and the program is too small to offer all courses at the same time. Students apply by January 5 for admission the following fall.

Is there the opportunity to do this degree program online?

No. The faculty believe on-site studio work in a design community is critical to success in the program. The typical schedule for students is Monday through Friday, 10–5:30 in the graduate studio. The department offers an online course in design history, but all other coursework and student interaction takes place in our studio environment.

Can students be part-time?

No. The first three semesters require a 9-credit studio and a co-requisite, 3-credit seminar. Because the content of the two courses are connected critically, it is not possible to do the studio without the seminar. The fourth semester is devoted entirely to the final project, which requires ongoing work with a faculty committee; any delay in preliminary coursework puts the student off-schedule for this work. Faculty recommend no more than 12 hours of outside work per week in addition to full-time study.

Can I take graduate courses before admission to the program or undergraduate courses to prepare for application to the program?

Graduate seminars may be available to special students with design backgrounds if space is available and if the student meets the prerequisites for the course; program permission is required to register for these classes. Courses taken as a special student may not be applied to degree requirements if the student is later admitted to the program. Studio classes are not open to students who have not been admitted to the degree program.

The Department of Graphic Design holds a competitive admissions review at the undergraduate level, accepting less than 20% of the academically qualified applicant pool. This fills all open seats in department courses, making it impossible to provide instruction for students who are not first admitted to the degree program.

Graduate Program Director
Meredith Davis
Graphic Design Department
College of Design
NC State University
Brooks Hall
Box 7701
Raleigh, NC 27695-7701
Graduate Program
Master of Graphic Design
Master of Graphic Design