Graphic Design

Graphic Design Bachelor of Science (B.S.) Degree On-campus

Graphic Design

Prepare for a career in the dynamic field of visual communications.

The Bachelor of Science in Graphic Design degree program at PennWest California provides a thorough grounding in the visual and conceptual foundations of graphic design and its role in how we communicate visually through the various mediums available to a designer.

Students benefit from focusing on how and why a designer creates. Students and faculty closely examine the creative process behind communication design. The emphasis is on visual thinking, experimentation and exploring the relationship of word and image. This examination of the design process helps students develop skills that will enable them to create multiple design solutions for any given problem.

Gain a career advantage with PennWest California's access to internships and hands-on experience.

By the end of their program, graphic design students will be able to:

  • Assess a design problem and write a brief that fully addresses the perceived task, incorporating the research process and outcomes criteria.
  • Conduct relevant research into areas of the brief, incorporating this into the finished design.
  • Construct a working timetable and course of action, ensuring successful completion of the project.
  • Develop effective practices and sustained motivation when working both independently and as part of a team.
  • Demonstrate developed skills to use self-criticism in relation to their own work and apply constructive criticism to ensure the outcome of a project.

Program Highlights: Graphic Design  

Professional opportunities:  PennWest California has one of the only programs in the area that is led by faculty who are graphic designers. Students also learn in a fully functioning student-run graphic design studio at PennWest California: Studio 224 handles real-world jobs with clients ranging from The Women's Center at PennWest California to The National Aviary and Pennsylvania's Department of Transportation. Studio 224 offers students invaluable experience in the business of graphic design over the four years of their study. Students often are asked to assist faculty with their own research and live jobs. All of these opportunities give graphic design students much-needed and valued real-world experience.

Solid foundation:  PennWest California graphic design students build upon design thinking by examining structures, formats, sequences and special aspects of books, publications, packaging, interactive media and other graphic forms. Emphasis is on helping students expand and develop ideas to their full potential, understanding options, and rigorously examining design decisions. All of this development culminates in the preparation of a portfolio of work that best represents the student's abilities and focus as he or she moves into a career. This process is carefully managed by a faculty member throughout the student's last year of study at PennWest California.

Top Accreditation: PennWest California's bachelor's degree program in graphic design is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD).

Learn more about applying.


Student-to-faculty ratio at PennWest California.
Credit hours for the bachelor's degree in graphic design, which can be completed in eight semesters or four years.
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Degree Benefits


The graphic design program is part of the new Department of Communication, Design and Culture at PennWest California, which sets our degree program apart from similar programs in the region. Graphic design programs around the world typically are housed within university art departments, since graphic design is often seen as a "commercial art." But over the past 70 years, graphic design has shifted its focus to the communications value of messages and visuals. PennWest California graphic design students benefit from being part of expanded learning and broader dialogue in the area of communication.

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Graduate Outcomes


While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that positions for graphic designers are declining in traditional areas such as newspapers, employment in computer systems design and related services is projected to grow 21% through 2024. With accelerated use of the Internet, companies are increasing their digital presence, and graphic designers are needed to help create visually appealing and effective layouts for websites. Pittsburgh offers strong career opportunities in a robust tech-focused startup culture, attracting such companies as Google and Facebook. Many PennWest California students also are employed at Brunner, Pittsburgh's top ad agency.

Graphic Design (B.S.)
A group works on a design project.

Vital Resources.

PennWest California offers two dedicated graphic design labs that are open to students 24/7. Each houses 22 Apple Macs, running the latest version of Adobe's Creative Suite, plus printers and workspace. These labs not only serve as workspaces but also as social spaces where students meet to discuss projects and share ideas. Coover Hall facilities are being renovated with input from faculty and will reopen in 2019 with new, more integrated space for the graphic design program.

A woman works on a design project.

Professional Connections

Students are encouraged to take as many internship opportunities as possible, either through PennWest California's internship program or by finding positions on their own. Many graphic design students complete internships over the winter and summer terms. A popular opportunity is Gatesman's Brandtern experience. After one student completed the 10-week program, the Pittsburgh-based advertising agency contacted PennWest California, wanting to form an ongoing relationship with the University because they were so impressed by our program's student-intern.

B.S., Graphic Design Courses

Graphic design courses focus on developing students' critical-thinking skills so they're prepared to tackle problems in any media and provide creative solutions.


Course Credits
General Education Courses 40
Building a Sense of Community
UNI 100  First-Year Seminar  OR  UNI 100  Intro to University Studies  OR  HON 100  Honors Orientation
ENG 101  English Composition I  OR  HON 150  Honors Composition I
Public Speaking
CDC 201  Argument and Advocacy
Mathematics and Quantitative Literacy
Any Mathematics and Quantitative Literacy Course
Health and Wellness
Any Health and Wellness Course
Technological Literacy
Any Technological Literacy Course
CDC 200  Truth and Representation
Fine Arts
Any Fine Arts Course
Natural Sciences
Any Natural Sciences Course
Social Sciences
Any Social Sciences Course
General Education Options
  • CDC 365  Media Ethics
  • ENG 102  Composition II  OR  HON 250  Honors Composition II
  • General Education Options Courses (two courses)
Foundation Courses 24
CDC 120  Visual Communication I 3
DES 327  Visual Communication II 3
DES 361  Typography I 3
ART 110  Drawing 3
CDC 220  Visual Culture 3
PHI 335  Aesthetic Theory 3
Select two of the following art/art studio courses:
  • ART 119  Design 2-D
  • ART 120  Design 3-D
  • ART 350  Printmaking: Relief  OR  ART 351 Printmaking: Intaglio
  • ART 383  Painting Studio
  • ART 310  Advanced Drawing
  • ART 382  Ceramics Studio
  • ART 376  Jewelry/Metals: Casting  OR  ART 377  Jewelry/Metals: Fabrication
  • ART 385  Sculpture Studio
Art History Courses
ART 212  Art History I  OR  ART 214  Art History II 3
ART 243  Intro to Asian Art  OR  ART 270  Art History Today 3
ART 422  After Modernism 3
Select one of the following:
  • ART 323  Women in Art
  • ART 324  Modern Art
  • ART 326  Contemporary Art
  • ART 333  American Art
  • ART 345  Methods of Art History
  • ART 420  Contemporary Issues in Art
Advanced Graphic Design Courses 18
DES 328  Branding Design I 3
DES 429  Branding Design II 3
DES 431  Advertising Design 3
DES 362  Typography II 3
DES 497  Senior Design Seminar 3
DES 498  Senior Design Portfolio 3
Interactive/Motion Design Courses 6
Select two courses from the following:
  • DES 381  Interactive Media and Culture 
  • DES 382  Design for Interactivity
  • DMT 180  Foundations of Digital Media
  • DMT 101  Time-Based Media
  • DMT 320  Digital Video
Free Electives/Minor Courses 20
Total 120

Additional requirements, not counted toward the General Education requirements, include:

  • Special Experience Course (1 course required): Any Special Experience Course
  • Writing-Intensive Component Courses (2 courses required): PHI 335 Aesthetic Theory AND ART 422 After Modernism
  • Laboratory Course (1 course required): Any Laboratory Course

Program Notes: Portfolio review requirements include DES 227, DES 327, DES 361. Portfolio review is a pre-requisite to all advanced graphic design courses.

A minimum of 9 credits (three courses) must be selected from upper-division courses (300 or 400 level) in the General Education area. 35% of the required 120 credits must include upper-division courses (300 or 400 level).

Minimum GPA: 2.0. Minimum credits: 120, with all major and general education courses completed.

Developmental courses do not count toward the 120 credits necessary for graduation.