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Graphic Design Major Guide for 2015-2016

About the School of Art

The School of Art at the University of Tennessee has a strong national reputation and is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD). On the undergraduate level, the School offers curricula leading to the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design; the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Studio Art and the Bachelor of Arts (majors in Art History and Art). These programs prepare students to pursue graduate work or a variety of career options including: graphic designer, photographer, digital/media artist, gallery director, museum administrator, arts administrator, public school teacher, and college instructor.

Undergraduate majors in the school enjoy the advantages of small art classes augmented by the benefits of a large university with its wealth of activities and course selections. The school takes seriously its role of guiding students toward individual creative and educational fulfillment. Faculty in the School includes designers, artists and art historians of national stature.

What is Graphic Design?

Graphic design is everywhere, touching everything we do, everything we see, everything we buy: we see it on billboards and in Bibles, on taxi receipts and on websites, on birth certificates and on gift certificates, on the folded circulars inside jars of aspirin and on the thick pages of children’s chubby board books. Graphic design is the boldly directional arrows on street signs and the blurred, frenetic typography on the title sequence to E.R. It is the bright green logo for the New York Jets and the monochromatic front page of the Wall Street Journal. It is hang-tags in clothing stores, postage stamps and food packaging, fascist propaganda posters and brainless junk mail.

Graphic design is complex combinations of words and pictures, numbers and charts, photographs and illustrations that, in order to succeed, demands the clear thinking of a particularly thoughtful individual who can orchestrate these elements so they all add up to something distinctive, or useful, or playful, or surprising, or subversive or somehow memorable. Graphic design is a popular art and a practical art, an applied art and an ancient art. Simply put, it is the art of visualizing ideas.”

– Jessica Helfand from:

The BFA in Graphic Design at the University of Tennessee is a 120 credit hour degree that sequences students from an introduction to the field and its history all the way to completing a self-defined semester-long project to be presented in front of a panel of business professionals. In between this there are investigations into typography, data visualization and research, workshops with both local and visiting designers, team projects solving interdisciplinary problems, and a at least 7 credit hours of gaining hands-on experience working as an intern in a professional setting.

Career Opportunities in Graphic Design


90% of Graphic Design alumni from the past 5 years are currently working in the Design field. 100% of the class of 2013 are working in the Design profession.


Students graduating from the Graphic Design program are best characterized by curiosity, motivation and creative spirit. Upon graduation, their hard work and training pays off as they find themselves very competitive in the current marketplace. Here is a short list of the locations in which they have landed:

Bloomberg / NYC // Cabedge Design LLC / Nashville // Channel Company / Raleigh // Coca-Cola Studio / Atlanta // Combustion / Memphis // Design Sensory / Knoxville // DIY Network / Knoxville // Facebook / NYC // FH Design Co. /Nashville // FirstBorn Multimedia / NYC // Freelance Design / Portland, OR // Georgia Society of CPAs / Atlanta // Google / NYC // Harvest Creative / Memphis // Healthcare Partners / Los Angeles // HGTV / Knoxville // HHUGE / NYC // Houghton Mifflin Harcourt / Boston // Live Hive / San Francisco // Madeline Weinrib / NYC // Matchstic / Atlanta // Microsoft / Seattle // MondoRobot / Boulder // Morris Creative / Knoxville // Morvil Advertising /Jacksonville // New Hope Natural Media / Boulder // Nike / Los Angeles // Perky Brothers LLC / Nashville // Pyxl / Knoxville // Robin Easter Design /Knoxville // Roots Rated / Chattanooga // Scripps Network / Knoxville // Sparkart Group / Oakland, CA // ST8MNT / Nashville // Stone Profit System / Chicago // Superlectric Industries / UK // The Tombras Group / Knoxville // Yahoo / NYC

Salary Trends in Graphic Design

Salary ranges as of 2013:

Creative director $83,000–$130,000
Art director $58,000–$85,000
Senior designer .. primarily print $50,000 –$74,000

Senior designer .. primarily web/interactive $63,000 –$90,000
Web designer $35,800–$50,300
Designer $32,000–$45,000
Entry-level $30,000–$40,000

Please note that these figures reflect overall averages of a national survey conducted by the AIGA in 2013. For ad­ditional information, see

High School Preparation

Graphic Design considers a necessarily broad synthesis of technology, history, society, culture, and media. Classes explore the various methods that designers employ to visually and conceptually research the various facets of a problem. This is referred to as “design thinking” or “lateral thinking”. David Kelley, CEO of IDEO describes Design Thinking: “As a style of thinking, design thinking is generally considered the ability to combine empathy for the context of a problem, creativity in the generation of insights and solutions, and rationality to analyze and fit solutions to the context.” While design thinking has become part of the popular lexicon in contemporary design and engineering practice, as well as business and management, its broader use in describing a particular style of creative thinking-in-action is having an increasing influence on twenty-first century education across disciplines. Students come to realize that design is much more than making things “look good” or working on the computer. They learn that their design solutions are based on the richness of their process and research, as much as it is their visual skills.

“There really is no exact, ideal, universal designer type. General characteristics, including creativity, openness to new ideas, and a desire to explore the visual world, are more important than specific traits or qualities.”
Comments excerpted from Graphic Design: A Career Guide and Education Directory, edited by Sharon Helmer Poggenpohl, American Institute of Graphic Arts, 1993.

How to Major in Graphic Design

The Graphic Design degree is known as a pre-professional degree, meaning it prepares you to be able to enter a job in the field upon graduation much like Nursing, Engineering and Architecture. Therefore the classes are sequenced in a way to best prepare you for the complexity of the design field. One of the perks of this is that once you are through Portfolio Review you are guaranteed a spot in every graphic design course you need going forward, so long as you are passing your classes.

Before progression into the program as a major, students take Art 101 and 103 (a two-course sequence in two- and three-dimensional design) and an art history survey (Art History 172, 173, 183 or 162) during their Fall semester.  During spring semester, students take ArtD 150, The Idea of Design, Art 102, a course in four-dimensional design, a second art history survey. During the second year, students will progress to ArtD 251, the beginning design concepts class and ArtD 255 the beginning technology or production class.

Advising sessions are held each semester by the faculty to help students understand the sequence of classes and to help them choose electives to create the most appropriate experience for each individual. Be sure to download the Academic Plan from the Graphic Design advising section of the website to see how the sequence is parsed.

Requirements for Graphic Design

Requirements for entry into the BFA degree program in graphic design are the same as the entry requirements for the University of Tennessee and the School of Art. At the end of the Fall semester of the sophomore year, students participate in a portfolio review that determines which students are ready to pursue upper-division work.
You can review the requirements for the BFA in Graphic Design in the School of Art Handbook. Also, reading lists are posted on the Graphic Design Web site at

Special Programs, Co-ops, and Internships

The graphic design program supports an active practicum or internship program. Students interview and work in a variety of professional settings. Students are encouraged to work outside of Knoxville in cities like Atlanta, Nashville, Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.

Service Learning + Outreach: It is important for designers to create and support liaisons between our discipline and other majors in the college and university. Our program has a long standing commitment to interdisciplinary collabora­tion. It is part of our culture. Service Learning aims to enhance academic learning by challenging students to apply disciplinary knowledge within the context of real-world situations. Because service-learning addresses actual community needs, it has the added potential to engage students’ “hearts and minds” in ways that other experiential methods may not. In short, service-learning at its best can transform students into life-long learners and change-agents.

Sophomore Workshops: Recently, the Knoxville Design & Motion department held its first workshop with the University of Tennessee Graphic Design program. The workshop was the first one held for sophomores in the Graphic Design program and takes place over the course of four days. There were three main goals for this workshop: 1) Connect alumni with students in a mentorship role 2) Improve recruiting ties with Scripps, both for interns and full-time employees, 3) Introduce students to the world of motion animation.

Junior Workshops: Since 2002, a Visiting Designer is invited to UT to lead a 4 day workshop that includes a public lecture open to the area design professionals, with the juniors in the Graphic Design program. Visiting Designers range from faculty members at other well-known programs in the U.S. to profes­sionals working at the forefront of their field. Next year marks the first international visit with Lucienne Roberts and Rebecca Wright from the London firm, Design&.

Junior Workshops have included: Frank Armstrong + Barbara Sudick / California State // Paul Berkbigler / Concordia University  // Helen Armstrong / Miami University // Ben Day / Virginia Commonwealth // Matt Checkowski / Los Angeles // Cassie Hestler + Joey Hannaford / University of West Georgia // Kristin Hughes / Carnegie Mellon  // Steven Hoskins / Virginia Commonwealth // Mark Jamra / Maine College of Art  // Chris Pullman / Boston  // Robert Sedlack / Notre Dame // Jenn Visocky-O’Grady / Cleveland State  + Ken Viscoky O’Grady / Kent State

The Graphic Design program has also sponsored Visiting Designers, Scholars and Artists, including: Janet Abrams / Minneapolis // John Bielenberg / Project M: Think Wrong // Can I. Birand / Ankara, Turkey // Paige Braddock / Charles Schulz Creative // Kyle Blue / Dwell Magazine, San Francisco // Shawn Brixey / DX Arts, Seattle  // Steff Geissbuhler / New York // Deeno Golding / Morehead State  // Michael Hendrix / IDEO, Boston // Hannah Higgins / University of Illinois // John Jennings / SUNY Buffalo // Warren Lehrer + Judith Sloan / NYC // Jon Lukens / Tennessee // Mo Leibowitz / Printmaker, RIT // Victor Margolin / University of Illinois // Pinky Shmerler / Fiber Artist, Florida // Brian Stone / The Ohio State University // Wayne White / Los Angeles

Ready for the World logoReady for the World

“Ready for the World” is part of a long-range plan to transform the UTK campus into a culture of diversity that best prepares students for working and competing in the 21st century.  Thus students are encouraged to actively participate in the diverse cultural programs offered on campus.  Some of these events include the guest lecture series, cultural nights at the International House, and international film screenings.  Visit the Center for International Education website ( or the Ready for the World website ( for more information on upcoming cultural programs and activities. Learn more about UT’s Ready for the World initiative to help students gain the international and intercultural knowledge they need to succeed in today’s world.

Students are also encouraged to develop a global perspective within their academic program through study abroad.  The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, offers study abroad programs in Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia, South America, and North America. Program lengths vary from mini-term trips to the entire academic year, and students may choose to fulfill general education requirements, study a foreign language, or take courses within their majors. In addition, UTK offers students opportunities for international internships.

Students are highly encouraged to begin planning early in their academic career and to consult with an academic advisor about the best time to study abroad as well as what courses to take abroad. For more information about program options, the application process, and how to finance study abroad, please visit the Programs Abroad Office website.

Academic Plan and Milestones

Following an academic plan will help students stay on track to graduate in four years. For first-time, first-year, full-time, degree-seeking students, UT has implemented Universal Tracking (uTrack), an academic monitoring system designed to help students stay on track for timely graduation. In order to remain on track, students must complete the minimum requirements for each tracking semester, known as milestones. Milestones may include successful completion of specified courses and/or attainment of a minimum GPA.

To see a sample academic plan and milestones for this major, please visit the undergraduate catalog.

For More Information

School of Art Handbook
School of Art Office
213 Arts & Architecture Building


The information on this page should be considered general information only. For more specific information on this and other programs refer to the UT catalog or contact the department and/or college directly.

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