Graphic Design

About This Specialization

Graphic design is all around us, in a myriad of forms, both on screen and in print, yet it is always made up of images and words to create a communication goal. This four-course sequence exposes students to the fundamental skills required to make sophisticated graphic design: process, historical context, and communication through image-making and typography. The sequence is completed by a capstone project that applies the skills of each course and peer feedback in a finished branding project suitable for a professional portfolio.
The goal of this specialization is to equip learners with a set of transferable formal and conceptual tools for “making and communicating” in the field of graphic design. This core skill set will equip learners for formal studies in graphic design, and a starting point for further work in interface design, motion graphics, and editorial design.

Created by:
5 courses
Follow the suggested order or choose your own.
Designed to help you practice and apply the skills you learn.
Highlight your new skills on your resume or LinkedIn.
Beginner Specialization.
No prior experience required.

  1. COURSE 1

    Fundamentals of Graphic Design

    Upcoming session: Jul 10 — Aug 14.
    4 weeks of study, 5-8 hours/week

    About the Course

    Graphic Design is all around us! Words and pictures—the building blocks of graphic design—are the elements that carry the majority of the content in both the digital world and the printed world. As graphic design becomes more visible and prevalent in our lives, graphic design as a practice becomes more important in our culture. Through visual examples, this course will teach you the fundamental principles of graphic design: imagemaking, typography, composition, working with color and shape... foundational skills that are common in all areas of graphic design practice. I don't just want you to watch a video of someone talking about design, I want you to MAKE design! If you want to be a designer you have to be a maker, a communicator, so this course will offer you lots of opportunities to get your hands dirty with exercises and with more practical projects. At the end of this course you will have learned how to explore and investigate visual representation through a range of image-making techniques; have understand basic principles of working with shape, color and pattern; been exposed to the language and skills of typography; and understand and have applied the principles of composition and visual contrast. If you complete the course, along with its optional (but highly recommended) briefs, you will have a core set of graphic design skills that you can apply to your own projects, or to more deeply investigate a specialized area of graphic design. To succeed in this course you will need access to a computer. You can complete this course without one but it will be tougher. Access to, and a beginner's level knowledge of Adobe Creative Suite programs, such as Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign will help you, especially if you want to complete the optional briefs.
    Show or hide details about course Fundamentals of Graphic Design

    WEEK 1
    Week 1: Fundamentals of Imagemaking
    This week we are going to look at how images function in terms of conveying denotative and connotative messages, I'll show you a range of analog and digital imagemaking techniques and discuss how they work. In the first peer review assignment you'll create your own series of images, experimenting with formal techniques. Later, you'll have the opportunity to rework those images to enhance their ability to communicate an idea through connotation in an optional assignment: give it a try, it'll help you develop your communication skills as well as your formal skills!

    Video · Course Welcome

    Reading · Why study graphic design?

    Reading · About this course

    Reading · About the assignments

    Reading · Course Tools

    Video · Introduction to Imagemaking

    Video · Denotative Imagemaking 1

    Video · Denotative Imagemaking 2

    Video · Techniques of Imagemaking 1

    Video · Techniques of Imagemaking 2

    Video · Techniques of Imagemaking 3

    Video · Process, Generation, Iteration

    Video · Imagemaking Demo 1: Printing with an Object

    Video · Imagemaking Demo 2: Duct Tape Prints

    Video · Imagemaking Demo 3: Improvised "Light Table"

    Peer Review · Brief 1.1: Explorations in Imagemaking (Required)

    Video · Connotative Imagemaking 1

    Video · Connotative Imagemaking 2

    Practice Peer Review · Brief 1.2: Making Images, Making Meaning (Optional)

    WEEK 2
    Week 2: Fundamentals of Typography
    This week we are going to look at typographic terminology and the basic rules for creating typography. I'll show you a range of tips and techniques for working with type, in both a functional and expressive manner, and you'll find out about the process involved in making and controlling typography. This week you'll complete a quiz to make sure you understand the language of typography–this is required. I also highly recommend you complete the two optional peer review assignments. In the first assignment you'll create your own typographic monogram, and you'll use that as a central element in designing a typographic business card in the second assignment. Give them a try, they are the place where you can demonstrate and apply your formal skills, and the place where you get to play with type!

    Video · Introduction to Typography

    Video · The Anatomy of Letters

    Video · Words and Spacing

    Video · Type Size: The Point System

    Video · Typesetting Text

    Video · Typefaces, Fonts and Type Families

    Video · Typeface Categories

    Quiz · Typography

    Video · Denotation in Type

    Video · Connotation in Type

    Practice Peer Review · Brief 2.1: The Character of Characters (Optional)

    Video · Looking at Letterforms

    Video · Experimenting with Letterforms

    Video · Typographic Composition

    Practice Peer Review · Brief 2.2: Make a Monogram, Make a Business Card (Optional)

    WEEK 3
    Week 3: Fundamentals of Shape and Color
    This week we are going to look at how designers work with shape and color as their fundamental building blocks. You'll learn about visual contrast, color, rhythm and pattern in design. I'll be showing you the process involved in making an abstract design from shapes, and how to use that element to create a repeating pattern design. You'll be completing a quiz (required!) to make sure you understand how visual contrast and color work, and I also highly recommend you complete the two optional peer review assignments. In the first assignment you'll create your own simple and complex design motifs, and you'll use them as the central elements in designing a repeating pattern in the second assignment. The assignments are optional, but they are the place where you get to demonstrate and apply your formal skills, so well worth taking the extra time to complete!

    Video · Introduction to Shape & Color

    Video · Graphic Shapes

    Video · Visual Contrast

    Video · Marks, Icons, and Symbols

    Video · Negative/Positive, Figure/Ground

    Video · Working with Color

    Video · The Color Wheel

    Practice Peer Review · Brief 3.1: Negative/Positive, Complimentary/Contrasting (Optional)

    Video · Mixing Color: Paint, Print and Screen

    Quiz · Shape and Color

    Video · Rhythm and Pattern 1

    Video · Rhythm and Pattern 2

    Practice Peer Review · Brief 3.2: Repeating Pattern (Optional)

    WEEK 4
    Week 4: Fundamentals of Composition
    This week we are going to look at how designers work with visual contrasts, cropping, hierarchy and direction in single images and complex compositions. You'll find out how to control and use scale, weight, direction, texture, and space in a composition, and how to compose work that ranges from the complex to the minimal. In the first peer review assignment you'll create your own abstract compositions that demonstrate your knowledge and control of visual contrast. In the final optional assignment, you can use all your skills from the entire course to create experimental compositions in the form of a poster for a mythical band. This last project is optional, but I strongly suggest you try it out, it'll let you grow and apply your design knowledge and really enjoy and express yourself in your design work!

    Video · Introduction to Composition

    Video · Principles of Composition

    Video · Visual Contrasts

    Video · Single Contrasts

    Video · Multiple Contrasts

    Video · Type Contrasts

    Video · Image Contrasts

    Peer Review · Brief 4.1: Single Contrasts (Required)

    Practice Peer Review · Brief 4.2: Double and Triple Contrasts (Optional)

    Video · Composition in a Single Image

    Video · Cropping and Hierarchy

    Video · Composition in Context

    Practice Peer Review · Brief 4.3: Applied Fundamentals (Optional)

    Video · Conclusion

    Reading · What's next?

    Reading · About this section

    Reading · Choosing a design program

    Reading · Building your portfolio

    Reading · Design portfolio tips

    Reading · Writing your artist statement

  2. COURSE 2

    Introduction to Typography

    Upcoming session: Jul 10 — Aug 14.
    4 weeks of study, 1-3 hours/week

    About the Course

    Typography is the art of manipulating the visual form of language to enrich and control its meaning. It’s an essential area of skill and knowledge for graphic designers. Typography predates modern graphic design by around 500 years; it is rich in rules, conventions, and esoteric terminology—but it remains an exciting space for invention and expression. In this rigorous introductory course, we will study, name, and measure the characteristics of letterforms. We’ll consider the pragmatic concerns involved in selecting and combining type. We’ll peek into the 
rich historical, cultural, and aesthetic histories of familiar typefaces. We’ll discuss time-tested conventions and best practices in setting type, as governed by principles of hierarchy and spatial organization. And we’ll explore the expressive, meaning-making potential of type. Informative lectures will be complemented by a series of three peer-assessed assignments, culminating 
in an opportunity to design a full-scale typographic poster. Please note that this is not a software course; a basic working knowledge of Adobe InDesign or other 
page layout software will be assumed. You will need access to a computer and page layout software, such as InDesign, to complete the assignments.
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    WEEK 1
    Week 1: Talking Type
    This week, we’ll take an up-close look at typefaces, both as physical artifacts and as works of design. 
We will study the formal elements that define and give character to type, and understand where they came from and why they look the way they do. We will review the terminology and measuring system used to describe type, and look at the way the form and proportion of letters relate to the practical concerns of selecting and combining typefaces. The week will wrap up with a graded quiz.

    Video · Course Welcome

    Reading · About this Course

    Reading · About the Assignments

    Reading · Course Tools

    Reading · Additional Resources

    Video · Font versus Typeface

    Reading · Reviewing key terms

    Practice Quiz · Type Terms

    Video · Stroke and Proportion

    Video · Type Anatomy

    Video · Measuring Type

    Video · Choosing a Typeface

    Quiz · Describing Type

    WEEK 2
    Week 2: Typefaces and their Stories
    This week, we’ll explore the way typefaces express connotative meaning—tell stories—through their association with different time periods, aesthetics, and ideas. Through six short case studies, we 
will look at the way a typeface’s connotations are shaped by its context, understand the historic evolution of typographic forms, and familiarize ourselves with the way typefaces are classified. You’ll extend 
your exploration through some independent research into a typeface of your choosing.

    Video · Typefaces and their Stories

    Video · Bembo: Humanist Letters

    Video · Didot: Enlightened Refinement

    Video · Clarendon: Type for the Masses

    Video · Futura: the Typographic Avant-Garde

    Video · Helvetica: International Modern

    Video · Scala Sans: Typographic Remix

    Peer Review · Research a Typeface

    WEEK 3
    Week 3: Putting Type to Work
    This week, we will engage the visual principles and conventions of typesetting. We will look at how the spaces between letters, lines, and blocks of type can be manipulated to refine the appearance and control the meaning of type. We’ll explore the ways typographic hierarchy and grid systems can further organize and clarify type. And we’ll survey the rules and conventions that can add polish to your typesetting. You’ll apply your skills and knowledge in a peer-reviewed typesetting exercise at the end 
of the week.

    Video · Working with Type

    Video · Typographic Space

    Video · Page Space

    Video · The Grid

    Video · Creating Hierarchy

    Video · Typographic Conventions

    Peer Review · Typeset Your Research

    WEEK 4
    Week 4: Making Meaningful Type
    In our final week, we’ll examine the ways typographic form can dramatically shape the meaning of written language. We’ll survey and analyze possibilities for type treatments—from subtle typesetting choices
 to dramatic manipulations—by looking at examples of expressive and unconventional typography. At the end of the week, you’ll bring together and apply everything you have learned in this course in the 
design of a full-scale typographic poster.

    Video · Making Meaningful Type

    Video · Typesetting with Expression

    Video · Beyond Typesetting

    Video · The Typographic Poster

    Peer Review · Design a Typographic Poster

    Reading · Course Credits

  3. COURSE 3

    Introduction to Imagemaking

    Current session: Jul 3 — Aug 7.
    4 weeks of study, 2-4 hours/week

    About the Course

    During this course, we’ll be making exploratory images to expand your visual vocabulary. We'll create pieces that are expressive, meditative, or 'design-y' to instigate, evoke, experiment, record, explain, or to try out a media. The first two weeks are experimental and exploratory; we won’t be concerned with meaning or communication (although, to be honest, every image does exist in a context, and therefore communicates—or can convey—meaning, connotation, associations, and expressiveness). In the second two weeks, we’ll invite the images to deliberately and intentionally carry meaning and communication through relational moves like juxtaposition, composition, and context. Everyone has a natural, intuitive way of putting things together. We’ll look at developing and expanding the range of approaches for putting things together, composing page spreads with your images. Since nothing exists without context, we look at how to intentionally drive the image’s connotations, meanings and associations generated through elements of composition and “visual contrasts.” through style, juxtaposition, closure and figures of speech. Ultimately, we will take the images that you create and make a book from them.
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    WEEK 1
    Week 1: Image-based Research
    Welcome! This we will introduce image-based research and investigate these images in a design context using a range of techniques. You will then choose a subject of your own to research that will become the basis for your experiments and designs in the coming weeks.

    Video · Course Welcome

    Reading · About this Course

    Reading · About the Assignments

    Reading · Course Tools

    Reading · Additional Resources

    Video · Practice

    Other · Forms of Practice

    Reading · How to Critique

    Video · What Images Do

    Reading · Visual Research

    Reading · Forms of Presentation

    Peer Review · Select and Research Your Subject

    WEEK 2
    Week 2: Making Images
    This week is a making session! You will take the subject you selected last week and think about it in different ways. From simple to complex, hand to digital, realistic to abstract and everything in between, we'll explore and experiment freely. We'll also consider different modes of representation, and try a hand at creating our own ranges of representation with images.

    Video · Making Methods and Techniques

    Reading · More Making Methods

    Reading · Sparks: Even More Making Methods

    Practice Peer Review · Experimentation and Improvisation

    Video · Denotation & Connotation

    Reading · Tangible, Sensory & Expressive Quality of Materials and Line

    Video · Range of Representation

    Peer Review · Range of Representation

    WEEK 3
    Week 3: Composition is Relational
    In this third week, we will define and investigate core principles of composition, and begin to compose simple spreads for your book.

    Video · Composition is Relational

    Video · About Hierarchy

    Video · Scale

    Video · Space

    Video · Figure/Ground

    Video · Narrative

    Video · Simple Composition: Creating Page Spreads

    Peer Review · Composing Simple Spreads

    WEEK 4
    Week 4: Designing a Book with Your Images
    In this final week, we will pull together your work from the previous weeks to make spreads using 10-20 of your favorite images from your assignments and compile them into a self-bound booklet.

    Video · Bookishness

    Video · Complex Composition: Putting your book together

    Reading · Introduction

    Reading · Make thumbnail sketches

    Reading · Make copies in multiple sizes

    Reading · Creating spreads

    Reading · Make printer's spreads

    Reading · Assembling your spreads

    Reading · Introduction

    Reading · Setting up your document

    Reading · Exporting spreads & printing your book

    Video · Two simple bookbinding techniques

    Peer Review · Composing a Complex Narrative (in a book)

  4. COURSE 4

    Ideas from the History of Graphic Design

    Current session: Jul 3 — Aug 7.
    4 weeks of study, 2-3 hours/week

    About the Course

    This condensed survey course focuses on four key periods or themes from the history of design. Together we’ll trace the emergence of design as a recognized practice, why things look the way they do, and how designers approached specific design problems in their work. Each week, a short quiz will test your knowledge of concepts, and a short reflective assignment will give you the opportunity to analyze the questions designers ask themselves today. This is an essential course for emerging designers entering the field, or for students interested in learning more about visual culture and analysis. No previous experience is required.
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    WEEK 1
    Early Mass Marketing
    This week we are going to take a look at the effects of industrialization in the late 19th century, and how goods were produced, sold, and marketed.

    Video · Course Introduction

    Reading · About this course

    Reading · About the assignments

    Video · Introduction to Early Mass Marketing

    Video · Form Follows Function

    Video · A Democratization of Choice

    Video · A Revival of Styles

    Video · Style Mash-up

    Video · An Exaggeration of Type

    Reading · The Designer's Toolbox: Wood Type

    Video · Branding

    Video · A Household Name

    Video · Text and Image

    Video · "Words doing the work"

    Quiz · Week 1 Quiz

    Peer Review · Connecting the Past to the Present

    WEEK 2
    The Bauhaus
    This week, we'll look at how the work and teachings of The Bauhaus (1919-1933), and how design emerged as a recognized practice.

    Video · Introduction to The Bauhaus

    Reading · Week 2 Resources

    Video · Founding the Bauhaus

    Video · The Foundation Year

    Video · The Bauhaus and Architecture

    Video · Klee, Schlemmer & Albers

    Video · László Moholy-Nagy

    Video · Herbert Bayer

    Video · Color & Image

    Video · Textiles & Ceramics

    Video · Typography

    Video · Publications

    Quiz · Week 2 Quiz

    Peer Review · A Designer's Tools, Now and Then

    WEEK 3
    Modernism in America
    Modernism in mid-century America through the eyes of four key designers.

    Video · Introduction to Modernism in America

    Reading · Week 3 Resources

    Video · The Bauhaus influence

    Video · A symbolic language

    Video · Case Study: Scope Magazine

    Video · Developing corporate identities

    Video · A new subjectivity

    Video · Case Study: Fortune Magazine

    Video · Play and humor

    Video · Case Study: The Mechanized Mule brochure

    Video · Duality & Simplicity

    Video · Case Study: El Producto cigars

    Video · Rand’s Logo Designs

    Video · A clear identity

    Quiz · Week 3 Quiz

    Peer Review · Symbolic Forms

    WEEK 4
    Graphic Design Radicalism
    Design practice in the late 1950s to early 1970s was new, radical and divergent. To show you just how varied it was, we’ll look at the work of four key players/movements.

    Video · Introduction to Graphic Design Radicalism

    Reading · Week 4 Resources

    Video · The objectivity of Swiss Design

    Video · Incorporating abstraction

    Reading · The Designer's Toolbox: Four-color printing

    Video · Josef Mueller-Brockmann

    Video · The Grid

    Video · Emil Ruder

    Video · Compositional Strategies

    Video · The subjectivity of Push Pin

    Video · Milton Glaser

    Video · “The South”

    Video · The Psychedelic Poster and Looking to the Past

    Reading · The Designer's Toolbox: "Psychedelic" Effects

    Video · The Diggers

    Reading · The Designer's Toolbox: Gestetner Machine

    Video · Sister Corita’s Aesthetics

    Video · Sister Corita’s Politics

    Reading · The Designer's Toolbox: Screen printing

    Quiz · Week 4 Quiz

    Peer Review · Graphic Design Subcultures Today

  5. COURSE 5

    Brand New Brand

    Upcoming session: Sep 18 — Nov 13.
    6 weeks of study, 3-5 hours per week

    About the Capstone Project

    This course is the culmination of the Graphic Design Specialization and gives you an opportunity to tie together your knowledge and skills into a single project: a brand development guide for a company you will invent. This course takes you through the entire design process, from ideation to creation to presentation. Through the guide, you will be creating and giving a visual identity to an imaginary start-up company, and applying that visual identity to a number of forms. You will also develop a logotype and accompanying graphic palette to visually represent your company, as well as apply that design to a number of different applications to see it at work.
    Show or hide details about course Brand New Brand

    WEEK 1
    Ideation: Invent Your Client
    In this module you will choose an area your start-up company works in, create a written (fake) history of your company, define company idealogical goals and philosophy, brainstorm for naming ideas and name your company.

    Video · Course Welcome

    Reading · About the Capstone

    Reading · What you need to take this course

    Reading · What is a Brand Development Guide?

    Reading · Setting up your project

    Other · Introductions First

    Reading · Introduction to Week 1

    Video · Overview of Project

    Video · Invent Your Client

    Video · Fake Your History

    Video · Unpack your adjectives...

    Video · The Name Game

    Reading · Recommendations for peer review (Week 1)

    Practice Peer Review · Invent Your Client

    WEEK 2
    Visualization: Make Your Fake
    In this module you will carry out visual research of reference material for your start-up's identity. You will create digital “mood boards” to show the look and feel and visual direction of your company's identity.

    Reading · Introduction to Week 2

    Video · In The Mood

    Video · Developing Your Identity Manual

    Reading · Recommendations for peer review (Week 2)

    Practice Peer Review · Make Your Fake

    WEEK 3
    Logotype: Brand Your Brand
    In this module you will learn how to create a logotype for your company, with emphasis on finessing typographic forms.

    Reading · Introduction to Week 3

    Video · Shapes of Letters, Shapes of Words

    Video · Typographic Skeletons

    Video · Customizing Letters

    Video · Variations and Refinement

    Practice Peer Review · Brand Your Brand

    WEEK 4
    Palette: Expand Your Brand
    In this module you will be extending the palette of your brand identity by creating a suite of elements for your start-up company: color palette, visual mark, secondary typefaces, imagery/forms and a secret ingredient.

    Other · Checking In

    Reading · Introduction to Week 4

    Video · Adding Color

    Video · Adding a Mark/Icon

    Video · Adding a Secondary Typeface

    Video · Adding Imagery

    Video · Adding a Secret Ingredient

    Practice Peer Review · Expand Your Brand

    WEEK 5
    Application: Apply Your Brand
    In this module you will be using your extended palette, or suite of elements, to create a set of design pieces that showcase the identity for your imaginary start-up company.

    Reading · Introduction to Week 5

    Video · Brand Applications and Mock-ups

    Practice Peer Review · Apply Your Brand

    WEEK 6
    Publication: Display Your Brand
    In this module you will be reworking and refining your identity components. You will be finishing and refining the design of your Brand Development Guide and submitting it for the final.

    Reading · Introduction to Week 6

    Video · Brand Development Guide

    Peer Review · Display Your Brand

    WEEK 7
    Final Review
    We will be wrapping things up this week and reviewing our peers' work.

    Reading · Introduction to Week 7


CalArts' Graphic Design program is one of the premier programs for the study of graphic and print arts in the U.S.

CalArts has earned an international reputation as the leading college of the visual and performing arts in the United States. Offering rigorous undergraduate and graduate degree programs through six schools—Art, Critical Studies, Dance, Film/Video, Music, and Theater—CalArts has championed creative excellence, critical reflection, and the development of new forms and expressions.

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