2023 Best Online PhD in Graphic Design [Doctorate Guide]

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If you have a passion for art and digital technology and want to conduct in-depth research about it at the collegiate or professional level, you might consider pursuing a PhD in Graphic Design.

Best Online PhD in Graphic Design

You may also find this degree essential if you desire to teach graphic arts at the postsecondary level.

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A doctorate in graphic design can also open up opportunities for advanced design careers in the commercial or creative sectors.

Online PhD in Graphic Design Programs

PhD in Graphic Design Programs

Every industry has a visual story to tell in advancing and promoting its products, and graphic designers are needed to make those stories compelling and attractive. A doctorate in graphic design can introduce you to a wide variety of cutting-edge tools in visual arts, and you can learn how to implement them at both the academic and commercial levels.

There are opportunities for graphic design experts in a range of fields, such as:

  • Marketing
  • Information technology
  • Game design
  • Architecture
  • Landscaping
  • Digital animation
  • Interior design
  • Medicine

If you choose to follow an academic career, your PhD can help qualify you to teach the fundamental disciplines of visual arts to undergraduate and graduate students.

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Topics generally studied in a graphic design doctoral program include:

  • Advanced typography
  • Computers as a creative medium
  • Digital design
  • Web design
  • Interactive design
  • Research methods
  • Photography
  • Technology and representation
  • Experimental media

While pursuing this degree, you’ll conduct research in one of many specialty areas of graphic design. Your graphic design research focus will most likely depend on your interests and professional goals.

Graphic Design Careers & Salaries

Graphic Design Careers & Salaries

Nearly all industries rely on visual arts to advertise, illustrate, explain, educate, entertain, or communicate, so there is a great variety of opportunities in graphic design careers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, here are some careers related to graphic design, along with their median salaries.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Advertising and Promotions Managers $127,150
Art Directors $100,890
Web and Digital Interface Designers $79,890
Special Effects Artists and Animators $78,790
Commercial and Industrial Designers $77,030
Postsecondary Art, Drama, and Music Teachers $75,940
Fine Artists $60,820
Interior Designers $60,340
Drafters $60,300
Graphic Designers $50,710

If you obtain a doctorate in graphic design, you may choose to work in either academia or industry. Graduates may find opportunities in upper-level administrative roles as well. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 4% job growth for arts and design occupations and 12% job growth for postsecondary teachers over the next ten years.

Graphic Design Doctorate Curriculum & Courses

Graphic Design Doctorate Curriculum

Graphic design PhD programs offer a wide variety of courses to help you hone your artistic skills and knowledge. Some students want to research new technologies, advance their teaching expertise, or apply graphic arts techniques to commercial and industrial projects.

A PhD program in graphic design will typically include some of the following courses:

  • Advanced typography: This course teaches you how to create powerful visual messages by using various typefaces and fonts.
  • Digital design: In this class, you may utilize digital technology to create dynamic animations and visual displays that can be applied to website layouts, print displays, or animation.
  • Interactive Design: In this class, you may master techniques that can help you create graphic projects that are free of bugs and user-friendly.
  • Data-Driven Art: This course shows you how to combine advanced techniques in computer technology to create sophisticated visual art presentations.
  • Web Design: Some web design courses help you hone your coding skills so you can create web-based graphic presentations.
  • Intellectual Property Law: These courses instruct you on copyright-related legal issues.
  • Photography: While enrolled in photography courses, you can learn about techniques related to taking photos and videos as well as manipulating the images to create innovative works of art.
  • Research Methods for Graphic Design: As a doctoral degree candidate, you’ll likely be required to conduct independent research in graphic design as part of your capstone class or dissertation.
  • Visual Culture and Design: In this course, you can examine the relationship between national culture and the way artists express themselves in graphic art.
  • Project Studio: In this class, you can have the opportunity to gain professional experience engaging in real-world commercial or pro bono artistic projects.

Many universities require PhD students to write a dissertation based on original research. Alternatively, you may have the opportunity to participate in a teaching assistantship program.

Graphic Design PhD Admissions Requirements

Graphic Design PhD

The admission requirements to get into doctorate programs for graphic design can change from school to school, but these are some common prerequisites:

  • Bachelor’s or master’s degree. Most programs require you to complete a bachelors degree in a related field, and most will expect a master’s degree as well. Schools generally request transcripts to verify your coursework and academic ability.
  • Letters of recommendation. Graduate programs may ask you to submit letters of recommendation from former teachers and employers stating your qualifications as a doctoral candidate.
  • GRE or GMAT scores. You may be asked to submit GRE or GMAT test scores, though a growing number of schools no longer require them.
  • Letter of intent. Some doctorate programs request that you provide a letter of intent that summarizes your career objectives and indicates your preferred research specialization.

Your entrance process can also include filling out an application and paying an application fee. In addition, international students may be required to show fluency in English. Colleges may also require you to submit a portfolio of your work.


Graphic Design PhD accreditation

Regional accrediting agencies review academic institutions according to measurable and objective standards of professional integrity and academic rigor.

Most educational institutions and employers will have greater respect for your credentials if they come from an accredited school. If you attend an accredited school, your credits are more likely to transfer between institutions. You may also have an easier time enrolling in further postgraduate study.

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If you want to see if a prospective school has credible accreditation, you can visit the website of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

Financial Aid and Scholarships

Graphic Design PhD financial aid

While a doctorate can be costly, there are many national, regional, and local organizations that help doctoral students find a way to pay the bills. You may find financial support through grants, student loans, scholarships, or work-study programs.

Some organizations offer tuition assistance to veterans or active-duty military personnel. There are also companies that are willing to pay for their employees’ additional schooling. To see if you qualify for federal aid, you can fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

What Can You Do with a Doctoral Degree in Graphic Design?

Doctoral Degree in Graphic Design

A doctoral degree in graphic design can be a qualification for being a researcher or teacher at the postsecondary level. Graduates can also utilize their degree to pursue advanced positions in the design sector. Some design professionals find work in animation, advertising, or even medical illustration.

Additional career options in the private sector include industrial designer, digital designer, marketing manager, or art director. The positions you pursue may depend on your previous experience, your degree specialization, and your chosen industry.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Doctorate in Graphic Design Online?

Much like with an on-campus or online masters in graphic design, the requirements for a PhD in Graphic Design can differ from school to school. Most PhD programs take 3 to 5 years to complete with full-time study.

If no dissertation component is required, a doctorate may be finished in 3 years. Writing a dissertation or having to pass doctoral field examinations will often add time to your degree completion timeframe, as will enrolling part-time.

Is a PhD in Graphic Design Degree Worth It?

PhD in Graphic Design

Yes, a PhD in Graphic Design degree is worth it for many students. There is a lot of flexibility in how you can use this degree. A doctoral degree can help you qualify for positions in research and academia, but you can also pursue advanced career opportunities in a wide variety of sectors.

Many people who earn this degree go on to become college and university professors. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this profession is projected to grow 12% over the next ten years, which is faster than the national average.

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While arts and design occupations are expected to see 4% job growth over the next ten years, employment for management occupations is projected grow 9% (Bureau of Labor Statistics). Art directors in particular are expected see 11% job growth over the next decade, which is faster than average.

Universities Offering Online Doctorate in Graphic Design Degree Program

Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.

Clemson University

Clemson University

Clemson University offers a PhD in Rhetorics, Communication, and Information Design. The program provides instruction in how to conduct original research for publication in journals. Students in the program are typically preparing for careers in academia. The program is available online, following the same schedule as on-campus classes. The interdisciplinary curriculum covers studio art, communication, technology, and related subjects.

Clemson University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Indiana University of Pennsylvania offers a PhD in Media and Communication Studies. The program is designed to provide flexibility for working professionals. Those in the program can join a cohort of either full-time or part-time students. Full-time students take three classes at a time, and part-time students take two. Classes include both online and face-to-face elements.

Indiana University of Pennsylvania is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Liberty University

Liberty University

Liberty University offers a 100% online program for a PhD in Communication. It consists of 60 credit hours’ worth of 8 week courses. The average student takes 3 years to finish. The program is designed to allow students to keep working while earning their degrees. The curriculum is rooted in biblical principles.

Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Texas Tech University

Texas Tech University

Texas Tech University offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Technical Communication and Rhetoric. The program includes 60 credit hours of coursework earned in a hybrid format. The curriculum covers how to conduct original research and includes studies in visual rhetoric, user-centered design, technical communication, scientific rhetoric, and more.

Texas Tech University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of Alabama

University of Alabama

The University of Alabama offers a PhD in Communication and Information Sciences. Numerous concentrations are available within the program, including Advertising and Public Relations, Media Processes and Effects, Interpersonal Communication, and more. Class sizes are small, and students can receive mentorship from faculty members.

The University of Alabama is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Getting Your PhD in Graphic Design Online

PhD in Graphic Design Online

If you enjoy using digital media to create art, you may be well suited for a career in graphic design. Earning a PhD in Graphic Design can help you advance your expertise and qualifications in this versatile field.

Experts in graphic design often seek work in design, marketing, or academia. Some professionals find their niche as a researcher, an artist, a professor, or a marketing manager. To find out more about what a PhD in this field has to offer, you can look into various online graphic design degree programs.

The sooner you start exploring accredited universities, the sooner you may find the PhD program that best aligns with your personal preferences and professional goals.

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Claire holds a master's degree in Library Science from the University of Texas at Austin and a Bachelor of Arts in English from Southwestern University. She enjoyed a 25-year career helping people of all ages find information on every subject as a reference librarian. Now retired, she researches Bible history, acts as a lay minister for children in her congregation, and tutors students in English online.