Graphic Design Major Guide for 2013-2014

About the School of Art

The University of Tennessee is classified as a Doctoral/Research Extensive institution by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Courses are taught by our internationally known faculty who conduct a high level of research and creative activity.

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 Arts (majors in Art History and Studio Art); the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Studio Art; and the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design. These programs prepare students to pursue graduate work or a variety of career options including fine artist, 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 artists, designers and art historians of national stature. The Artist-in-Residence Program and the Visiting Artists, Designers and Scholars Program further enhance the teaching environment by featuring prominent individuals who work with students in a variety of venues.

The School of Art has an active exhibition program supported by the Ewing Gallery of Art and Architecture and the University of Tennessee Downtown Gallery, which host major exhibitions of work by national and international artists. The School also maintains Tennessee’s only student run, non-profit exhibition space, Gallery 1010. Both University of Tennessee Downtown Gallery and Gallery 1010 are located off campus in the heart of the Knoxville downtown art district.

What is Graphic Design?

Suppose you want to announce or sell something, amuse or persuade someone, explain a complicated system, or demonstrate a process. In other words, you have a message you want to communicate. How do you send it? You could tell people one by one or broadcast by radio or loudspeaker. That is verbal communication. But if you use a visual medium—if you make a poster, type a letter, create a business logo, a magazine ad, a Web site, or make a computer print-out—you are using a form of visual communication called graphic design.

Graphic designers work with drawn, painted, photographed, or computer-generated images (pictures). They also design the letterforms that make up various typefaces found in movie credits, TV ads, books, magazines, menus, and desktop publishing. Designers create, choose, and organize these elements of typography and imagery to communicate a message. Graphic design is a part of your daily life. From humble things like gum wrappers to huge things like billboards to the T-shirt you’re wearing, graphic design informs, persuades, organizes, stimulates, locates, identifies, attracts attention and provides pleasure.

Graphic design is a creative process that combines art and technology to communicate ideas. The designer works with a variety of communication tools in order to convey a message from a client to a particular audience. The main tools are image and typography.

Career Opportunities in Graphic Design

The projects created by designers give form to the communication between their client and an audience. To do this, designers ask: What is the nature of the client? What is the nature of the audience? How does the client want to be perceived by the audience? Designers also explore the content of the message the client wishes to send, and they determine the appropriate form and media to convey that message. They manage the communication process, from understanding the problem to finding the solution. In other words, designers develop and implement overall communication strategies for their clients.

The process that goes into creating design projects is often invisible. It’s clear that some projects, because of their size, would be inconceivable without considerable project management skills. And the range of content clearly demonstrates the designer’s need for a good liberal arts education to aid in understanding and communicating diverse design content.
The corporate executive oversees design for a large company. The university professor teaches the next generation of designers and thus influences the future of the field. The design entrepreneur engages in design initiation as an independent business. Consider these and other design-related roles as you plan your studies and early job experience.
Areas for careers in design include: multimedia design, type design, film title design, television graphics, exhibit design, signage design, package design, environmental design, design planning, publication systems, educational design, magazine design, identity design, systems design, corporate communication, and nonprofit design.

Salary Trends in Graphic Design

Salary ranges as of 2009:

Creative director $75,000–$120,000
Art director $54,000–$81,000
Senior designer $50,500 –$72,500
Web designer $44,000–$65,000
Designer $40,000–$75,000
Entry-level $30,000–$40,000

Please note that these figures reflect overall averages of a national survey conducted by the AIGA in 2008. For ad­ditional information, see

High School Preparation

As a reflection of their creativity, designers often have an abundance of curiosity. They ask questions, delight in playing the devil’s advocate, and are often reluctant to accept someone else’s habits or customs. Making things is second nature for designers. Somehow thinking something or saying something just isn’t enough. Designers sense intuitively that the process of making something real engages the mind in a different and powerful way: forms and colors change; new ideas emerge. They like projects with definite beginnings, middles and endings, because these kinds of projects are tied to development and achievements. Generally, designers dislike routine or maintenance activities. Starting something new and unknown challenges them.

Designers are attracted to things that perform a definite function—things that are useful and beautiful. They are interested in improving everyday life rather than creating art for museums. To designers, the limitations of design and communication are seen as challenges rather than as straightjackets.

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

Before you may progress into the program as a major, you must 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).  Students are then admitted in rank order of cumulative average as space allows.  During the first year, students also usually take Art 102, a course in four-dimensional design, a second art history survey and Art 150, The Idea of Graphic Design.  During the second year, you will progress to 200-level classes and choose a concentration.

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 sophomore sequence, 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 are placed in a variety of professional settings including Sony Music, HGTV, Morris Creative, and Atlantic Records. Students are encouraged to work outside of Knoxville in cities like Atlanta, Nashville, Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.

The Design Center is a design studio composed of students in the graphic design program at the University of Tennessee. The purpose of the Design Center is to allow students to participate in interdisciplinary collaboration at an advanced level. The Design Center provides a workshop environment that allows students to explore cutting-edge technology and its relationship to communication. Students in the Design Center and in practicum experiences have won numerous design awards for their work. The faculty is currently working to arrange a collaborative educational exchange with schools in China and Hong Kong.

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. Beginning with first-time, first-year, full-time, degree-seeking students entering in the Fall 2013 semester, 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.