Becoming a Graphic Designer in Wisconsin

Every car logo you’ve ever seen conveys a deep meaning, from Ferrari’s leaping horse to the four rings on the Audi logo. Each of these art masterpieces likely originated with a carmaker providing an artist with a cultural, philosophical, or economic context that uniquely defined their brand. Based on this backdrop, the artist was tasked with creating a symbol to serve as a visual identity for the car brand. This is only a general perspective of the important work graphic designers do for brands, organizations, or personalities every day, working with various art forms or media.

What do Graphic Designers Do?

Graphic designers are typically tasked with conveying messages without uttering a word. They accomplish this effectively using visual art (symbols, images, color, etc). No wonder their professional work is often called visual communication design. As a qualified graphic designer (with an accredited degree), you can apply your creative talent and design skills in these real-world productions:

  • Web pages (layout, typography, themes)
  • Digital and print ads
  • Branding
  • Web/software user interfaces
  • Logos
  • Magazines and book cover design
  • Visual communication strategy
  • Packaging
  • Motion graphics
  • Infographics

What do they Teach in Graphic Design Schools?

When graphic design is your college major, your studies incorporate different aspects of visual communications. Here are some key courses and concepts you usually have to complete before graduating:

  • 2D, 3D and 4D design
  • Drawing
  • Color theory fundamentals
  • Art history, including Western art
  • Strategic design and creative thinking
  • Design software, such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and Creative Cloud
  • Photography
  • Web design
  • Typography

Graphic design is all about brands engaging their audiences in the most effective way possible. To maintain visual communication effectiveness and reach optimization, the profession is constantly evolving and incorporating newer art forms. Its evolution reflects the ever-changing trends in how (and where) most people engage and interact with each other day-to-day. Graphic design schools in Wisconsin are quickly adapting, just like everyone else across the country.

In today’s digital world, many offer progressive programs that equip students with relevant skills for the changed media landscape. Their updated visual communications curricula may include topics like:

  • New media theory: Mobile platforms, social networking and video streaming provide some of the most popular digital experiences nowadays. To boost your employability as a graphic designer, you should be adept in the cultures and aesthetics associated with these newer forms of media. Mastery of the appropriate communication strategies for audiences across these platforms can provide a massive competitive advantage in the job market.   
  • User experience (UX) design: When you quickly swipe to unlock your smartphone, that’s excellent UX design at play. Most schools that teach user interface and interactive media design include UX design in their curriculum. 

Colleges with Accredited Graphic Design Programs in Wisconsin

Here are some excellent options:

Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD), Milwaukee

Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) is an ideal place to begin your journey to becoming a reputable graphic designer in Wisconsin. The university offers graphic design training through their Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree (BFA) in Communication Design. This course is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art & Design (NASAD), so it incorporates all the components necessary to create a well-rounded professional. Admission requirements for the BFA program include:

  • Apply online via SlideRoom
  • Attach an essay describing yourself
  • Request your high school or college to send your official transcripts to the university
  • Upload your art portfolio via SlideRoom (should include 12-20 of your best and most recent creative works)

The Curriculum

It takes four years and 120 credits to study and graduate with a BFA degree in communication design at MIAD. Besides covering art fundamentals, the program includes immersive computer studio courses that should help you master standard graphic design applications like Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator on Macinton PCs. Advanced computer studio classes introduce you to web development tools, such as HTML5 and Javascript. This course prepares you for more than just web page and user interface design. By graduation day, you should be able to build professional websites, including dynamic web pages, since server-side scripting resources like PHP are covered.

Costs

Up to 98% of MIAD students may receive financial aid for tuition and other costs, which gives many a realistic shot at a prosperous graphic design career. Your first year studying full-time at the institution will cost about $41,240, including $39,380 in tuition fees. Overall costs for financial aid beneficiaries may be much smaller. 

Marian University, Fond du Lac

Marian University offers its Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Graphic Arts program at the Fond du Lac campus, Wisconsin. The institution is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) for the North Central region. Here are the minimum requirements to enroll in the four-year undergraduate course:

  • Valid copies of your high school transcript
  • A minimum high school GPA of 2.0 or a GED score of 660
  • Graduate inside top half of your class
  • Optional ACT or SAT test results

Curriculum

This graphic design degree course comprises a total of 120 credits, 30 of which come from general courses like interpersonal communication and math reasoning. You must complete your first-year studies to progress through the program. These introductory courses include drawing, software, and computer-aided illustration. Your graphic arts majors will include topics like art history, computer animation (motion graphics), advertising, and digital imaging.

To graduate with a BA in graphic arts at Marian University, you’ll need to complete all required majors with a cumulative GPA of 3.25. Attending art exhibitions is also a prerequisite of this program. This part of the curriculum lets you explore visual communication techniques, theory and practice as implemented through various artforms and media in public settings. The Muriel Press, an on-campus micro-press, is another platform to sharpen your graphic design skills and gain practical experience in core areas of the profession, including animation and packaging design.

Costs

On-campus undergraduate studies at Marian University cost between $37,176 and $40,394 per year. Students pay $29,520 for tuition and up to $10,394 for meals and housing annually.

University of Wisconsin – Stout, Menomonie

For a good shot at becoming an expert in designing product packaging, advertisements and other visual art forms, consider the BFA in Graphic Design and Interactive Media course at University of Wisconsin (UW) Stout. The four-year undergraduate program comprehensively covers graphic design with a focus on two key professional areas (concentrations): visual communication and interaction media. As with most similar programs, you have to apply to the university first and complete multiple core art courses in your first year before progressing through the BFA course. 

Your application to UW Stout as a new first-year student should include the following:

  • Official high school transcripts or GED certificate
  • ACT or SAT score (optional)

Admission into the BFA Program

At the end of your first year, you’ll be required to submit an art portfolio that showcases your pre-BFA creative/design skills. Successful review of your work should pave the way for admission into the graphic design and interactive media degree program.

The BFA Curriculum

Communication design should account for at least 40 credits out of the 120 required to complete this program. This core coursework includes drawing, graphic design, web design and 3D design. Interactive media constitutes another 40 credits that you need to cover for your BFA. Overall, you must attain a minimum GPA of 2.0 to graduate. A higher score is required (2.5 or better), however, for core art and design subjects, including art, art history, graphic design, typography, and web design.

Other key prerequisites to graduate with a BFA in graphic design and interactive media are:

  • Internship
  • General courses (40 credits)  

Costs

For a single academic year, UW Stout tuition and other fees total $7,598, while meals and accommodation cost $7,598. Summing up, you’ll pay about $17,151 a year to study at the Menomonie-based institution. These estimates are for undergraduate students living on-campus.

Graphic Design Jobs in Wisconsin (Salaries and Outlook)

Wisconsin has 4,400 graphic designers who earn mean hourly and yearly wages of $26.40 and $54,910, respectively, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Their pay is slightly below the national average of $28.30 per hour and $ 59,970 per year. To increase your salary working as a graphic designer, there are strategies you can try, such as having a fine arts degree. Industry analytics from Indeed.com show that this academic qualification can increase your pay by at least 12% above the average base compensation. 

Technical skills and software proficiency matter, too, and can provide a superior vantage in pay negotiations. For instance, you could earn 28% more than the mean base pay by demonstrating a mastery of the collaborative digital design app Sketch. Adobe Creative Suite is still the most popular graphic design software package among employers. But specializing in it may not always attract the best pay rates in Wisconsin.

At a growth rate of only 1%, the Wisconsin economy isn’t creating new graphic design jobs as fast as most qualified professionals would wish. Despite this shortcoming, Project Central estimates that some 700 new positions are created in the sector each year. This trend may continue or get better toward 2028 and beyond as most economies should have shaken off the last of pandemic-triggered effects by then.