MFA in Graphic Design
The MFA in Graphic Design at VCFA is an innovative low-residency program built around students’ interests, values, and creative goals. Join our faculty and students in continuously rethinking the field of graphic design.
About the Program
- Fall: October 3–9, 2021
- Spring: April 3–9, 2022
Ann Dávila Cardinal
Featured image by Vic Rodriguez Tang ’22
Who is it for?
This program is ideal for self-motivated students with an academic background in visual art and culture, media arts, design, or communications and/or professional experience in the field of graphic design, especially aspiring and practicing design educators. Familiarity with design history and contemporary visual culture studies is beneficial.
How will your practice develop?
Our graduates emerge with new research methods, critical expertise, and a body of design work that is personal and relevant to the next stage in their careers and creative lives. You will develop skills in form, content, and craft and build fluency in contemporary design discourse.
Week-long residencies on our lovely Vermont campus are packed with lectures, critiques, workshops, exhibitions, and discussions. You’ll leave your very first residency with new friends, collaborators, and ideas.
Our 5:1 student-faculty ratio encourages close relationships between students and faculty advisors. Students and faculty learn and create together, sharing experiences, exchanging strategies, and challenging conventions. With input from faculty, visiting designers, and peers, students ask the hard questions: How can design change the world? How does the process of designing change you?
During residencies, students get to know faculty and participate in the faculty advisor selection process. Once they have been matched with an advisor, students develop unique semester study plans that will broaden and deepen their design practice, pushing them to think critically about the social, ethical, historical, formal, and philosophical implications of graphic design.
After each residency, students return to their homes and stay hard at work, devoting at least 25 hours a week to their studies. They remain in close consultation with their faculty advisor through email, phone, or video conference. Through this structure, students are able to develop their professional practices within their communities and integrate new research methods into their work.
Students deepen their artistic vision, enhance their understanding of the evolving discipline of design, and hone their craft. This merging of creative practice with critical inquiry is a key component of the program.
When VCFA realized in March that we would not be able to gather for residencies on campus, staff and faculty came together to create remote residencies, making sure students would not miss either the intense learning and sharing that happen during residencies or the meaningful opportunities to connect. Visit our Remote Residencies page to learn more!
Individualized Semester Study
A VCFA student’s home workspace can take many forms. Students tailor their studios to their own creative needs and available space, and the results are intriguing.
Vic Rodriguez Tang, '22 MFA in Graphic Design
“This semester, I’m researching the effects of gendering design elements such as typefaces and colors within the design and advertising industry. I’ve continued to unpack visual gender biases through design explorations using orthodox and unorthodox methods to test my findings. Writing has also been a crucial element of my process as it has helped me document my work and has served as a way to refine those skills before my thesis semester. My outcomes are very much influenced by queer design history, playing with visual gender stereotypes, questioning heteronormative standards and patriarchal practices, and finding ways to ‘queerify’ graphic design. I don’t like to think straight but forward instead.”
Monyetta Nation, '21 MFA in Graphic Design
“This semester, I am working on two different projects. One is about the nuances of traveling, the shapes, sounds, foods, my feelings. The second is about tracing my lineage. Because my life is extremely transient, I have to think outside the box, literally. My home space is smaller than my last space. Thus, a vanity doubles as a desk. I also use my bed. When I am working, I carry my cameras and any paper and books with me. I peruse hotel lobbies and the desk in the rooms. My job isn’t traditional, therefore I can’t think traditionally.”
Jessi Blackham, '22 MFA in Graphic Design
“This semester I am exploring different applications of two modes of expression that I love: dance and graphic novels. Both represent influences that came from outside my notions of what design was before I started my master’s studies, but that turn out to have myriad ties to traditional graphic design. They are very different things leading me in disparate directions. I am continually pushing into new territory of expression both bodily and mentally as I combine writing, movement, painting, animation, and digital media.”
Ray Masaki, 2021 Future of Design Award Recipient
Ray Masaki is a Japanese-American graphic designer living and working in Tokyo since 2017. He studied illustration at Parsons School of Design, type design at The Cooper Union, and is currently pursuing an MFA in Graphic Design at VCFA. He runs an independent publishing project called Bathboys湯, and in 2021 Ray wrote and published Why Is the Salaryman Carrying a Surfboard?, a bilingual book about the history of institutional white supremacy and Westernization in the Japanese design industry.
The MFA in Graphic Design offers both two- and three-year options to accommodate students with academic backgrounds in design and those with other backgrounds.
The two-year MFA program in Graphic Design at VCFA is ideal for students with professional backgrounds and/or baccalaureate degrees in a graphic design field. The two-year program is designed to allow for sustained study and critical thinking associated with graduate-level education. Students develop specific communication strategies through graphic design, as well as critical thinking skills and content generation.
The three-year MFA program in Graphic Design at VCFA is designed for students with backgrounds in liberal arts, fine arts, and sciences. In the three-year program, the first year is designed to bolster students’ strengths and critical abilities in typography, image making, and design history, theory, and authorship. Upon completion of the initial year of study, students complete two more years of study at the level of their peers in the two-year program.
By the Numbers
Keep up with our students, faculty, and alumnx on the MFA in Graphic Design program blog, Perpetual Beta.
Is this an online degree program?
No. Low-residency at VCFA means that students spend time on campus every semester for a residency week and then spend the rest of the time working with a faculty advisor to create work they envision. Faculty advisors in the Graphic Design program serve as both guides and mentors, offering students resources, texts, and theory to help deepen their design skills and interests. Students submit digital or printed “packets” each month to demonstrate their ongoing progress. There are no online classes or assignments in the traditional sense of an online education structure.
Do I need to have an undergraduate degree in design if I have been working in the field for a number of years?
No, many of our students do not have an undergraduate degree in design but have held positions as designers or design faculty for quite some time. The admissions committee strongly considers professional experience, and much of our student body is made up of seasoned designers and professors who are interested in earning an MFA to strengthen their existing practice and professional career.
If I have an undergraduate degree in visual art but don’t have a lot of experience working in graphic design, would I be a good candidate for the program?
Yes, you would be a great candidate for our three-year track! In the three-year program track, students spend the first year developing their design foundation skills, learning new software, and working with typography. It is a great way to use your existing creative skills and apply them towards a career as a designer.
How is it determined whether students enroll in the two-year or three-year program?
Students who enroll in the two-year program have a solid foundation of design fundamentals. They are comfortable working with typography, are proficient with Adobe design software, and have an understanding of design history and theory. They have a strong portfolio of design work and are ready to take their practice to the next level. Three-year-track students need an extra year to learn or brush up on these skills. They have a strong portfolio of creative work that may include some design but may also include creative projects in other mediums.