Graphic Design MFA

in process work from our current MFA GD students
in process work from our current MFA GD students

If you are ready to take your design experience and training to the next level, or are interested in bringing skills from other disciplines into conversation with design research, then the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign graduate Graphic Design program is the place for you.

Graduate studies in Graphic Design focus on interdisciplinary making for research and practice in responsible innovation. We provide unique opportunities to work with University of Illinois’s world-class researchers in multiple areas including: Afro-futurism, equity-centered design, sustainability, and the fight against human trafficking. Students in the program participate in ongoing projects in Urbana-Champaign and around the world. Current faculty projects include the design of virtual reality narratives, multimodal interfaces for social computing, sustainable materials, and social innovation.

In addition, MFA students in Graphic Design can:

This rich interdisciplinary environment coalesces as an energetic space for discovery, discussion, and collaboration.

View Our Curriculum-Advising Plan

The program consists of three years of coursework totaling 64 credit hours, culminating in a research report and gallery show. For a curriculum-advising plan, see here. Since the MFA is currently recognized as the terminal degree in design throughout much of the U.S., the expectations for quality of research are usually higher than for other Masters programs, where a PhD might be expected to follow. MFA Graphic Design graduates at University of Illinois make a significant contribution to the real-world impact of design research.

The program consists of three years of coursework totaling 64 credit hours, culminating in a research report and gallery show. Because the MFA is currently recognized as the terminal degree in design throughout much of the United States, our expectations for quality of research are generally higher than for other Masters programs, where a Ph.D. might be expected to follow. MFA Graphic Design graduates at University of Illinois make significant contributions to the real-world impact of design research.

Core Faculty

Eric Benson - Biological Systems Thinking/Sustainable Materials/Dystopian & Utopian Futures
Molly Briggs - The Built Environment/Immersive Media/Visual Culture/Design Theory
Wonsil Jang - UX/UI design/Social impact/Interaction design (Motion/AR)/Educational system development
Linda Kwon - Health Design/Design for Peace/Photography/Environmental Justice
Lisa Mercer - Social Innovation/Social Impact/Responsible Design/Interaction Design
Stacey Robinson - Afro-Futurism/Black & Brown Utopias/Race/Graphic Novels/African Diasporas and Wakanda
Stan Ruecker - Academic Prototyping/Digital Humanities/Design Theory/Experience Design
Juan Salamanca - Social Computing/Interaction Design/Mediating Artifacts/Visual Analytics
Nekita Thomas - Co-Design/Race/Urban/Social Justice

Meet more of our faculty

Meet Current MFA + PhD (Informatics) Students

Current Project Highlights

Recent books by Faculty

Design to Renourish: Sustainable Graphic Design in Practice
Eric Benson and Yvette Perullo, 2017
"The Best New Graphic Design Books of 2017" - Format Magazine
"Required Reading: AIGA's Design Educators Community List their Must-Have Books for Design Inspiration for 2017" - Design Observer

I Am Alfonso Jones
Tony Medina, Stacey Robinson and John Jennings, 2017
"Painfully important" Kirkus Reviews
"'I Am Alfonso Jones' Brings Powerful BLM Message to Young Adult Graphic Fiction" - Forbes

Visual Interface Design for Digital Cultural Heritage. A Guide to Rich-Prospect Browsing
Stan Ruecker, Milena Radzikowska and Stéfan Sinclair (eds), 2011
"[P]rovides an excellent scholarly introduction to the theory, scope and nature of rich-prospect browsers and browsing" - Journal of Documentation
"[A] splendid example of a team of humanities scholars exploring a particular theory by building prototype tools and discussing the results of using those tools" - Literary and Linguistics Computing

Current Visiting Design Researchers

Ricardo Triska (2018-19)
Jiameng Wang (2018-19)

Past Visiting Design Researchers

Gerry Derksen (2017-18)
Zhabiz Shafeiyoun (2017-18)
Piotr Michura (Spring 2017)

Past MFA Graduate Students

Alex Dye, Rethinking the Electronic Medical Record
Qing He, Mobile Gaming Application: Promoting Positive Attitude Towards Body Image for Girls Age Five to Eight
John Jennings, Utilizing Graphic Design Theory to Enhance Graphic Storytelling in Sequential Art
Taekyeom Lee, Re-materialization of Type
Huang Li, Hybrid Sense: The Immense Possibilities of Interaction of Digital Information with Physical Environments
Ruchita Mandhre, “Experiential Design as an Emerging Context for Graphic Design Pedagogy and a Method to Create Valuable Emotional Experiences,”
Maurice Meilleur, Five Thesis on the Future of Type
Wenjun Wu, Everyday Walking as Aesthetic Practice

Advice for applicants to the MFA

The application for admissions process includes a request for a personal statement. We suggest but do not require that you write instead a research proposal, preferably 3-5 pages that address the following criteria:

  • a proposed topic in a research area related to our graphic design faculty interests.
  • some reference to specific theorists and how the proposed project might contribute to or reflect upon their work
  • some familiarity with relevant research literature
  • 2 or 3 research goals
  • 3 or 4 research questions related to those goals
  • 2 or 3 possible use cases and data collection methods that could be used to provide evidence related to those questions
  • how U of Illinois in particular might be a good location for this work

Not every statement can be that complete, but that is the general direction. It is normal for plans to change as the student goes through the program. The purpose of this research statement is to show your thinking about research rather than definitively setting up a final plan.