Earning a Master's in Visual Communications Online

What You’ll Learn & What You Can Do After Graduation

Should I Pursue a Master's in Visual Communications Online?

Many professionals working in industries as diverse as graphic design, advertising, and information technology find themselves wanting to return to school to earn a graduate degree. Why? They may want to advance in their current field or simply switch careers. The busy schedule of a working professional can complicate matters, but earning a master's in visual communications online offers nontraditional learners affordability, flexibility, and skills for diverse career options.

Visual communications encompasses typography, branding, design strategy, motion design, and user experience design. Earning a master's in visual communication online can broaden your horizons in these areas of expertise and bolster your credentials, all while you tailor the experience to your needs. Read on for a closer look at career and salary expectations, resources, and educational requirements relevant to a master's degree in visual communication design.

Employment Outlook for Master's in Visual Communications Graduates

Master's in Visual Communications Salary

A graduate who holds a master's in visual communications degree can anticipate comfortable earnings across many industries. In the graphic design and information technology services industries, for instance, graduates with an MA in visual communication design make an annual median salary of $80,000 and $109,000, respectively.

Experience level contributes to earnings as well. At the entry level, graduates with a visual communication design MA make $51,690, which is above the national mean for all occupations of $50,620. By mid-career, around five to nine years, this number grows to $71,000 and by late career, twenty years or more, the entry level wage doubles to $110,000.

Master's in Visual Communications Careers

The skillset graduates gain from a master's in visual communications equips them for a variety of career paths. Many work as graphic designers or as creative or communications directors at advertising or marketing companies, where they influence the company's image and ethos. Others may work in emerging tech roles, like interactive design. The following list represents common career paths taken by graduates who hold a master's in visual communications.

Graphic Designer

Annual Median Salary: $43,293

A graphic designer uses color, illustration, and font to create a visually compelling layout conveying a brand or message. This job does not necessarily require a master's degree; however, prospective employers filling higher positions may prefer those with stronger design skills -- which an advanced degree provides.

Creative Director

Annual Median Salary: $87,104

A creative director supervises designers and artists in guiding the overall look and ethos of an organization's creative output. Though the job often only requires a bachelor's, an advanced degree in visual communications covers the breadth of disciplines that a creative director's work can encompass, such as typography, web design, and copywriting.

Interactive Designer

Annual Median Salary: $57,485

An interactive designer tailors a website's aesthetics, utility, and functionality for positive interactive experience. They draw upon a strong technical framework and user interaction research to create organized and effective designs that web users can navigate easily. Interactive designers may also handle duties, such as social media, email, and branding for their clients.

User Experience Designer

Annual Median Salary: $73,040

User experience designers develop user-friendly designs for products like software applications. Their work, which endeavors to make products more functional and aesthetically appealing to users, can draw upon expertise in psychology and sociology. They convene with designers, product managers, and engineers to draft user-friendly prototypes.

Communications Director

Annual Median Salary: $67,726

A communications director manages the public image of an organization, whether in the corporate or nonprofit realm. They may craft formal communications that the company disseminates to the public, like press releases.

Source: PayScale

What Can I Expect from an Online Master's in Visual Communications Program?

The requirements for an online master's in visual communications can vary depending on the school and program. For example, some programs may prepare graduates for a specific field or industry and, therefore, may offer fewer electives or concentrations. Choose a program that fits your needs as a learner.

Curriculum for an Online Master's Degree in Visual Communications

History of Design

Students investigate the history of design from the industrial revolution to the present day. Course materials may include readings from seminal design texts and critical essay assignments. Some programs may offer equivalent credit for this course in the form of an introductory history of modern art course.

Digital Motion Design

In this course, students learn to create 2D and 3D animations using a time-based application. Topics include 3D modelling and rendering, and setting keyframes for animation. Students may also learn more advanced techniques for translating filmmaking production techniques to a digital animation context. The course may culminate with students creating an interactive story or short film.

Typography

Students explore the structure, utility, and history of typography. As students learn about typeface, they explore its aesthetics and its usage for a variety of communication purposes, along with technical concerns like orthotypography and type specifications. This course may appeal to students interested in working in publishing.

Web and User Interaction Design

This course outlines human-centered design for interactive web applications. Students study how functional, usable interactive design applies to industries such as e-commerce and education. Course assignments may include the development of interactive web pages and the creation of an alternative navigational solution for a web application or touch screen device.

Intro to Management

Many online visual communications degrees incorporate management coursework as preparation for management roles in design-related industries, for example as a creative director in advertising. Students explore organizational theory, principles of leadership, and management strategies along with their real-world applications.

Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Visual Communications Prepares for

  • Adobe Certified Expert: Adobe offers product-specific proficiency exams for applications such as Adobe InDesign or Adobe Photoshop. Students register for and take a remotely proctored exam ( $180 fee). Adobe offers candidates online training courses as preparation for the certification exam.
  • Communication Management Professional: The Global Communication Certification Council offers CMP certification to business communication professionals in diverse industries. Candidates must present either eight years of experience and 40 hours of training or six years of experience, two years of education, and 40 hours of training. The 100-question multiple-choice exam costs $400.

Professional Organizations & Resources

Both industry veterans and recent graduates benefit from joining professional organizations related to visual communications disciplines such as printing or graphic design. Many professional organizations provide online continuing education opportunities so their members can stay abreast of practices and technologies. Events offered through these organizations, such as the American Institute of Graphic Arts design conference, allow you to network with others, keep your skillset sharp, and establish valuable professional relationships.

  • National Communication Association: NCA supports media literacy and the field of communications through resources for professionals and students, including its annual convention, 11 academic journals, and several student organizations.

  • American Institute of Graphic Arts: AIGA promotes excellence in the graphic arts, in large part through socially conscious initiatives including Design for Democracy and Women Lead. Members can access benefits such as health insurance assistance and discounted continuing education opportunities.

  • International Colour Association: AIC encompasses a global community of professionals and artists working in the field of color. The organization publishes a quarterly journal and presents several annual awards, including the Judd Award, to innovators in the field of color science.

  • Printing Industries of America: The PIA works to advance the field of graphic communications worldwide through research, social justice programs, and education. Via its iLearning Center, the PIA offers members online continuing education opportunities including certifications, online courses, and webinars.

  • Graphics Artists Guild: Founded in 1967, this organization advocates for professionals in graphic arts across its seven nationwide chapters. Education and networking opportunities include their free webinar series, "Ask a Pro," and discounted courses for members.

  • Print and Graphics Scholarship Foundation: The non-profit PGSF provides tuition assistance to learners studying in the graphic communications disciplines. Student awards from the PGSF scholarship range from $1,000-$5,000 for up to four years.

  • In-Plant Printing and Mailing Association: The IPMA, founded in 1965, offers several awards and scholarships to students in printing and graphic arts-related disciplines, including the In-Print Awards, the IPMA Awards, and the Brahney Scholarship.

  • Graphic Communications Scholarship Foundation: The GCSF offers its annual scholarship to New York City metro area students majoring in graphic communications. Many students also take on graphic communications internships through the GCSF.

  • Gravure Association of the Americas: The GAA promotes the advancement of the rotogravure printing process. Student members can access the organization's electronic library of technical articles and papers, along with back issues of its magazine.