Visual Communication


Prepare for a successful career in graphic design with our visual communication program. You’ll receive a comprehensive education focused on graphic form and communication, as well as cultural factors and design processes. When you graduate, you’ll be equipped with the creative, theoretical and interpersonal skills you need to thrive in the field of graphic design.

Who Can Apply?

High School Students

Current high school students are not eligible to apply to the Visual Communication program. Applicants must, first, complete the Foundation (freshman) year of studies—either by earning those credits at NIU or by transferring credits from other institutions (see below).

Current NIU Students

The first year of studies at NIU is known as the "Foundation" year. After students complete this foundation year, they may apply to various areas for a more focused emphasis in a particular discipline, such as visual communication.

The Visual Communication program begins with the second (sophomore) year of study and it continues through the third (junior) year and fourth (senior) year of studies.

Transfer Students

Transfer students may apply to the Visual Communication program, provided they have earned course credits for the required first-year foundation courses.

The Process

Admission to the Visual Communication program is limited. The total number of students accepted will be determined by available resources on a year-by-year basis.

Successful candidates must meet the following conditions:

  • Be admitted to the university
  • Have a minimum overall GPA of 2.50 on a 4.00 scale for all courses including transfer courses
  • Submit a portfolio of work that meets the admission criteria for the program. For portfolio instructions, please refer to the "Your Admission Portfolio" tab above for details.
  • Interview with the Visual Communication faculty selection committee.

Your portfolio files will be submitted online and will be reviewed by the faculty. If your portfolio is accepted, then you will be invited to an interview.

Both, the portfolio and the interview will be used to determine which students are accepted to the Visual Communication program.

You will be notified by email about your application, interview, and acceptance status.

Online Portfolio Submission 2024 Deadline Dates

You may only apply once per year. Decide on one of the dates below and apply when you're ready.

Portfolio Deadline Interview (if portfolio is accepted)
Friday, April 26 Friday, May 17
Friday, May 31 Friday, June 21

Core Requirements

Foundation Art Requirements: 12 credits
Art History Requirements: 12 credits
Visual Communication Elective Requirements: 12 credits

  • ARTD 201 - Introduction to Visual Communication (3 credits)
  • ARTD 202 - Introduction to Typography (3 credits)
  • ARTD 211 - Intermediate Typography (3 credits)
  • ARTD 212 - Image in Visual Communication (3 credits)
  • ARTD 311 - Intermediate Visual Communication I (3 credits)
  • ARTD 312 - Visual Communication II (3 credits)
  • ARTD 313 - Beginning Photography (3 credits)
  • ARTD 318 - Interaction Design I (3 credits)
  • ARTD 401 - User Experience Design (3 credits)
  • ARTD 405 - Professional Practices in Design (3 credits)
  • ARTD 411 - Advanced Visual Communication I (3 credits)
  • ARTD 412 - Advanced Typography (3 credits)
  • ARTD 406 - Senior Project (3 credits)

B.F.A. in Visual Communication requires 78 semester hours. View a suggested Visual Communication four-year plan.

First Things, First

  1. Read and carefully follow the guidelines on this site.
  2. Develop and prepare your portfolio files so they are ready to upload before you click the application button.
  3. Re-read the first two items on this list.

Once you have completed the above items:

  • Click the "Online Portolfio Submission" button
  • Enter your information in the application
  • Upload your portfolio files

Preparing Your Design Portfolio Files

The selection of work in your portfolio tells us a great deal about you. So, thoughtfully and carefully choose the pieces you think best show your design talent and potential for further development. Your portfolio should include design work, such as:

  • Brochures
  • Posters
  • Album Covers
  • Menus
  • Publications: Books, Booklets, Magazine layouts
  • Logos
  • Package Design
  • Interaction Design
  • Motion Graphics

Portfolio Requirements

You must present a minimum of 10 individual design projects and these can be presented using up to 20 files. Our online application site has a 20-file maximum per applicant.

Projects vs files:
One project can have multiple files associated with it, but that will count as one project in your portfolio. Since there is a 20-file limit, projects with multiple components should be included in a single PDF file with multiple pages.

For example, you may have a single PDF file for a book design that is 20 pages, that would be one PDF file and count as one project. A motion graphic .mov would be another file. A visual identity project could have multiple components, but they could all be in one PDF file.

File Format Requirements

  • Document and image files must be JPEG or PDF
  • Videos files must be MOV or MP4.
Name the files so they identify the kind of project. For example:

visual identity system.pdf

Online Portfolio Submission

What if You Don't Have Design Projects in Your Portfolio?

You must create some projects on your own! We can not accept a portfolio of drawings, paintings, or photographs that are presented as stand-alone images. Imagery is extremely important but, it must be part of a design or layout—as shown in the examples below.

Suggested Projects

We recommend, the following book: Graphic Design School: The Principles and Practice of Graphic Design.

4th Edition by David Dabner, Sheena Calvert, Anoki Casey. (Make certain to get the 4th edition of this book, it is an older edition, but it's less expensive, and can be purchased used.)

This is a very informative introduction to graphic design and it will provide you with projects that will assist in building and strengthening your portfolio.

Some specific suggested projects that you can do from the 4th edition of the book:

  • page 17 assignment: Research, A City Block
  • page 27 assignment: Research, Concept Development
  • page 61 assignment: Composition, Zodiac Symbols
  • page 91 assignment: Typography, Text as Image.
  • page 101 assignment: Color, Map-Making.

You may only submit one application per year. If you wish to reapply to the Visual Communication program, you can do so during next year's application cycle

If you have further questions about the application process, please contact the Visual Communication Department, at


If your portfolio is accepted you will be notified by email, and the next step is an interview. Only students that have their portfolios accepted will be interviewed. The on-campus interviews will be held at Jack Arends Hall (Art and Design Building) in room 308. Please come dressed for an interview. You will be notified of a Visual Communication program acceptance decision by email within five business days of your interview.

During the Interview

You will be asked questions to assess your interest, commitment and level of understanding of a career as a professional designer. Questions will be concerned with general cultural awareness, design fundamentals and your academic and professional goals. You are encouraged to ask the interviewers questions regarding the Visual Communications program.

Student Work

View more visual communication student work.