Students gather around presentations of their book cover designs
Undergraduate | In-Person

Design Communications (Graphic Design)

In our program, you will not only learn the fundamentals of design, but also gain skills to become relevant in visual communication that gives definition to our culture and worldview.

Why Major in Design Communications? 

Student packaging designs for jams The Watkins College of Art's Design Communications (B.F.A.) program is a portfolio-based graphic design curriculum where you will develop a broad range of skills.

You will create a professional-level portfolio built on a strong foundation of information, communication and a thorough understanding of the end user. As a graduate of Belmont’s Design program, you will be a positive contributor to the media landscape locally, nationally and internationally.

Our goal is for you to compete in any market.

Our graduates have stepped up to the challenge as industry leaders and award-winning members of the creative community nationwide. You are already surrounded by their work. They are eager for you to join them and will be an integral part of your experience.

What You'll Learn 

  • Advertising & Package Design
  • Information & Communications Theory
  • Typography
  • Design Thinking
  • User Experience
  • Empathy Driven Design

Career Possibilities

  • Graphic Designer
  • Creative Director
  • Layout/Print Designer
  • Logo Designer
  • Web Designer
  • User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) Designer
  • Branding
  • Packaging Designer
  • Digital Media Designer
  • Marketing

Program Details

The Design Communications major is centered around six core design classes, which begin with basic design principles during the sophomore year and gain in complexity through the senior year. Students take additional classes in the areas of typography, web, interaction design and design history to give historical context and relevancy.

Design Communication majors also select an emphasis track in photography, studio or design administration.

See All Program Requirements

Design Courses

  • ART 1700, Principles of Web Page Design

This course is an integrated introduction to web page design, covering both its aesthetic and technical aspects. The topics introduced will include: Internet Protocol fundamentals, HTML, page layout, imaging, color, typography, embedded technologies, file types, portability and performance.

  • ART 2410, Introduction to Design Principles

Design is the use of visual forms (words and images) that are used to convey information to diverse audiences. This course is the first in a sequence of Design Communications courses. Students will explore the use of basic design principles, design elements, introductory theory and brainstorming techniques to solve basic communication problems without the use of a computer. Emphasis will be on observation, analysis, design process, terminology, creative thinking, problem-solving, execution and craftsmanship. Several projects may be considered as portfolio pieces.

  • ART 2420, Design Systems

One in a series of Design Communications courses that focuses on the development of a professional-level design portfolio. Projects include multiple-piece design, introduction to product identity and an introduction to three-dimensional graphic design. The course also emphasizes raster imaging and covers compositing of graphic elements in advanced page-layout applications. Extensive outside work is required.

  • ART 2430, Typography: Layout

A studio course covering the history, terminology and use of typography in the design communications industry. Students will use traditional and computer-based typographic tools to complete exercises and problems. Projects and exercises will range from the examination of the interaction of individual letterforms to organization of text in publication layouts. Students will practice a variety of typographic philosophies.

  • ART 2431, Typography: Form

A studio course covering the history, terminology and use of typography in the design communications industry. Students will use traditional and computer-based typographic tools to complete exercises and problems. Projects and exercises will range from the examination and creation of individual symbol glyphs to their use in complex communications. Emphasis will be placed on the development of a professional-level typeface specimen.

  • ART 2432, Typography: Kinetic

Students explore design and typographic concepts in motion media. Students build sequential design and motion within a time-based media environment as they explore storytelling and continuity. A combination of photography, graphic images, type, sound and video is used to create sequences and animated shorts. The course builds on the development of interactivity for web and mobile devices utilizing interactive and video embedding capabilities in HTML5, animation using CSS3 transitions, and jQuery/JavaScript.

  • ART 3410, Linear Design

One of a core series of Design Communications courses that focuses on the development of a professional-level design portfolio. The stage of design requires a portfolio review prior to registration. Projects include publication design, website design and introduction to visual rhetoric. This course requires proficiency in working with and combining raster-based and vector-based digital imagery. Extensive outside work is required.

  • ART 2450, Interactive Media

This is an introduction to Interactive Media. Topics include: animation, scripting and delivery of vector-based interactive media. Emphasis is on web-based media applications. Applications used include Photoshop, Dreamweaver and Illustrator. The course will emphasize the software application Adobe Flash and JavaScript.

  • ART 2451, Intermediate Website Design

This course is a continuation of web design practices with an added emphasis of designing, authoring, deploying and maintaining websites. Problems focus on real-world communication and interactivity problem-solving within the current Internet standards and practices.

  • ART 2490, Design Empathy

With the advancement in technology and changing needs of people, designers are challenged to look for innovative approaches to cater for the needs of their users toward an effective/positive user experience. As a result it is important to gain a deeper understanding of a uniquely identified targeted audience - empathy. Through projects and case studies, students will learn the importance of designing for perspectives other than their own. Topics will include human-centered design process; diversity, inclusion and equity, and critical thinking.

  • ART 2850, Portfolio Practices

Through inquiry, reflection and integration, students will bring coherence to, synthesize and integrate learning experiences inside and outside of the classroom by producing an electronic portfolio for both academic and professional purposes. This course will introduce students to the basis of documenting, curating, reflecting on and showcasing learned proficiency as shown through such artifacts as visual and written work. The course will emphasize both visual and written/reflective components of creating and critique. Students will also be introduced to professional practices in preparation for an internship.

  • ART 3420, Information Design

The course will emphasize the communication of ideas within the framework of Information Design, which seeks to edify more than to persuade. Students will examine how people read and learn information and navigate through a space- a book, the web or a physical space. Problems will be complex and multi-faceted such as a redesign of an identity system, navigational system and informational signage for hypothetical clients. Students will be introduced to the study of semiotics as well as a brief historical perspective of information and environmental design fields. Emphasis will be on research with groups and individual work. Extensive outside work will be expected. The stage of design requires passing portfolio review.

  • ART 3440, History and Philosophy of Design

Students will examine the history and relevant theory of visual communication and graphic design including its historical relationship to the larger culture in which it functions. In viewing graphic design beyond the aesthetic, emphasis will be placed on its role in areas such as commerce, culture, propaganda, ideology and the social/political arenas. The underlying themes will be technological influence on communication and the evolution of visual form and language. This lecture course combines readings, discussions and practical application of theory/concepts through written assignments and possible creation of visual artifacts.

  • ART 4410, Narrative and Advocacy Design

This is a course in which students will find their design voice. The underlying theme will be narrative (linear and non-linear) as we investigate the designer’s role and responsibility within society. Students will explore a range of issues from recycling, sustainability and consumer consumption to community involvement and relationships with not-for-profit organizations through creative projects and investigation into contemporary and historical solutions. Additional opportunities for basic exploration in media software applications creating linear narratives will occur through project solutions. Requires passing annual portfolio review prior to registration. Extensive outside work will be required.

  • ART 4420, Identity and Branding

The final in a core series of Design Communications courses focusing on the development of a professional-level design portfolio. Projects include the development of a full-scale corporate identity program including graphics standards manual and packaging and/or display design. Extensive outside work is required.

  • ART 4900, Senior Exhibition / Portfolio

This course is for all graduating art majors. The objective is to develop the skills and impart the information necessary for being a working artist or designer, culminating in an exit review in the form of a formal portfolio review for Design Communications majors and a gallery exhibition for Studio and Art Education majors. Design Communications majors may also have a gallery exhibition. Students will develop a resume, business card, and promotional material and gain first-hand experience working with printers and other professional resources. Students will focus and get advice on the formal development-planning, preparation, execution- of their portfolio or exhibit. In addition, career-oriented discussions in a seminar atmosphere will relate to concerns and issues in the professional art and design world including but not limited to graduate school, job searches, networking as well as visits to area galleries, studios, and design firms. Upon the completion of the course, students are required to submit a slide portfolio and copies of their printed collateral (resume, business card, and self-promotional piece) in addition to their exit portfolio/exhibit.

Supporting Courses

  • ART 1050, Painting I

An introduction to the techniques, materials and methods used in acrylic, oil, watercolor and mixed-media. Exercises include color wheels, color matching and brushwork techniques. Painting assignments include landscape, portrait, watercolor and mixed-media. Composition, color mixing and problem solving are stressed.

  • ART 1060, Introduction to Darkroom Photography

An introduction to the basics of black and white photography. This class emphasizes the basic parts and operation of an SLR (manual) camera, black and white film processing, and darkroom use. Students will study the basics of composition, design, lighting, printing, processing and final print presentation. Students will learn to develop film, process prints and other printing controls such as dodging, burning, split filtering, experimental printing techniques and the use of filters. Concentration is on photography as a fine art medium. Students must have a 35mm manual control camera.

  • ART 1090, Printmaking I

An introduction to the basic techniques, materials and methods of relief, intaglio, silkscreen and lithography with concentrations in two or three of these processes each semester. Basic skills in printmaking plus individual creative development are emphasized. The historical and contemporary context of printmaking in the visual arts is examined through lectures, readings, demonstrations and studio practice.

  • ART 2800, World Art - Pre-Modern

This course offers an introductory overview of visual art, material objects and architecture representing cultures from around the world beginning in the era of Prehistory to ca. 1300. Visual analysis of forms, techniques, styles, subjects and symbolism is grounded in an understanding of related historical contexts and societal beliefs.

  • ART 2810, World Art - Early & Modern

This course explores visual art and architecture across many cultures and geographies from the early modern period to the present day. Visual analysis of forms, techniques, styles, subjects and symbolism frame global narratives and cross-cultural connections within a chronological overview.


All students pursuing a B.F.A. degree must complete at least one internship for college credit. Students may work in any art or design-related employment, such as advertising, publishing or galleries. Students can earn up to 6 credits towards their degree.

  • Study abroad (Semester, Maymester, or Summer)
  • Study away for a semester in alternate markets through Belmont USA (N.Y.C., L.A., Washington D.C.)
  • Internships- Our relationship to Nashville’s professional creative community is personal and rich. We will assist you with internship placement to ensure the experience is a good fit.
  • Four campus gallery spaces to professionally exhibit your work
  • Opportunities to present at campus-wide research symposiums and professional conferences
  • Kappa Pi, an international honorary art fraternity
  • Watkins students are consistently juried into local, regional and national competitions, including: AAF Student ADDY Awards and Graphics New Talent Annual

We encourage you to explore the exceptional work our students create in their programs.

View Student Work

The Watkins College of Art requires all students applying for a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree to submit a portfolio as a part of the admissions process. You must first be admitted to Belmont before hearing a decision from Watkins. 

Portfolios submitted before December 1 will be considered for the Watkins Merit Scholarships. Any applications submitted after December 1 will be considered for admission, but not for departmental scholarships.  

View all Portfolio Guidelines

Deadlines for the Portfolio and Belmont application: 
December 1 for scholarship consideration 
April 1 for incoming freshmen students 
June 1 for incoming transfer students 

What if I am accepted to Belmont but not the BFA program? 
Any applicants not accepted into a BFA program will have the option to be enrolled in a second major of their choice. We encourage applicants to select one of our Bachelor of Arts (BA) majors (See below). At the end of the student’s freshman year and completion of foundational courses, the student will be eligible to reapply to the BFA program through another portfolio review. 

The Watkins College of Art has significant scholarship opportunities for students. Last year, the college offered more than 55 scholarships to incoming students valuing over $380,000.

Applicants who intend to pursue a degree in the Watkins College of Art and wish to be considered for the merit-based scholarship must submit an essay and portfolio of work in art and/or design. Students must have their Belmont application and portfolio submitted by December 1 to be eligible for the scholarships.

Please visit the Portfolio Guidelines page for more specific details.

Learn more.

Need-based scholarships will be determined from a student's Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This is the official form that families use to apply for college financial assistance from the federal government.

Students majoring in Design Communications can choose an area to emphasize in. This is 15 credit hours that you can utilize to broaden your capabilities.

Areas include:

  • Design Administration (Business)
  • Studio Art, including Illustration
  • Photography

This minor draws many students from the Music Business and Business schools because creative problem-solving is central to these disciplines as well as the process of Design Communications.

Students have the opportunity to explore this process with the completion of six levels of Design Communications courses, and the option of selecting two courses among 2D Design, Drawing, Digital Imaging, Typography and Web Page Design.

In addition to Belmont University's Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) accreditation, the Watkins College of Art is a fully accredited institutional member of the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD).

Alumni Testimonials

Elizabeth Williams

“I loved being in such a creative liberal arts environment. I’m just really proud. It was a really copacetic and supportive learning environment for me, and it made me think more deeply about the solutions and why I made certain choices. It's easy to make something look good, but it's not easy to have something be conceptually rich and work to solve the problem. Belmont really helped train me that way.”

Elizabeth Williams, Class of 2008

Owner and co-founder of New Hat Projects

Design Communications graduate Sam Giamundo sits in front of a fountain

“The design program has taught me the importance of layout, typography, graphics and intention when communicating to consumers. I love when the design program brings in industry professionals to share their experiences and give us advice on how to pursue our career goals."

Sam Giamundo, Class of 2023

Student Testimonial

“The professors are so charismatic. They want you to do your best and they’re more than willing to do what it takes to help you achieve tour goals. With the other students, I’m surrounded by some of the most creative people I’ve ever met. I feel like we’re all just bouncing off of each other all the time and truly inspired by each other."

Marion Williams, Class of 2027

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Watkins College of Art

Elise Haines
Admissions Coordinator
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