Graphic Design Ranks Top 50

By Olivia Lee

Join us in congratulating SJSU’s Graphic Design Program, which has scored top marks in Animation Career Review’s 2018 Graphic Design School rankings. Our program is ranked within the top 7% nationally among all design schools; top 5% among public colleges; and in the top 10 design programs in California.

Rankings are made based on the program’s academic reputation, admission selectivity, depth and breadth of the program, value as it relates to tuition and indebtedness, and geographic location. For a small program embedded within a public school, SJSU’s Graphic Design Program is doing extremely well, competing with larger art schools in the Bay Area, such as the California College of the Arts (CCA).

Part of the program’s success is due to its strict admission requirements. Students who want to be in the Graphic Design Program must first enroll in the BA Design Studies Major. During students’ sophomore year, the program reviews their portfolio and selects around 25 out of 100–120 students to continue to the BFA Graphic Design Program. After this secondary admission, students must pass portfolio reviews (in addition to completing their units) every semester if they hope to graduate from the program.

“This system lets us see the pool of people who are interested in graphic design,” says Professor Chang Kim, Program Coordinator of the Graphic Design Program. “We are highly selective. And our rigorous portfolio reviews retain the quality of the program.”

A main philosophy of the program is to help students overcome new challenges and achieve goals through developing their own resolutions.

“Even if we rely on our past experience, memories/database and knowledge to start with a concept, our wonderfully provocative intuition along with experimental and innovative spirits allow us to deal with such challenges,” says Professor Kim

He consistently reminds his students that to be a great designer, they must retain “curiosity, passion, challenge, motivation, seriousness, imagination, fun and humor,” and they need “to learn the appropriate design processes through various experiments with a high level of craftsmanship.”

Another strength of the program is its emphasis on learning the fundamentals of graphic design. Professor Julio Martinez, a SJSU alumnus and instructor, noted that he understood the core theories of design more than some of his coworkers when he first started working. His education at SJSU helped him build a strong foundation in design, giving him an advantage in the field.

“The one thing this program is known for is typography—a foundation of design,” says Martinez. “Typography is the one aspect that designers never spend a day away from. No matter what you’re doing, you’re always working with type. And we take typography more seriously here and offer many courses to make sure students have a more robust training.”

Martinez has worked for Pentagram (the multibillion international design company) and now owns Studio 1500, a design firm in San Francisco. His experience in the field has allowed him to work with and observe graphic designers fresh out of various local art programs.

“The Academy of Art focuses on making things look more polished, and CCA focuses on experimentation—and I’m simplifying them to a great degree—but where we come in is that our program does a little bit of both,” says Martinez.

Alumnus Andy Tran also points out the versatility of the program.

“Our program offers a solid foundation in Swiss style (the “International Typographic” style) of graphic design,” Tran says. “Once students have mastered the foundation courses, they experiment and explore new ways to push the boundaries of their unique voice in graphic design.”

Their observations are reflective of the classes taught in the program. For instance, the DSGD 150: Senior Studio Thesis Project is a course developed by Professor Kim in which students choose their own topic/theme to research and then create design outcomes based on their research. This course follows the methodologies of the master’s degree thesis project, where students must develop a design interest with the guidance of three thesis advisors.

“We are confident that we have educated our students very well through all the coursework within the BFA curriculum,” explains Kim. “But students need their own special characteristic and voice in design.”

Students have worked on theses that range from hyper-theoretical, such as a virtual interface for Tesla, to projects that are personal, like developing an app to help family members manage their illness and medications.

Another important class is  DSGD 127: Design Practicum, where students work on real projects commissioned by an industry client, such as Samsung, Cisco, Cooliris (Yahoo), and Hammer Theatre. Students must exercise their practical skills and design according to the clients’ requirements because the companies drive the content of the class.

Members of the faculty work hard to connect students with the local industry and international graphic designers because they believe in collaboration with diverse people in art, design, and technology to create effective visual communication.

As a result, the Graphic Design Department partners with local companies such as Adobe Systems, Apple, Sony, Hewlett-Packard, Electronic Arts, Intel, Facebook, and Linkedin. These companies seek out SJSU’s design students for internships, summer work programs, and opportunities for research and sponsored projects.

Also, in the last few years, Professor Kim has collaborated with other faculty and students from NEO, a graphic design student association, to coordinate unofficial summer design workshop trips. These trips are specifically customized for design students: they attend design exhibitions and workshops of schools in different countries, visit world-famous design studios, and learn about the history and culture of international designs. Past trips to Europe and Asia have been funded by students and faculty themselves—but despite the cost, many students have found the trip worthwhile.

An upcoming SJSU event that epitomizes the faculty’s effort to go beyond the classroom is the Granshan Conference. Granshan is a non-profit organization made up of professional type designers who design non-English, non-Latin scripts, such as Armenian, Arabic, Chinese, Cyrillic, Hebrew, Korean, Japanese, Thai, and more. The organization’s focus is to broaden the foundations of design to include non-Latin cultures. Professor Kim, who is also a board member and coordinator of the event, has written a grant to host their annual conference here at SJSU. With the support of Dean Miller, the conference will take place in Hammer Theatre over a period of five days this summer.

“This is another great opportunity for students to connect with international designers and participate in workshops with them,” says Professor Kim. Through this conference, he hopes that students will be further exposed to design in a global context.

From providing students opportunities outside the school to maintaining and updating the rigorous curricula, the faculty of the program consistently go above and beyond their roles in the classroom. And their efforts are recognized by the students in the program.

“I go to Connie (Department Chair of the Design program) for a lot of career advice. And Chang is always super easy to talk to and open about his experiences,” says Lena Yen, President of the NEO. “The professors are a source of our encouragement.”

The College of Humanities and the Arts congratulates the Graphic Design Department for its achievements. We thank the professors for their dedication and know the program will continue to build its quality and reputation.

To see the rankings, visit Animation Career Review.

For more information on the Granshan Conference, visit or email Professor Chang Kim at