"Design is one of the most powerful forces in our lives."
Alice Rawsthorn, critic for The International New York Times


As the world around us grows increasingly complex, so, too, have the problems that designers address grown in breadth, depth, and application. New and emerging technologies have enabled near instant communication with millions, such that we’re bombarded by imagery and media on a daily basis. In response to these ongoing changes, the skills required of the graphic designer are shifting—requiring new skill sets to address new needs. 

Graphic design has become much more than a nice logo and an advertisement. The 21st century graphic designer must be adept at addressing complex problems through iterative research. Through this process, the designer learns about their audience. Learning current constraints and needs establishes empathy with their audience. Prototyping allows the designer to test concepts and improve them while adding complexity. 

Previous senior catalogs

This process equips the graphic designer to distill complex ideas into final concepts and systems. They apply the skillsets in their toolbox: a strong understanding of typographic principles and history, color theory, craft, image-making, materials and processes, interactivity, and knowledge of 2D, 3D, and 4D applications. They communicate ideas that inspire, inform or captivate their audience and ultimately connect with human emotions through storytelling and narrative.

Graphic Design at JMU

The Graphic Design program at James Madison University is rooted in fundamental design principles, research and applications, while addressing current and emerging technologies through digital practice. Students learn design terminology, the theory of visual language, process and methodology, structure and craft, and industry-standard technologies and programs. Our specialized courses cover design for print, brand identity, illustration, interaction and web design, UI & UX, package design, and special topics courses addressing contemporary design issues and problems.

The study of the historical and cultural context of the field broadens students' knowledge and nurtures their creativity. Coursework involves standards of professional practice and utilizing experimental thinking through varied design processes and research methods. The emphasis on developing a holistic skillset while honing a high level of craft is at the core of our program. Success within the Graphic Design program requires students to be creative, nimble, inquisitive and willing to take risks. An entrepreneurial approach to work and life defines the spirit of our alumni, who are design leaders in organizations such as The New York Times, Wired, Adobe and Google.

The Graphic Design program is professionally accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. Admission to the program is very selective. Students are admitted to the School of Art, Design and Art History as candidates for the graphic design major. After foundational courses are completed, students must submit a portfolio of their sophomore-level work to be reviewed by a juried panel. Official admission into the Graphic Design program allows students to begin rigorous coursework at the 300 level. 

Frequent field trips to design-related events, studio visits, guest speakers and vetted internship opportunities provide students with exposure to top-notch professionals in the field. On campus, students can get involved in student clubs and organizations, such as student chapters of AIGA: The Professional Association for Design. There are opportunities to engage with visiting designers and exhibitions through the Duke Hall Gallery of Fine Art as well as collaborate with faculty and peers for shows at JMU galleries. Graphic Design majors also have many opportunities to gain professional experience working for a variety of JMU offices and organizations.

Professional Facilities

The Graphic Design program is housed in the Design Center, along with architectural design and industrial design. The building is a hive of creative innovation and collaboration, providing graphic design students the following designated spaces:

Large classrooms with digital projection
Seminar room
Dedicated classroom for interaction and web design
Large format drawing tablets for digital illustration
Professional quality scanners
iMac general computer lab with 22 workstations and Adobe Creative Suite installed
Print-production room with book binding / assembly equipment
Senior studio with designated desks for each student entering their senior year
Mobile print stations
Access to a books-arts room with bookmaking and letterpress

Fab Lab and WoodShop:
The Design Center also has a fully equipped fabrication lab and wood shop accessible to all design students. This facility houses a CNC router, laser cutters, 3D printers, metals lab, concrete lab and a spray booth.

Laptop Requirements

The purchase of an apple laptop equipped with Adobe Creative Cloud is required once a student passes GRPH 208 for use in 300-level and above graphic design courses.


  • Apple MacBook Pro - Laptop Computer 15-inch display
  • 2.2 GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 At least 16GB Memory (RAM)
  • At least 256GB flash storage (solid state hard drive)
  • Thunderbolt digital video output (for connecting to external monitors)


Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. Make sure to get student pricing when you sign up. We use Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign almost daily.

Program Objectives

The Graphic Design program at JMU provides a professional education with an interdisciplinary approach. Program objectives for the graphic design student are:

  1. Be able to articulate ideas and understand the fundamental elements and principles of graphic design while using correct terminology pertinent to the field.
  2. Demonstrate a working knowledge of artistic methods, craft and formal structure as vehicles to enhance a solutions communicative value.
  3. Be proficient in both traditional and digital ways of making.
  4. Develop diverse problem-solving methodologies that combine theory, research, analytical skills and conceptualization to create effective graphic design solutions.
  5. Develop a professional graphic design portfolio reflective of one’s knowledge and abilities that encompasses the contemporary design market.
Rob Miller Graphic Design Award

The Rob Miller Graphic Design Award was created in honor of former JMU graphic design alum Rob Miller, class of 1997, who passed away in 2002.

His parents, Dr. & Mrs. Martin Miller and his close JMU friend, Daniel Hoeck, committed to giving this award.

This award is given annually to graphic design majors who are rising seniors and have shown outstanding accomplishments in their artwork as undergraduates at James Madison University.

Graphic Design Area Coordinator

Dawn McCusker

Graphic Design Area Coordinator, Professor of Graphic Design

Graphic Design Faculty
Nancy Daly

Nancy Daly

Assistant Professor of Graphic Design


David Leicester Hardy

Associate Professor of Graphic Design


Carissa Henriques

Associate Professor of Graphic Design


Richard Hilliard

Professor of Graphic Design

Robert Tarbell

Robert Tarbell

Instructor of Graphic Design

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