Bachelor of Fine Arts - Graphic Design

Your favourite magazine, books, maps, signage, movie credits and the latest brands and packaging. Everywhere you turn, you see the work of a graphic designer.

As a graphic designer, you have the opportunity to communicate with the world - to use your conceptual and visual skills to inform, persuade, and educate your audience. The Whitecliffe Graphic Design pathway prepares students for a career in graphic design, an industry that offers a broad range of creative and commercial possibilities.

Key dates

February 2022 Intake 15 • 02 • 22

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3 years, full-time in Auckland


Bachelor's Degree (Level 7) 360 credits


2021 Domestic $9,051 + $300 Student Services Levy
2021 International $27,000 + $300 Student Services Levy
Fees free applies
All 2021 fees are subject to change and regulatory approval

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Bachelor of Fine Arts - Graphic Design Course Outline

*This programme is closed for new enrolments, all new applications will be enrolled for the Bachelor of Design + Digital Media Programme

Graphic Design at Whitecliffe prepares students for a career in visual communication, with a broad range of creative and commercial possibilities. Creative projects challenge and develop the student's conceptual ability, theoretical knowledge, and technical skills. Students are encouraged to present and contextualise their work within the historical development of design and contemporary practice.

At Whitecliffe, we support student's personal progression by allowing for regular group critiques and one-on-one discussions with lecturers.

Students develop industry contacts and professional skills through close interaction with visiting practitioners, studio visits, organising exhibitions, and entering industry competitions.

Whitecliffe Graphic Design graduates are employed as designers by both national and international agencies, with some progressing to establish their own design businesses. Graduates are also engaged in postgraduate research within the design field. The Whitecliffe BFA Honours year offers graduates the opportunity to further explore design research and prepares students for Master's level study and/or creative professional practice.

Why choose Graphic Design at Whitecliffe?

  • The Bachelor of Fine Arts is internationally recognised for being a creative visual research programme rather than a purely technical course. In the Whitecliffe Graphic Design pathway, students learn to openly explore the techniques and technologies needed to materially realise their conceptual ideas.
  • Semester One in Year One offers a broad course of study that helps to develop a wide frame of reference, providing useful skills for design students in the long term. Drawing, photography, print, and idea-driven courses at this level add depth to the students' practice, developing their ability to draw on a range of methodologies and to propose a creative response to design scenarios. During this semester, students build friendships and working relationships with students from other disciplines, which often prove invaluable throughout their degree and beyond art school.
  • Contextual courses provide students with a perspective on, and insight into how they fit into the world, and how current practice sits within a historic framework. Contemporary theories are taught alongside design history, and students are also taught the concerns specific to particular disciplines of design e.g. information graphics or publication design.
  • Whitecliffe offers significant individual attention to students. Teaching has a strong emphasis on critical thinking. All of this is supported by up-to-date technology and facilities.
  • Courses are designed to be industry-relevant and the department and faculty maintain strong relationships with the industry. All lecturers are active researchers and practising designers.
  • It is important to us that our students and graduates are winning awards and getting great jobs. We also add that the aim of a tertiary course like Whitecliffe's is to prepare our students to be leaders in the industry they choose to be a part of. Whitecliffe graduates are encouraged to have long, conscientious careers in design and sustainably contribute to society.
Luke Jenkins

Bachelor of Fine Arts: Core Courses + Supplementary Electives

The following Core Courses and Supplementary Electives are taught across all four of the Bachelor of Fine Arts pathways, along with specialist courses that are specific to Graphic Design.

Bachelor of Fine Arts Year One

Year One for the Bachelor of Fine Arts students includes a combination of both general arts and design with specialist pathway courses. The programme covers practical and theoretical skills and knowledge where students develop core skills in design, drawing, materials and processes, together with critical and contextual studies.

The study includes supervised studio practice, lectures, tutorials, and self-directed learning. Visual Theory introduces the vocabulary of Art History and Contemporary Theory in support of practical courses and Studio Practice.

The Semester One programme is specifically intended to best prepare students for one of the BFA specialist pathways (Fine Arts, Photo Media, Graphic Design, and Fashion Design). Students are guided through structured projects in the first semester and examine the process of drawing, art-making, and design within the compulsory courses: 5101 Drawing, 5102 Design, and 5103 Materials + Processes, before starting their specialist pathway in the second semester.

Students also participate in three, intensive week-long workshops that enable them to collaborate in teams and/or work independently to produce collective creative outcomes.

Critical and Contextual Studies

A fully integrated programme of Critical and Contextual Studies supports all studio specialisms. 5111a & 5111b Visual Theory Part 1 & Part 2 initiates students into the language of critical discourse and critique. Students learn to analyse, critique, discuss, write, and conduct research related to the practice of art and design. The Visual Theory courses also assist students in positioning their art and design practice within a broader cultural and historical context.

Year One Supplementary Electives

Additional to the specialist courses, students have an opportunity to select from a range of elective courses. Elective courses enable the Year One student to test out other specialist areas, before firming up their decision to specialise in a pathway. Elective courses may include the following:

  • 5202: Community Engagement
  • 5203: Painting
  • 5202: Screen Printing
  • 5402: Graphic Print Processes
  • 5404: Publication Design
  • 5502: Reading the Photographic Image
  • 5503: Video
  • 5504: Digital Imaging

Critical and Contextual Studies in Years Two and Three

The integrated programme of Critical and Contextual Studies continues in Years Two and Three. In Year Two students undertake a one-semester course in Modern and Contemporary Art and Design Survey, that addresses contemporary theory and debates around the subject specialism of their choice. Year Three students extend this learning in the Contemporary Issues in Art and Design course as well as Entrepreneurship II that includes the opportunity for applying knowledge in a work placement. During these internships, students gain valuable insight into working conditions and fostering significant networks for the future.

In addition, students select from a range of theory elective courses offered within a suite of Year Two and Year Three courses. The courses include a variety of topics that strategically deepen students’ contextual, theoretical, and practice-based inquiries. Students select from the following:

  • 6120: Sustainability Now
  • 6121: Contemporary Art: Asia and the Pacific Rim
  • 6122: Socially Engaged Practice
  • 6123: Scripting the Body: Curating Performance
  • 6124: Identity and the Construction of the Postmodern (Self)
  • 6125: Painting and the Expanded Field
  • 6128: Making Art in a Globalised World
  • 6129: Public Project
  • 6130: Revolution and War
  • 6131: Popular Culture: Warhol's Stepchildren
  • 6132: The Object
  • 6133: What is Cinema?
  • 6134: Spectacle and Seduction
  • 6135: Te Ao Māori
Design Innovation

Graphic Design Year One

Students wishing to specialise in Graphic Design will be required to complete the specialist graphic design course: 5400 Studio Practice: Graphic Design throughout the second semester. The course is considered fundamental to Graphic Design practice and will include a balance of contemporary and traditional skills and knowledge. For example, the course content may include the following:

  • Image Design
  • Design Methods
  • Print Media
  • Typography
  • Publication Design
  • Web and User Interaction Design

Graphic Design Year Two

In Year Two, students develop work in increasingly specialised areas of Graphic Design, including Publication Design, Identity Design, Information Graphics, and Web Design. Students learn how to develop projects towards their own areas of interest in preparation for Year Three study. Studio research assignments, projects, and/or workshops are mainly lecture-initiated but largely student-directed and are based around a series of in-depth, Graphic Design topics that support students to evaluate complex issues and discuss critical frameworks relevant to contemporary practice.

As students progress from Year Two into Year Three, their ability to apply more advanced skills, knowledge, and critically reflect on practical research done in the studio is expanded and built on.

Entrepreneurship I provides an opportunity for Year Two students to apply their creative, practical, and theoretical knowledge to small business start-ups, marketing, and public relations. This leads to more integrated and substantiated studio research projects and prepares for their careers on graduating.

Graphic Design End-of-Year Exhibition

Graphic Design Year Three

Year Three students extend their creative and contextual skills by undertaking increasingly self-directed studio work, culminating in a second semester-long graduating project and exhibition. Students create a body of work or a series of projects directed towards exploring an area of inquiry relevant to contemporary Graphic Design. Projects may be a mix of conventional Graphic Design industry projects like Website, Magazine, or Identity Design, or they may produce something more speculative like Typeface Design or Self-Publishing. Their independent study is supported by Theory, Contextual Studies and a programme of guest lecturers, individual supervision, and group critiques.

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Life After BFA Graphic Design

Graphic Design is a profession that offers an exciting mix of creative, conceptual, and commercial possibilities.

The Whitecliffe curriculum gives students a well-rounded understanding of the ever-changing field of Graphic Design. Students graduate with technical skills, creative ability, commercial awareness, and a historical perspective. They learn to explore all technologies, software, and content development needed to produce projects across Print and Digital Media. Links to industry develop through guest lecturers and an internship in a commercial environment, such as a publishing house, or design studio. Students are also encouraged to do freelance work, organise their own exhibitions, and enter competitions.

In their final year of undergraduate study, students write their own briefs, which allow them to follow their individual interests and hone their specialist skills.

Employment opportunities abound because of the ever-increasing scope of the Graphic Design industry. Graduates find work with national and international firms across a range of work environments. Graphic Designers often work in small boutique agencies of two to 10 people, but there are also a large number of design studios with over 30 employees. Many businesses employ Graphic Designers for in-house design roles. There are also a growing number of freelance opportunities for entrepreneurial designers who prefer the flexibility of self-employment. The degree prepares students for self-employment through compulsory business skills courses, including Management Studies, Public Relations, and Marketing.

Graphic Design is a vital industry in New Zealand and overseas. It is increasingly important for companies and organisations to communicate clearly and engage with an audience across Print, Web, and Interactive Media. The field also continues to grow with developments in Branding, Interactive Design, Design Thinking, and Design Management.

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Key Information for Students

NZ Government key information link for students, that provides more information to support your decision making for this programme

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Admission Requirements

Domestic Student Entry Requirements:

  • Completed application form
  • Minimum age: Students must turn 17 within their first year of study at Whitecliffe
  • NCEA University Entrance or equivalent
  • CIE/IB award
  • Discretionary Entrance is available to students who have gained exceptional marks in NCEA Level 2 and wish to embark on higher-level study. These students must display a high level of motivation and maturity
  • Some of the above academic requirements may be waived for students over the age of 20
  • Interview: All applicants for this programme are interviewed, and students should come to the interview prepared to discuss their work and ideas freely
  • Portfolio: This is brought to the interview and should include between 12-24 examples of original work showing breadth of ability. The portfolio can be specific to one genre if that has been the student's body of work. Digital copies of your portfolio will also be accepted
  • Letter of Intent: A 250-word letter of intent outlining reasons for wanting to study the BFA programme and desired pathway

International Student Entry Requirements:

  • Completed application form
  • Passport copy
  • Minimum Age: Students must turn 18 within their first year of study at Whitecliffe
  • IELTS Academic overall score of 6.0 with no band less than 5.5 or equivalent
  • Academic Transcripts: School or previous tertiary results
  • Interview: All applicants for this programme are interviewed. International student interviews are conducted via telephone or online
  • Portfolio: This is brought to the interview and should include between 12-24 examples of original work showing breadth of ability. International students may submit their portfolio digitally
  • Letter of Intent: A 250-word letter of intent outlining reasons for wanting to study the BFA programme and desired pathway

Where could this programme take you?

The degree prepares students for self-employment through compulsory business skills courses, including Management Studies, Public Relations and Marketing. Graphic Design is a vital industry in New Zealand and overseas. It is increasingly important for companies and organisations to communicate clearly and engage with an audience across Print, Web, and interactive media. The field also continues to grow with developments in Branding, Interactive Design and Design Management.

Jobs related to this programme

Graphic Design

Typeface Design

Information Design

Environmental Graphics


Print Publication

Freelance Design

Moving Image Design

Digital / Interactive / Web Design


Textile Design


Art Direction

Creative Direction

Find out more about career opportunities

Talk to our team

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