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.

The Whitecliffe Graphic Design Department prepares students for a career in graphic design, an industry that offers 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.

Key dates

Feb 2021 Intake 16 • 02 • 21

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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

The Bachelor of Fine Arts degree is internationally recognised for being a creative visual research programme rather than a purely technical course. In the Whitecliffe Graphic Design department, students learn to openly explore the techniques and technologies needed to materially realise their conceptual ideas. Top design agencies recognise that while the technical ability is beneficial it is also reasonably common. At the top end of the industry, it is the graduate’s level of thinking and creativity that counts.

Why choose Graphic Design at Whitecliffe?

The Whitecliffe Graphic Design Department prepares students for a career in graphic design, an industry that offers 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, small class sizes support student’s personal progression by allowing for regular group critiques and one-to-one discussions with lecturers. Students develop industry contacts and professional skills through close interaction with visiting practitioners, studio visits, organising exhibitions and by entering industry competitions.

Whitecliffe graphic design graduates are employed as designers by both local and international firms, 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.

Luke Jenkins

Year One

Year One for Graphic Design students includes a combination of both general arts and design with specialist Graphic Design 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.

Study includes supervised studio practice, lectures, tutorials and self-directed learning. Visual Theory, Cultural Studies, and Modern Art and Design History introduce the vocabulary of art history and contemporary theory in support of practical courses and fine art studio practice. Students will be taught both historical models and contemporary content specific to Fine Arts.

The Semester One programme is specifically intended to best prepare students for one of the BFA specialist areas. 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, 5103 Materials & Processes, before starting their specialism in the second semester. Students also participate in an intensive week-long workshops that enable them to collaborate in teams and/or work independently to produce collective creative outcomes. Workshop projects may include co-producing a graphic novel, a short film/video, tikanga Māori and harakeke weaving techniques.

Critical and Contextual Studies

A fully integrated programme of critical and contextual studies supports all studio specialisms. Visual Theory 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. Cultural Studies and Modern Art and Design History assist students in positioning their art and design practice within a broader cultural and historical context.

Year One Graphic Design courses

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.

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 subject area. Elective courses are available throughout the year and may include the following:

• 5202 Community Engagement

• 5203 Painting

• 5302 Screen printing

• 5402 Graphic Print Processes

• 5403 Mapping for Graphic Design

• 5404 Publication Design

• 5502 Reading the Photographic Image

• 5503 Intermedia

• 5504 Digital Imaging

Amy Hollier

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 and knowledge and critically reflect on practical research work undertaken in the studio.

Entrepreneurship I also provides an opportunity for Year Two students to apply their creative, practical and theoretical knowledge with an introduction to small business start-ups, marketing and public relations that lead to more integrated and substantiated studio research projects and prepare students for their careers beyond completing their degree.

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 on this learning in Issues in Contemporary Practice II and Entrepreneurship II which include the opportunity for applying knowledge in a work placement. This can involve either a placement within an appropriate sector of the Graphic Design industry or the planning and execution of a professional public exhibition.

In addition, students select from a range of theory elective courses that are 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:

• 6105 Intellectual Property and Creative Industries

• 6120 Art and Design for a Sustainable World

• 6121 Contemporary Art: Asia and the Pacific Rim

• 6122 Relational Aesthetics

• 6123 Scripting the Body

• 6125 The Post-Postcolonial and Globalisation

• 6126 Gender & Identity and Contemporary Media

• 6127 Age of Enlightenment

• 6128 Making Art in a Globalised World

• 6129 Public Project

Graphic Design End-of-Year Exhibition

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 such as typeface design or engaging in self-publishing. Theory, contextual studies and a programme of guest lecturers, individual supervision and group critiques support their independent study.

Graphic Design End-of-Year Exhibition

Postgraduate Study: BFA (Hons) NZQF Level 8

Whitecliffe BFA graduates are industry-ready at the end of their three-year degree.

Included in the suite of Whitecliffe post-graduate programmes, Whitecliffe offers an additional one year, stand-alone BFA Honours qualification, directly following on from the BFA degree, with places available by application only. Its purpose is to consolidate the learning and achievements of the BFA through the realisation of a sustained practice-based, studio-centred, research inquiry and to further prepare students for professional life as creative practitioners or for ongoing postgraduate study. Attainment of this qualification allows for a five-year pathway to Masters degree completion for those students interested in further academic study.

Momo Xie

Life after BFA Graphic Design

Graphic Design is a profession that offers an exciting mix of creative, conceptual and commercial possibilities. Graphic Designers find work in a range of specialist areas, creating everything from Print Publications to Environmental Signage; they also collaborate with others to create Posters installed around the city streets or Websites with ever-changing content downloaded anywhere in the world.

The Whitecliffe curriculum gives students a well-rounded understanding of the (at least) century old, and ever-changing field of Graphic Design. Students graduate with technical skills, creative ability, commercial awareness and historical perspective. They learn to explore with 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 brief, which allows 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 local and international firms across a range of possible work environments. Graphic Designers often work in small boutique firms 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

Paul Phanoulas

Key Information for Students

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

KIS Button landscape

What to expect from the BFA Degree

The four majors offered within the Bachelor of Fine Arts are Fine Arts, Photo Media, Fashion Design and Graphic Design.

Students have the opportunity to experience all areas of specialisation offered at Whitecliffe in Semester One before moving into their chosen specialist areas in Semester Two of Year One. This broad initiation into the range of disciplines in the first year increases appreciation of the arts and helps students make an informed choice of major.

Students are encouraged to exhibit to develop professional skills of planning, executing and presenting work within a critical environment. The programme's philosophy is to combine creative research skills with solid awareness of the public and professional requirements of visual arts professions. It's a liberating, exciting and challenging way to learn. The final year culminates in graduating exhibitions by students from Fine Arts, Photo Media, Fashion Design and Graphic Design.

Creativity requires a combination of imagination, focus and flexibility. Increasingly, fine arts graduates are receiving recognition as creative thinkers and innovative problem solvers who can successfully adapt to many industries and roles through utilising the transferable skills they accrue in their arts or design degree programme.

The Whitecliffe Bachelor of Fine Arts programmes are based on a uniquely student-centred approach that recognises and nurtures diverse needs and passions. Through these programmes students are exposed to a combination of new media and contemporary concepts while building up knowledge of traditional materials, skills and attitudes. Problem-solving skills and creative responses are emphasised and encouraged.

As well as further developing individual creative talents, students learn critical thinking, research, communication and presentation skills. Study is supported at every level by theoretical and professional practice courses.

Graphic Design End-of-Year Exhibition

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

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