San Diego knows design. Logos and promotional materials for famous attractions like the San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, SeaWorld, and the Gaslamp Quarter have done wonders to shape the city’s identity. Without graphic designers to distill the essence of San Diego in their artwork, the astounding natural beauty and gorgeous weather would be nothing.
It should come as no surprise, then, that San Diego is the second-most populous city in California and draws more than 35 million tourists every year. A city built on so much artistic imagination is bound to inspire people to pursue their creative dreams.
So, if you want to study graphic design in San Diego, you’re in luck. In this guide, we’ll survey the landscape of graphic design classes in San Diego and set you up with the courses you need to put your talents to work.
Types of Graphic Design Classes
There are three basic types of graphic design classes: fundamentals, real-world applications, and training with specific tools. We’ll discuss each of these in turn.
Fundamentals of 2D and 3D Design
Introductory courses in this discipline cover the basic principles of design as distinct from the purely aesthetic foundations of fine art. Their shared interest in appealing to the viewer’s eye explains why graphic design classes are likely to be housed in art departments.
The difference between art and design is one of utility. In fine art, the fundamentals of form, medium, shape, color, symmetry, perspective, and negative space come together to express something profound about the human experience.
In graphic design, those same fundamentals are used to study how things like typography, images, and symbols can be arranged to elicit a specific response from the viewer, typically for a commercial purpose.
One common misconception about graphic design is that it’s entirely digital. But actually, the field has been around since the early 20th century, long before the advent of the home computer.
You may be tempted to skip right to learning about some vocational application, but going back to the foundations will help you understand the universal principles behind why certain designs are so much more effective than others.
Most people who study graphic design nowadays do in fact work in the digital medium, even if the end product is printed and distributed on physical material.
But the rapidly evolving field of web design has completely changed the way most graphic designers think about their craft. If you’re interested in web design, you’ve probably heard about user experience (UX) and user interface (UI), two terms that are often confused.
Essentially, UX refers to the deep structure and organization of web content, whereas UI deals with the appearance of the content. Graphic designers work mainly on the latter.
In the context of web pages and user interfaces, graphic design has become much more attentive to the fourth dimension of visual response. The element of time, that is, plays a vital role in the viewer’s dynamic interaction with a website as she scrolls up and down or navigates between pages.
Now more than ever, graphic designers need to think about their designs as part of an ongoing, symbiotic communication with the viewer. As a result, new design programs in visual communication and digital communication have branched off from graphic design and taken up residence in interdisciplinary departments like communication studies.
Training with Specific Tools
At its core, graphic design is all about packaging information effectively. Unfortunately, no amount of theoretical knowledge is going to matter if you’re unable to execute your brilliant design ideas.
That’s why some of the most popular graphic design classes are training courses using industry-standard software. Most of these are exclusively online and relatively fast-paced, so they probably won’t make you an expert in graphic design overnight.
If you’re mostly interested in mastering the software but also want a refresher on the basics, be aware that some crash courses do review the fundamentals. Just make sure to peruse the course outline in advance so that you know exactly what you’re paying before you finalize your purchase.
The Best Graphic Design Classes in San Diego
The most important factors in compiling the following list were quality of instruction, convenience, and affordability.
Many of the classes that made the final cut are presented as part of a graphic design program. But the great thing about colleges is that you can often enroll in individual courses on a per-unit basis. Keep that in mind as you explore your options.
San Diego City College
Where: San Diego, CA
Cost: Less than $200 per class
The San Diego Community College District offers high-quality education at just about the lowest cost you can find. You don’t always know what kind of value you’re getting from a particular class, but an accredited school with a robust financial aid office ensures that you’ll be in excellent hands.
Graphic Arts at San Diego City College includes classes in graphic design and interaction design. Check out the former for the fundamentals of visual communication, and browse the latter if tech-focused education is more your speed. To go the extra mile and earn certification in one or the other, you can enroll in a 12-unit, 30-unit, or 33-unit curriculum.
San Diego Continuing Education
Where: San Diego, CA and Online
Cost: Less than $200 per class
The continuing education branch of the San Diego Community College District is designed for professionals who require more flexibility than a traditional college environment can provide. Here you’ll find classes that fit into your busy schedule and have the option to finish a certificate program more quickly.
None of their four certificates in Digital Design contain more than four classes, and all of them focus on preparing students for entry-level jobs in graphic design, each one geared toward a specific industry sector.
San Diego Public Library
Cost: Free with a library card
The best part about these courses is that they are absolutely free. With nothing more than a library card, you can sign up for one of eighteen online classes in graphic design, most of which are structured around a specific piece of software.
UC San Diego Extension
Where: Online; selected classes in San Diego for local students
Cost: $595 or $695 per course
This comprehensive program is backed by the pristine reputation of the University of California, but it also comes with a University of California price tag. One unique feature of the curriculum is that you learn how to use the Adobe software first, and only then do you dive into the theory and real-world applications.
The full certificate consists of eleven courses, with each of the classes available on a standalone basis for $595 or $695.
Platt College San Diego
Where: San Diego, CA
What: Graphic Design Professional Development
As an accredited Vocational Educational Institution specializing in Digital Media Design, Platt College San Diego can answer all your burning career questions. Their course catalog features eight graphic design classes aimed at professional development, and their admissions staff is happy to set you up with a personalized course of study.
California Institute of Arts (Coursera)
Cost: $49 per month
Sponsored by CalArts, this series of five online courses offers a certificate upon completion. All of it is online, but the traditional capstone course is included in the package. Other classes in the series include fundamentals, introduction to typography, and introduction to imagemaking.
At $49 per month with no enrollment red tape, it’s a good deal for the student who has no time or money to waste.
Which Graphic Design Classes in San Diego Should You Take?
Whether you need certification or are simply looking to polish your design skills, San Diego has several great classes to choose from. Extra education doesn’t always seem worth it, but the more of it you get, the better your chances of keeping up in a fast-paced world.