Visual Communication, Bachelor of Fine Arts


College of Social and Behavioral Sciences

The Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Visual Communication is designed to produce graduates who are skilled in using art, design and technology to creatively communicate ideas and transform messages into visual communication. Through the rigorous coursework, students will develop skills in using aesthetic and conceptual judgment, color, type, symbols, digital images, multimedia, interactivity, animation, motion graphics, photography, and project management to produce messages that clearly inform, effectively communicate brand experience, and persuade viewers.

  • Available Emphasis Areas:
  • Animation - Emphasis
  • Graphic Design - Emphasis

  • To receive a bachelor's degree at Northern Arizona University, you must complete at least 120 units of credit that minimally includes a major, the liberal studies requirements, and university requirements as listed below.

    • All of Northern Arizona University's diversity, liberal studies, junior-level writing, and capstone requirements.
    • All requirements for your specific academic plan(s).
    • At least 30 units of upper-division courses, which may include transfer work.
    • At least 30 units of coursework taken through Northern Arizona University, of which at least 18 must be upper-division courses (300-level or above). This requirement is not met by credit-by-exam, retro-credits, transfer coursework, etc.
    • A cumulative grade point average of at least 2.0 on all work attempted at Northern Arizona University.

    The full policy can be viewed here.

In addition to University Requirements:

  • At least 70 units of major requirements including 30 units of emphasis requirements

  • Up to 9 units of major prefix courses may be used to satisfy Liberal Studies requirements; these same courses may also be used to satisfy major requirements.

  • Elective courses, if needed, to reach an overall total of at least 120 units.

Students may be able to use some courses to meet more than one requirement. Contact your advisor for details.

Minimum Units for Completion 120
Major GPA 2.5
Highest Mathematics Required MAT 114
Additional Admission Requirements Required
Fieldwork Experience/Internship Optional
University Honors Program Optional
AZ Transfer Students complete AGEC-A Recommended
Progression Plan Link View Progression Plan
Emphasis Required

An emphasis is required for this major.

Purpose Statement

The Visual Communications program develops the analytical skills and creative passion in our students to be designers, animators and professional artists who creatively, yet strategically, resolve challenging visual design problems across a variety of media in an artistic, visually compelling manner. 
In our program, students begin by building a strong foundation in the elements, principles, and processes of design.  They build upon this foundation across their studio classes by engaging in the creation of increasingly complex designs focused on solving real-world problems.  As a student progresses through the program, they incorporate a multi-disciplinary approach by applying concepts from art history, communication theory, drawing, and their liberal studies requirements to issues of design.  Cutting-edge software and technological applications are then integrated into their experience.  Particularly, students learn to apply design principles to software in a manner that provides the skills to adapt to the newest technologies in expectation for the technologies which will emerge in the future.
To be effective in the world of design, our students learn to develop excellent relationships with clients, and work collaboratively to co-create projects in teams.  By learning how to communicate effectively with clients and utilize the talents and strengths of design colleagues, our students learn how to creatively navigate relationships to develop the best design products. 
Our faculty members know that the elements, principles, and processes of design, the software, the ability to collaborate; all of this is just the beginning.  Our program is taught using small, studio-based courses, one-on-one faculty mentoring, and advanced facilities.  Yet, the ever-changing world of design requires its practitioners to learn throughout their careers and constantly keep their skills up-to-date.  Our program and faculty provide the strategic approaches to learning that will sustain our graduates’ abilities in a continually evolving field for years to come. 
Overall, our integrative approach develops students who are capable of applying fundamentals to solve increasingly complex design problems in technologically innovative ways, and result in a portfolio of work designed to launch them in their career.

Student Learning Outcomes

Outcomes align with Standards from the National Association of Schools of Art & Design Accreditation

  • Studio.
    • Gain functional competence with principles of visual organization, including the ability to work with visual elements in two and three dimensions; color theory and its applications; and drawing.
    • Present work that demonstrates perceptual acuity, conceptual understanding, and technical facility at a professional entry level in their chosen field(s).
    • Become familiar with the historical achievements, current major issues, processes, and directions of their field(s).
    • Be afforded opportunities to exhibit their work and to experience and participate in critiques and discussions of their work and the work of others
  • Art/Design History, Theory, and Criticism.
    • Learn to analyze works of art/design perceptively and to evaluate them critically
    • Develop an understanding of the common elements and vocabulary of art/design, the interaction of these elements, and be able to employ this knowledge in analysis.
    • Acquire the ability to place works of art/design in historical, cultural, and stylistic contexts.
  • Technology: Acquire a working knowledge of technologies and equipment applicable to their area(s) of specialization.
  • Synthesis: While synthesis is a lifetime process, by the end of undergraduate studies students should be able to work independently on a variety of art and/or design problems by combining, as appropriate to the issue, their capabilities in studio, analysis, history, and technology.
  • Specialization
    • Students must demonstrate achievement of professional, entry-level competence in the major area of specialization, including significant technical mastery, capability to produce work and solve professional problems independently, and a coherent set of artistic/ intellectual goals that are evidence in their work.
    • Students must demonstrate their competence by developing a body of work for evaluation in the major area of study.  A senior project or final presentation in the major area is required.
    • Students must have the ability to form and defend value judgments about art and design and to communicate art/design ideas, concepts, and requirements to professionals and laypersons related to the practice of the major field.  They are able to work collaboratively as appropriate to the area(s) of specialization. 
Graphic Design Emphasis
  • The ability to solve communication problems, including the skills of problem identification, research and information gathering, analysis, generation of alternative solutions, and prototyping.
  • The ability to describe and respond to the audiences and contexts which communication solutions must address, including recognition of the physical, cognitive, cultural, and social human factors that shape design decisions.
  • The ability to create and develop visual form in response to communication problems, including an understanding of principles of visual organization/ composition, information hierarchy, symbolic representation, typography, aesthetics, and the construction of meaningful images.
  • An understanding of tools and technology, including their roles in the creation, reproduction, and distribution of visual messages.
  • An understanding of design history, theory, and criticism from a variety of perspectives, including those of art history, linguistics, communication and information theory, technology, and the social and cultural use of design objects.
  • An understanding of basic business practices, including the ability to organize design projects and to work productively as a member of teams. 
Animation Emphasis
  • Knowledge and skills in the use of basic principles, concepts, tools, techniques, procedures, and technologies sufficient to produce animation from concept to a finished product that communicates ideas and/or stories to a viewer or to an audience. This includes, but is not limited to, the ability to use the competencies listed in items below in professional contexts as appropriate to the needs of specific projects.
  • Knowledge of the principles of animation, including its visual, spatial, sound, motion, and temporal elements and features, and how these elements are combined in the development of animation projects.
  • Functional understanding of and ability to use narrative, non-narrative, and other information/language structures (linear, non-linear, thematic, cinematic, interactive, etc.) to organize content in time-based media.
  • Ability to use concepts and processes for the development, coordination, and completion of animation projects (examples include, but are not limited, to concept, visual, and character development; the use of scenarios and personas; and storyboarding, flowcharting, and layout).
  • Functional understanding and ability to use the characteristics and capabilities of various animation methods and technologies in creative and project development contexts.

Additional Admission Requirements
  • Individual program admission requirements over and above admission to NAU are required.

  • Admission to the Visual Communication Major is contingent upon:

    • Completion of the Visual Communication Pre Major coursework (13 units) with a Grade of "C" or better and a minimum GPA of 2.5:
  • Approval of student portfolio submitted online through the VC 181 Portfolio Review class and reviewed by the Visual Communication faculty.
    All VC courses at a 200-level or above are restricted to students who successfully complete the first year of Pre Major requirements and pass the Portfolio Review.

Major Requirements
  • This major requires 70 units distributed as follows:

    • Visual Communication Pre-Major Requirements: 13 units
    • Visual Communication Common Course Requirements: 27 units
    • Select an Emphasis: 30 units
      • Animation Emphasis: 30 units
      • Graphic Design Emphasis: 30 units

    Take the following 70 units with a Grade of "C" or better in each course. All courses must be completed with a minimum GPA of 2.5:

  • Emphasis Requirements - Select one (30 units)

  • All majors must earn the grade of "C" or better in their freshman composition required course and their foundation mathematics course. 

    Students in the Animation emphasis must complete ART 136, VC 161, VC 201, VC 202, VC 205, VC 265, and be assigned the Animation Milestone before enrolling in VC 305, and VC 345.

    Students in the Graphic Design emphasis must complete ART 136, VC 161, VC 201, VC 202, VC 261, VC 262, and be assigned the Graphic Design Milestone before enrolling in VC 303, VC 343, and VC 380.

    A dual emphasis BFA degree is available. Completing both Animation and Graphic Design emphases may take longer than 4 years. Please consult an advisor to develop a progression plan.

    Please note that you must complete the last five of your emphasis courses at Northern Arizona University.

General Electives
  • Additional coursework is required if, after you have met the previously described requirements, you have not yet completed a total of 120 units of credit.

    You may take these remaining courses from any of the academic areas, using these courses to pursue your specific interests and goals. You may also use prerequisites or transfer credits as electives if they weren't used to meet major, minor, or liberal studies requirements.

    We encourage you to consult with your advisor to select the courses that will be most advantageous to you.

Additional Information
  • See the School of Communication page for information about the Communication Core, Advising and Student Responsibilities, and Graduation Requirements.
  • Be aware that some courses may have prerequisites that you must also successfully complete. For prerequisite information, click on the course or see your advisor.