Graphic Design Curriculum

Penn Foster College’s online Graphic Design program syllabus includes courses on graphic design and production, photo image editing, web design, multimedia development, and animation using the Adobe® Creative Cloud software included with your program.

Program Goal and Outcomes

Program Goal

The Graphic Design Degree program prepares students for an entry-level position in the design industry.

Upon completion of the program, students will be able to...
  • Identify different career options available to digital artists
  • Understand the correct use of color and its effectiveness in creating designs
  • Describe the formal elements of design, including line, shape, form, direction, texture, value, color, and composition
  • Use Adobe Illustrator® to create graphics illustrations for print, multimedia and the web
  • Use Adobe Photoshop® to create high quality photos, graphics for product illustrations, logos, animations, and websites
  • Use Adobe Illustrator® or Adobe Photoshop® to enhance words, phrases or quotations, to communicate effectively with your audience, and use both traditional and contemporary typographic skill
  • Use Adobe InDesign® to design an image, brochure, magazine or web page to reach target audiences with printed publications that can be repurposed into interactive digital documents for delivery on the Web and on mobile and tablet devices
  • Use brand information to design a package that's appropriate for the target audiences
  • Discuss general manufacturing and printing processes related to packaging design
  • Design and launch a web page using HTML and XHTML
  • Design user friendly and visually appealing web pages that include multimedia features such as animation
  • Use Adobe Animate® and basic animation skills to create effective, entertaining, and interactive animations
  • Create an effective, interactive web-based portfolio to use during a job search
  • Demonstrate effective written and interpersonal communication skills
  • Demonstrate a high level of inquiry, analytical, and problem-solving skills
  • Demonstrate effective quantitative skills
  • Demonstrate computer and information literacy
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the liberal arts, natural sciences, and social sciences

Semester 1

Basic Skills Assessments

All degree applicants are required to complete two Basic Skills Assessments, one in reading and one in math, to determine the level of readiness for beginning their selected program. Additional studies may be required.

Succeed by learning how to use your Penn Foster program, and learn how computer technology enables the trained individual to create highly sophisticated images.


  • Understand how to use your Student Portal.
  • Access the Penn Foster Community and use it to find answers.
  • Connect with Penn Foster on various social media sites.
  • Describe the benefits of using computers for artistic purposes.
  • Identify hardware and tools used to create digital art.
  • Explore different career opportunities available to digital artists.
Get better at finding and using information!


  • Search the Internet more effectively.
  • Get tips about search engines and reliable websites.
  • Learn how to search libraries and other information centers for important, useful information.
This course will allow you to build your computer skills through a combination of reading and hands-on practice. You will navigate popular software tools such as Windows® and Microsoft® Office.


  • Create, edit, and illustrate Microsoft® Word™ documents.
  • Apply formulas and functions to large data sets in Microsoft® Excel.®
  • Incorporate useful charts and graphs to summarize data.
  • Add, delete, sort, and lay out table data.
  • Create presentations in Microsoft® PowerPoint® using advanced tools, tables, and charts.
In this course, you’ll learn about the relationships among colors and how you can use these relationships to your advantage. You’ll develop knowledge of the different factors you should think about before starting your next project or design, along with an understanding of how you can use color to communicate to your viewers.


  • Categorize the different components and principles in the color studies
  • Point out the elements of color interaction, application of color principles, and color harmony
  • Analyze the various components of color research, experience, and computer application in the color studies

Textbook: Color: A Workshop for Artists and Designers

Get the skills and techniques you need to develop, draft, and revise college-level essays.


  • Identify your purpose and audience. Read actively and critically.
  • Edit for standard written conventions.
  • Submit three essays (process analysis, classification and division, and argumentation) and a course journal.
In this course, you’ll explore endless possibilities to create a great design.


  • Identify the four basic principles of design and the ways they're used in a variety of projects.
  • Recognize color relationships.
  • Explain the essential aspects of typography, including contrasts and categories.
  • Demonsstrate skill at incorporating proximity, alignment, repetition, contrast, color, and type into a design.

Textbook: The Non-Designer’s Design Book

Proctored Examination

You will be required to complete a proctored exam on selected courses each semester. These assessments will evaluate the knowledge and skills that you learned during the semester. You choose the time, the location, and the qualified exam supervisor.

Semester 2

In this course, you will gain an understanding of artistic media, historical periods and artistic movements, the roles of the artist and the viewer, and the principles of art criticism.


  • Define the language, visual elements, and principles of design of art
  • Identify two-dimensional media
  • Identify three-dimensional media
  • Explain the evolution of art from ancient Mediterranean cultures through eighteenth century Europe
  • Identify features and popular examples of art throughout the history of African, Asian, Pacific, and American cultures
  • Compare the genres of the Modern and Postmodern eras of art from around the world

Additional Course Material:
Textbook: Living with Art, 11th Edition

Typography is the study of the design of font and the way it is laid out to achieve the desired visual effect. Many graphic design projects involve typography.


  • Use typography to communicate effectively with your audience.
  • Use both traditional and contemporary typographic skills.
  • Design with text and display type.
  • Create your own design projects.

Textbook: Designing with Type

With multimedia, you can make your websites more user-friendly and attract more users.


  • Understand the importance of planning out your website ahead of time.
  • Describe the various types of multimedia and the best ways to use them.
  • Plan, design, and create a professional and attractive website using multimedia.
  • Add a database to your website.
  • Advertise your online business using effective marketing strategies.

Textbook: Multimedia: Making It Work

Learn and practice the basic skills needed to produce Adobe® Illustrator® artwork.


  • Draw and paint complex artwork in Adobe® Illustrator.®
  • Create charts, graphs, documents that fold, and graphics with text in Adobe® Illustrator.®
  • Use Illustrator® to create a website interface using image trace and live color.

Software: Adobe Creative Cloud

Textbook: Adobe Illustrator CC: Classroom in a Book

In this course, you’ll learn to use Adobe® Photoshop® to produce the highest-quality images for print, Web, and screen.


  • Utilize the basic tools and panels of the Photoshop work area
  • Apply unique details to photos using masks, channels, type, vector, and painting tools
  • Edit and produce videos and raw camera images using consistent color

Textbook: Adobe Photoshop CC: Classroom in a Book

Proctored Examination

You will be required to complete a proctored exam on selected courses each semester. These assessments will evaluate the knowledge and skills that you learned during the semester. You choose the time, the location, and the qualified exam supervisor.

Semester 3

Continue your study of photo image editing using Adobe® Photoshop® and practice your skills through step-by-step projects.


  • Identify how to upload images and use Camera Raw features to edit and adjust images
  • Crop, resize, and retouch images using Camera Raw and Photoshop
  • Use special effects, filters, and sharpening techniques to tweak or transform photos

Textbook: Adobe Photoshop CC for Digital Photographers

In this course, you’ll learn the components of a successful brand and practical and alternative methods of implementing your brands in traditional channels.


  • Describe the major decisions involved in planning a brand strategy.
  • Identify methods and channels to promote your brand.
  • Understand what makes a brand successful and how to incorporate those elements into your own designs.

Textbook: Packaging Design: Successful Product from Concept to Shelf

In this course, you’ll learn to use Adobe® InDesign® software to create printed publications that can be repurposed into interactive digital documents for delivery on the Web, mobile, and tablet devices.


  • Create a multipage document with master pages
  • Apply objects, text, typography, and styles to an InDesign document
  • Demonstrate how to apply colors, import graphics, and create tables
  • Explain how to work with transparency and how to print and export InDesign files
  • Create interactive PDFs and EPUB documents

Textbook: Adobe InDesign CC: Classroom in a Book

This course provides an introduction to the various methods of organizing material for a professional setting. Students will compose business documents using the ABC method. These include memos, emails, outlines, reports and proposals, descriptions, and organizing materials. Students also work on honing their grammar skills.


  • Describe the basics of the writing process and the ABC method of organizing material for a document
  • Identify the parts of speech in a sentence
  • Demonstrate correct pronoun use
  • Choose proper and effective words for writing documents
  • Identify the elements of a well-written sentence
  • Demonstrate how to use length, directness, emphasis, and variety to craft impactful sentences
  • Explain how to construct a coherent paragraph
  • Describe how to write an effective cover letter and resume
  • Format and write an interoffice memorandum, a routine business letter, and an effective email
  • Identify the different ways to write for blogs, the Internet, and social media
  • Describe how to create an organized formal outline
  • Identify the types of research and methods of documentation used in business and technical writing
  • Explain how to create visual interest and clarity in reports with illustrations, tables, graphs, charts, and overall design
  • Explain the purpose and importance of various types of informal reports
  • Describe the nature of formal reports and identify their components
  • Differentiate among external, internal, informal, and formal proposals
  • Describe an object or a process and prepare a set of instructions
  • Describe the preparation and submission of professional and technical articles and manuals
Study basic algebraic concepts. Review the systems of equations, polynomials, and radicals. Learn how to factor polynomial expressions and simplify rational expressions.


  • Explain basic algebraic concepts
  • Solve and graph linear equations and inequalities
  • Analyze relations, functionality, and systems of linear equations
  • Prepare algebraic operations on polynomial and rational expressions and equations
  • Solve problems involving radicals and complex numbers

Additional Course Material:
Textbook: Intermediate Algebra

This course will introduce you to the relationship between biology and behavior. You will learn about human development throughout the life span.


  • Identify major psychological theories.
  • Discuss consciousness, memory, thought, and language.
  • Define intelligence, personality, and stress.
  • Analyze the role of gender in psychology.
  • Explain how community influences behavior.

Textbook: Psychology and Your Life

Proctored Examination

You will be required to complete a proctored exam on selected courses each semester. These assessments will evaluate the knowledge and skills that you learned during the semester. You choose the time, the location, and the qualified exam supervisor.

Semester 4

This course focuses on using Adobe® Photoshop® to create graphics, animations, and page layouts for the Web.


  • Apply the basics of web design and terminology, user experience design, and writing for the web
  • Design usable navigation systems and a usable home page
  • Conduct a usability test on a website

Textbook: Don't Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web and Mobile Usability

(Choose one...)

SCI110 - Earth Science

This course will allow you to learn about planet Earth and the various aspects of the environment.


  • Describe specific characteristics of Earth.
  • Describe different types of rocks and minerals.

SCI120 - Introduction to Biology

An introductory course that explains the origin of life and the relationships between all living things. It describes how a significant number of organisms are structured and how they work, in order to enable students to discuss intelligently the various forms of life and their processes.


  • Analyze cells and their processes for obtaining energy and reproducing.
  • Explain how traits are passed on from one generation to the next.
  • Explain how different species of living things have evolved and are classified.
  • Write responses to fundamental biology essay prompts.
  • Identify the characteristics and behavior of plants and animals.
  • Diagram the anatomy and physiology of the human body.
  • Describe the ecology of living things.
  • Summarize complex biological issues using research articles.

SCI140 - Nutrition 

This course will allow you to develop a healthier lifestyle by making smarter nutritional decisions.


  • Explain the various components of nutrition as a science.
  • Describe nutrition from a global viewpoint.
  • Understand the importance of water and exercise.
  • Identify the basics of human growth and aging.
  • Discuss food safety procedures.
This course will teach you how to create Web pages with hypertext links, tables, frames, and forms, working with content and layout, and creating new frames and windows.


  • Use HTML to create your own Web pages.
  • Use JavaScript® to add interactions to your Web pages.
  • Use dynamic HTML to create special effects.
  • Use XHTML to create a well-formed valid document.

Textbook: HTML and CSS: Design and Build Websites

Learn to use three tools to create Web pages, multimedia, and animation.


  • Create and edit graphics, text, and symbols in Adobe Animate
  • Demonstrate proficiency in basic animation skills, such as tweening and animating symbols, shapes, and characters
  • Create and publish animations that include interactivity, sound, and video

Textbook: Adobe Animate CC: Classroom in a Book

This course will provide you with the fundamentals on Dreamweaver.®


  • Identify the features of Dreamweaver, as well as describe how to use HTML and CSS when creating webpages
  • Explain how to create a website with multiple page layouts and design responsive pages
  • Explain how to create your own Dreamweaver template, as well as how to insert and style text, lists, tables, and images
  • Describe how to add hyperlinks and interactivity, publish a website, and work with code
This course covers the process of developing and maintaining an electronic portfolio.


  • Prepare a professional verbal and visual presentation that includes a cover letter, résumé, and portfolio
  • Create a traditional portfolio
  • Produce linear and interactive digital portfolio
  • Create compelling type designs and layouts
  • Design a user-friendly interface for an interactive web-based portfolio

Textbook: The Graphic Designer’s Guide to Portfolio Design

Proctored Examination

You will be required to complete a proctored exam on selected courses each semester. These assessments will evaluate the knowledge and skills that you learned during the semester. You choose the time, the location, and the qualified exam supervisor.

Additional Details

Associate Degrees from Penn Foster College are awarded under licensing from the Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education.

Penn Foster College Accreditation & Licensing Details

Penn Foster College has been nationally accredited for over 40 years, and has met the high standards of integrity and performance set by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) in Washington, D.C. Penn Foster College has been thoroughly reviewed and has earned several important accreditations and licensing. We also participate in the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements.

Surround Sound Support

A Committed Support System

While you can study independently, you’re not alone! With a dedicated Student Services department, the Student Community, and instructors just a call away, you’ll have access to the support you need.

Student Community

Looking to connect with other Penn Foster students? Our Student Community is the perfect place for you to interact with your peers - as well as Penn Foster faculty and staff - to discuss your online learning experience, congratulate fellow students, and share your Penn Foster experience.
Penn Foster Student Community
Penn Foster Sample Lesson

Sample Graphic Design Lesson

Penn Foster courses are written in a way that is easy to understand, and materials are broken down into manageable lessons. Take a look at what a Graphic Design course would look like.
Computer Specifications
As you know this is an online academic program. This means you will need access to high-speed internet to begin your program. In addition, you will need access to a Microsoft® Windows® based computer running Windows 10® or later or an Apple® Mac® computer running macOS® or later, Microsoft® Office 2019 or Microsoft 365®, and an email account to complete this program with Penn Foster. This program also requires the use of Adobe software. Please check Adobe's computer requirements to ensure that your computer meets the minimum requirements.
We reserve the right to change program content and materials when it becomes necessary.
Microsoft and Windows are trademarks of Microsoft Corporation registered in the United States of America and/or other jurisdictions.
Apple, Mac, and OS X are trademarks of Apple, Inc. registered in the United States of America and/or other jurisdictions.
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