How do I teach Advanced Design?

My school added an advanced graphic design course to my load this year (high school), which I'm happy about, but then realized my students had merely matriculated and weren't necessarily my more talented or creatively skilled students from the year prior. They have foundational knowledge of Photoshop and Illustrator, and I do plan to spend time with layout in Indesign, but for the most part, I'm at a loss of how/what to teach! With their foundational knowledge of the programs, I had expected to be able to jump into some more advanced projects, but these kids lack creativity! Any suggestions on how to teach an advanced design class? I don't even really know where to start other than throwing projects at them, but I don't feel like an effective teacher with that approach! HELP!!

  • Photoshop

    Editing and compositing for photos, web and mobile app designs, 3D artwork, videos, and more.

  • Illustrator

    Create beautiful vector art and illustrations.

  • InDesign

    Craft elegant layouts at your desk or on the go.

5 / 5 • 2 Ratings

Comments (15)

Write a reply...
or Join for free to view all comments and participate in the discussion.

Gwen Meltzer

Posted on 3/28/17 9:53:51 PM Permalink

Hi Bianca!!!

I've been teaching high school graphic design/digital imaging for 12 years. The advanced classes involve more complex projects. For example, the early classes might design a 1 page flyer or CD cover. The advanced students would design a multi-page booklet or delve into product packaging. I believe that they do not have to concentrate so much on how to use the software but can put more emphasis on carrying a design motif throughout multiple projects. My advanced students have a fictitious client and design a menu, cocktail napkin, logo, signage, etc for a restaurant. You can even have them come up with multiple design choices to show the client. Hope that helps!! Good luck!!!

Daniel Rickman

Posted on 4/18/17 10:35:38 AM Permalink

​I will be teaching Yearbook and Digital Art starting in the Fall Semester at the high school level. I am not a first year teacher but I have been teaching Criminal Justice while working to take over for our retiring Digital Art teacher. He is retiring a year early ... hurray for me lol. If you are willing to share any tips and/or lesson plans I would be a very thankful person.

Gwen Meltzer

Posted on 4/18/17 11:13:52 PM Permalink


I would concentrate on teaching them the basics of the software you're using first, then some tutorials and then projects. There are lessons all over the internet. What software are you using? How do you go from criminal justice to Digital Art? Are you dual certified?​

Daniel Rickman

Posted on 4/19/17 2:43:00 AM Permalink

I am ​almost dual certified. I will be using Photoshop. I started out working in Corrections and Children Services. A job opening came up for the criminal justice teacher at the local high school so I applied for it and got the job. Now to answer how does one go from Criminal Justice teacher to Digital Art teacher ... Well law enforcement, criminal justice related jobs have always been that ... a job. Don't get me wrong, I have enjoyed doing them. I have made a living/paycheck from them. Teaching it has been extremely easy. However, art has always been a passion. While working in Corrections, after work I was taking Photoshop and Art courses at the local college just for fun. I have Bachelor degrees in political science and pre-law I earned before getting a job in Corrections but I never enjoyed any of the classes I took to earn them. Those other classes I was taking for fun after work ended up earning me an associate's degree in Digital Arts. Unlike my first experience with college, I cannot remember a single time that I did not enjoy going to those art classes (evening with coming off of work from a job that literally wore me out everyday). I never thought that I would get the opportunity to use my art skills in an educational setting but things have worked out given me the opportunity.

Jim Cowan

Posted on 3/28/17 5:56:04 PM Permalink

I am the graphic design director at a private University, and also teach a Publication Design course each fall and an Advanced Publication Design course each spring. I also have 2 or 3 graphic design students who work in my office (Marketing and Communications).

When I meet new students, one of my biggest concerns is the lack of InDesign/page layout experience. Over the years I have had several jobs working for ad agencies and marketing groups. As a designer, it is true that I needed Photoshop and Illustrator skills. However, I needed page layout skills the most (now using InDesign, in the past using Quark or Pagemaker).

In my Pub Design class I introduce these new students to InDesign and have them create an four projects: an event flyer, a newspaper spread, a magazine article, and a corporate brochure. This would allow them to incorporate all three programs (InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator). I also have them create a concept sketchbook where they gather samples of good and bad design (as they see it). Then they have to write a little about why they do or don't like the design. Toward the end of the semester, they then have to write a page document that explains their design style. What common elements did they find in the 'good' design samples and their 'bad' design samples. I think it helps them to start looking at the design of things that they see everyday.

For my Advanced Pub Design they create an entire Annual Report.

  • ​• They start with the back section that contains all of the donors. This forces them to practice using style sheets and a grid.
  • • Next they do the 'magazine type section' that contains the promotional text of the company. This allows them to be a bit more creative with their colors and imagery.
  • • The financial section is next, and gives them experience creating infographics and charts.
  • • Next they work on the covers and the letters from the CEO.
  • • The last assignment is to tie all of the sections together. Double check for consistencies/repetition.
  • • We also take a field trip to a local printer (and get ice cream on the way back).
  • It takes the whole semester to complete, but the final product is a complex 36 page document - perfect for their portfolio.

Good luck with whatever you decide!​

Blanca Schnobrich

Posted on 3/28/17 6:25:57 PM Permalink

This is really helpful! I was contemplating how/when to introduce Indesign. I will add that to my course curriculum for my upper levels. Thank you for responding and sharing your experience!

Rhitt Growl

Posted on 3/28/17 5:05:57 PM Permalink

​To better help me understand the problem and maybe offer an opinion, I'd like to ask a few follow-up questions:

  • Why did your school add the advanced graphic design course and who made the decision? What was the purpose for creating the class...was it to meet the needs of the students...was it proposed by administration...what role did you have in the decision making?
  • Did anyone establish or talk about objectives for the advanced course before it was started?
  • Is the purpose of the course to build upon the skills the students learned in the first course or is to expose them to new skills?
  • Is the course year-long? How much time are the students in class for?
  • You mentioned teaching programs (Ps and Ai) in the first course, what design skills are being taught in that course?

Blanca Schnobrich

Posted on 3/28/17 6:34:47 PM Permalink

  • Why did your school add the advanced graphic design course and who made the decision? What was the purpose for creating the class...was it to meet the needs of the students...was it proposed by administration...what role did you have in the decision making?
  • They added it because they had had it in year's past (teacher who I replaced), but it had lost interest because I guess the teacher was not well-liked and the school offers many electives they could choose from. After my first year, I had about 10 kids who wanted to continue, so the school brought the class back since I had enough kids to fill a class. The only role I had in the decision was to agree to do it, as the addition of the course ensured I would maintain my full-time status. I had always wanted to teach a second year of design, so I was excited about the opportunity. Now after almost a year behind me I am slowly accepting the fact that the second year is not so much "advanced" but rather a continuation of what was learned year 1, but with a faster pace and more advanced skills, such as combining Illustrator and Photoshop.
  • Did anyone establish or talk about objectives for the advanced course before it was started?
  • No. Unless the course fills college requirements (this one doesn't), teacher's are free to develop their own curriculum, with little to no direction from the administration.
  • Is the purpose of the course to build upon the skills the students learned in the first course or is to expose them to new skills?
  • Both, from my perspective (again, it's my decision).
  • Is the course year-long? How much time are the students in class for?
  • Yes, year-long. We meet 4-50minute sections within a 6 day cycle.
  • You mentioned teaching programs (Ps and Ai) in the first course, what design skills are being taught in that course? Yes, I teach them elements of art and principles of design while trying to teach them the tools of the Adobe products at the same time. I also try to teach color theory and typography. It's a lot, but I need to teach design skills because my beginning level class is a college-approved course.

Rhitt Growl

Posted on 3/28/17 7:56:30 PM Permalink

Sounds like you have a lot of freedom in what you can teach! Looking through the other posts, I don't know if I can add much to the conversation. ​I think there are some great resources and advice being shared here and it sounds like you have already started thinking about ways to improve for next school year.

I'll echo Fred's post my class we do a lot of projects for "clients." Some come from within our school system but most come from our community. Working with clients gives my students the opportunity to learn about design, practice following a process, use industry software/hardware, and polish their soft skills while creating something for someone else (not just for me). It also gives them a taste of what it is like to work in the industry. Working with a client also seems to keep them a little more focused and engaged. Plus, it is a huge morale boost when they see their work being used out in the community. Not to mention something they can add to their portfolio.

Fred Benitez

Posted on 3/28/17 4:57:16 PM Permalink

I take my projects slower in the advanced class, really focus on developing the idea/design. Students would make thumbnails and sketches before jumping into AI/PS. Facilitating small group critiques also helped build an environment in which students felt safe explaining their process. I also make the projects real. Get them to meet with the leaders of school clubs/organizations to design shirts/brochures, create posters for school plays/events, design school signage, etc. I think bringing in clients makes the learning and design process more meaningful for the students. I know this seems like simply throwing projects at them, but you can shift the focus of the project to be on the soft skills involved.

Blanca Schnobrich

Posted on 3/28/17 6:37:04 PM Permalink

Good ideas! Thank you.​

Eric Meyer

Posted on 3/28/17 4:50:25 PM Permalink

What separates basic from advanced design is the more the "why" than the "how." A lot of this involves understanding how consumers actually use designs, which then enables them to see areas in which they can become more creative. Students also need to adopt a systematic rather than brute force approach to the tools. If you're doing InDesign for example, start not with InDesign but Word. Talk about character and paragraph styles and how they import into InDesign and also function in HTML5/CSS3. With Illustrator, talk about creating wireframes to import into Animate for interaction and animation or into Photoshop for "painting." See the threads that connect various technological tools. Visualize data in Excel, then use Acrobat to make a PDF and Illustrator to edit the PDF into a design that is more visually organized and effective for readers. I wouldn't categorize anything I do at the college level as "advanced," but see what I'm doing with a basic eight-week tools-only class ( that just concluded or an ongoing later class (, logon as visitior with no PIN) that is required of most journalism majors. The latter class puts major emphasis on how to communicate ideas and serve audiences and emphasizes how the same basic design theories work across platforms and media types -- visual, textual and data. You can see a product of a past class a few semesters ago at -- an exercise in totally non-linear, non-narrative storytelling.

jennifer smith

Posted on 3/28/17 4:39:14 PM Permalink

​Hello!, It is always fun to have them mix art history with design projects...perhaps have them sketch designs first, matching the style from the Bauhaus time period, Next, the International Typographic Style. Provide them resources to read and study. This way they learn the style of a time and are able to apply it to their own work. Mixes it up a bit too.

Angela Wong

Posted on 2/25/17 11:13:05 PM Permalink

​I'm usually changing things up but my Advanced Graphic Design class currently looks like this:

I'm going to be added a few new projects to the end, but so far that is what I have taught and I'm working with right now. Hope this helps somewhat!

Candice Lynch

Posted on 3/28/17 4:56:46 PM Permalink

Thank you so much for sharing your lessons with everyone! Thanks to Bianca for asking!​