Visual Communication Design at Aalto represents an intersection of studies, research and practice across three degree levels: the Bachelor of Arts (BA) based on traditional methods of Graphic Design and the Master of Arts (MA) and Doctor of Arts (DA) degrees that engage with wider perspectives in Visual Communication Design. Graphic design skills are blended with the approaches of other disciplines to ask pressing questions and pose essential problems. Critical design responses are situated within cultural, conceptual, and political contexts.
We view Visual Communication as the trans-media discipline of design. Our unit encourages the expression of varying viewpoints and a variety of communication techniques. Award-winning alumni, recent graduates, and our current student body are the cultural catalysts of the future. Their work can be found throughout this site.
We recommend starting the application process as early as possible. Due to the number of applicants our programmes are highly competitive with a limited number of places available each year. Students are accepted based on merit and other criteria specified on the Aalto University webpages. There you can find the official application instructions including materials and deadlines specific to each degree. Follow the instructions carefully and don’t feel shy about contacting our study coordinators with any questions.
To apply to one of our programmes, please follow the appropriate link:
Bachelor Studies (only in Finnish)
The BA degree is taught in Finnish, the MA and DA studies are taught in English. More information about the study experience at Aalto can be found here and additional insights on living in Finland can be found here. Our unit is committed to internationalization maintaining an active engagement with professors, guest lecturers, and many students from around the globe. We offer outgoing exchange studies with top universities abroad. More information regarding exchange procedures can be found here.
Tuition is currently free of charge without the need to apply for scholarships. Students are expected to cover all living expenses (app. EUR 800 per month) and other study related costs from their own financial resources. After the April 2015 parliamentary elections, the Finnish government has proposed tuition fees for non-EU/EEA citizens —what this means exactly, remains yet to be seen. Some news regarding the situation of tuition fees in Finland can be explored here. Any official changes to tuition and other Aalto policies will be made public as soon as possible. There is a €100 fee to apply.
Bachelor studies in Graphic Design is a 3-year degree taught entirely in Finnish. It's composed of 180 academic credits that can be broken down into core subjects (40 credits), compulsory courses (100-110 credits), minor subjects (15-25 credits) and elective courses (15 credits). Subject matter covers artistic expression, media studies and language studies. Courses in other departments at Aalto are made available as well as exchange opportunities at participating universities abroad. Students practice traditional methods in graphic design focusing on layout and typography and learn to build on these foundations through various forms and applications. The curriculum has included courses in Font Design, Publication Design, Bookbinding, Illustration, Campaign Design, Digital Publishing Design, Exhibition Design, and Moving Image.
Graphic Design is the practice of creating products, processes, environments, and events that are relevant and responsive to a particular context. The primary focus is on handling problems with imaginative and collaborative solutions. Research, marketing, social media, branding, collaboration, visual documentation, virtual skills, and storytelling are incorporated into the unique methodology of our teaching. During the third year students produce a Bachelor’s thesis, the culmination of studies that demonstrates the acquired skills and distinct perspective of the student. More student work can be found at grrr.fi or on our Facebook page.
Apply here (only in Finnish)!
Student works from our 90-year-old, award-winning undergraduate programme in graphic arts and visual communication design.
Master studies in Visual Communication, is a 2-year degree made of 120 academic credits. It offers an education integrated in global practices, contextually conscious research, and possible futures in visual design. At the intersection of design, business and technology, Aalto University provides an eclectic mix of expertise needed for progressive learning environments. The programme offers two majors for MA students: Visual Narrative and Information Design.
Visual Narratives are stories told primarily through the use of visual media. Stories are told using text, photography, illustration, and can be enhanced with graphics, music, and interactivity. They can take the forms of interactive books, graphic novels, video games, new media works, animation, picture books and designed texts. The common core is that they are all essentially explorations into visuals that tell stories.
The Visual Narrative major at Aalto touches on many disciplines, and brings together a synthesis of skill sets from visual communication, writing, interactive media, film and games to focus on visualizing personal expression. Founded with the methodologies of design and story-telling, the major blends creative writing with the digital technologies that are transforming all narratives—in comic books and games, on film and the web—into hybrid visual media.
The major is designed to provide a myriad of post-graduate options. Students might become screenwriters, storyboard artists, art directors, digital publishers, and designers of eBooks, narrative Apps, video games and other interactive media. Each student will emerge from the programme with their own narrative tools and a unique, self-initiated body of work, preparing them to be the storytellers of tomorrow.
Download our info flyer here: Visual Narrative at Aalto.
Some courses available include: Hybrid Literature, Publishing for Emerging Platforms, Critical Design, Storytelling, and Visual Narrative. Many relevant electives can be taken from the Media Department or other Schools in Aalto. The MA requires a 30-credit graduation thesis, either a practice- or research-led work that contributes significantly to the field as well as the student’s body of work. Apply here!
Visual Narrative major
Student works reflecting our integrated, transmedia and story-focused education in the future practices of Visual Narrative.
Information Design is the shaping of data-driven messages in order to make knowledge accessible through visual platforms. This major practices the presentation of information with imaginative methods fostering efficient and effective understanding. Interests commonly overlap with visual communication, science and engineering, business intelligence, cartography, interaction design, journalism, and service design.
It has been estimated that humanity doubles its data every two years. The demand for design solutions for visual presentation of information is driven by, among other things, this rapid expansion of available data, and the accompanying growth in computational capability to process it. Information design is a competence with applications far beyond the traditional design professions.
Information design is a highly interdisciplinary field, combining skills from graphic design, interaction design, and computer science. After graduation our students are qualified to work independently or for a number of different organizations. Students may pursue visual journalism, data journalism, geo-informatics, and data analysis. Other graduates might become design directors, editors of graphic media, or other managerial specialists.
Download our info flyer here: Information Design at Aalto.
Some related courses include: Dynamic Visualization Design, Information Design, Critical Design, and Interactive Visualization. Many relevant electives can be taken from the Media Department or other Schools in Aalto. The MA includes a 30-credit graduation thesis, an either practice- or research-led work that contributes significantly to the field as well as the student’s body of work. Apply here!
Information Design major
Student works reflecting our cross-disciplinary, practical education in the visual communication of information and the Visualizing Knowledge conference.
Students can apply to minor subjects as part of their degree studies. They are generally 15-25 ECTS. A minor can be taken from any of the departments and programmes across Aalto. There are three minors currently available from the Visual Communication Design programme. Students are also encouraged to explore minors in other departments, such as Design, Media Lab, and Art. Minor study guides can be found here.
The minor in Illustration challenges Bachelor students to reflect on their own visual thinking, as well as to investigate and seek their own style using different techniques and media. Students become familiar with artwork across fields and learn the technical and cognitive skills which illustration work requires. In addition to traditional illustration techniques, digital artwork and animation are also explored. Students gain an understanding of illustration as a communication tool for both commercial and non-commercial contexts and delve into areas such as character design, sequential imaging, storytelling, as well as the integration of text with image. Language of instruction: Finnish.
The Pack-Age minor prepares Master’s students for project work typical in package design, often involving cooperation with experts from many different fields. The minor is taught in collaboration between four different schools: Aalto ARTS, Aalto BIZ, Aalto CHEM and Lahti Institute of Design and Fine Arts. Project groups create a fit-for-purpose design solution taking into account the client, product, environment, and the user. The student learns to utilize his/her special competence as part of a project and strengthen the team's expertise. The principles of visual, structural and user-centered packaging design that comply with sustainable development are discussed and students evaluate the feasibility of a packaging solution from many different perspectives. More information can be found here.
An essential part of design education is the gaining of practical work experience by exporting design work into the real world. Our students create visual communication and digital media for companies, organisations or communities both in teams and independently. Commissions are billable services based on our partners' needs, and delivered as professional work. Projects can also be non-commercial, analytical, or works of art.
The Department of Media accepts commissions from all areas of communications and design. The most typical projects relate to corporate and product graphics, advertising, websites, the design of electronic publications, as well as magazines, poster and packaging design. Lately our students have re-designed maternity pack with Kela, created visual identity for Finland's Guest of Honor appearance at the 2014 Frankfurt Book Fair with Fili, designed the City of Helsinki website, made a poster exhibition together with Unicef, and designed many issues of the awarded Tuli & Savu poetry magazine. Our co-operating partners include Finnish Transport Agency, Fazer, Plan, A. Ahlström Oy, Oy Hartwall Ab, Sanoma Osakeyhtiö, Oy Sinebrychoff Ab, Stora Enso Oyj, YLE, Nokia and the Finnish Tourist Board, among others.
If you are a business or organization interested in how our creative students can work on a project for you, please contact our producer Maria Leinvuo, email@example.com
Co-Work is a selection of student works that have been design for or commissioned by various companies and communities.
Our graduates have been widely honored and recognized for their outstanding work. The latest awards and recognitions include:
2014 Forbes 30 under 30 list
2010 Art Directors Club, Young Guns award
2010 Print magazine, New Visual Artists, 20 under 30:
European Design Awards 2015, silver:
Kiia Beilinson, BA student, Be a Tit poster
Reuben Award 2015, Online Comics, Long Form:
The Best of Finnish Advertising and Design 2014
Tapio Vapaasalo, Emeritus Professor
Anssi Kähärä (Werklig),
Visual Identity of Kyrö Distillery Company
Timo Berry (BOTH),
Visual Identity of Tom of Finland Stamp
Kiia Beilinson, BA student,
Sounds from Finland Poster
Jussi Snicker, Antti Uotila (Agent Pekka),
Stockmann Toy Catalogue
Jonatan Hildén, Juuso Koponen,
Tommi Kovala, Mikko Varakas (Informaatiomuotoilu),
Arts and Culture in Helsinki Publication
Graphic Designer of the Year 2015:
Jesse Auersalo, alumni
Graphic Designer of the Year 2014:
Anna Ahonen, alumni, with Katariina Lamberg
Visual Communication Design research at Aalto University is comprised of many areas of interest. Research groups are made up of doctoral students and research assistants, whose focus is on the design of societies and media. Research topics include information design, visual narratives, design processes, emerging practices and techniques in creative industries. These topics are investigated from the sites of artefacts, production, and reception.
Research on communication artefacts explores visualization methods, representations and visual languages used to disseminate facts and fiction. Information design research aims to find best practices to make conceptual information understandable for various audiences. Research on visual narratives investigates cultural, aesthetic and rhetoric aspects in multimodal media, brand identities and environments. Research on design processes and emerging practices focuses on the development of creative industries, including the impact of digital techniques and media convergence on design.
Visual Communication Design research projects combine design education and research within Aalto University and internationally. Ongoing research projects are co-creative and multidisciplinary as carried with other institutions and companies in the private and public sector.
More information can be found here: gdresearch.aalto.fi
Students in Visual Communication Design are encouraged to study or apply for internships and work placements abroad. The department actively participates in multicultural, international projects, exchanges and conferences. Aalto has exchange agreements with many other top universities in Visual Communication, such as the School of Visual Arts (SVA) New York, University of the Arts London, Politecnico di Milano, École des Arts Decoratifs (ENSAD) Paris, and Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Guidance in choosing a suitable destination is available, and funding for the exchange can be applied for through Aalto ARTS. We also welcome incoming exchange students each semester from around the globe. More information can be found here, or by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org
Professor of Practice, Graphic Design
Head of Visual Communication Design Programme
Saku Heinänen is professor and the head of the graphic design program of Aalto University. He has been a prolific editorial designer and one of the few professional typeface designers in Finland, creating awarded retail and custom fonts. Heinänen has always practiced illustration, and now combines it with writing. His first illustrated novel Zaida ja lumienkeli (Tammi) came out in 2014, and its follow-up Zaida ja elovalkeat (Tammi) was published in spring 2015.
Professor of Practice, Graphic Design
Head of Education and Vice Head, Department of Media
Zach Dodson is an active member of many arts communities, forging connections between the worlds of design and literature. He was the founder of featherproof Books and his own design studio. His latest novel, Bats of the Republic, was published by Doubleday in October 2015. He orchestrated the literary roadshow The Dollar Store, and was host of Chicago’s Show ’n Tell Show. He received his MFA in writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and previously taught at Columbia College Chicago.
Professor, Dr. (Art and Design)
Marja Seliger examines the modes and functions of visual communication design in societies and media. The outcome of her doctoral dissertation was the taxonomy of visual rhetoric in outdoor advertising, and she continues exploring visual representations and information in public and city-spaces. Earlier in her career, she gained graphic design expertise in educational materials production while working with Finnish publishing houses and in curriculum development and teacher training projects conducted by the United Nations Development Programme in Caribbean countries and in Africa. Her academic teaching career began in 2001 at the University of Lapland and since 2009 she has led and established graphic design research at Aalto University.
Tarja Nieminen is an artist and designer. After graduating from the University of Art and Design in Helsinki, she pursued further studies in photography and motion media at the Academy of Performing Arts, FAMU in Prague and, on Fulbright grant, at the School of Visual Arts, SVA, in New York. She has been a lecturer of visual communication at Aalto University since 2007. Before that, she served ten years as the Head of the Graphic Design Department at the Institute of Design of the Lahti University of Applied Sciences. In her educational work, she has focused on developing curricula related to dynamic media and international cooperation. For the past eighteen years, her practice has included freelance design work in visual communication as well as fine arts activity in Europe and in the US.
Lecturer, Doctoral Candidate
Arja Karhumaa is a graphic designer and a text artist. After more than ten years of professional work in graphic design she turned her focus to education and practice-based research, where she now has the opportunity to foster her interests: writing, critical design practice and the various ways design and language intertwine. She is currently working on practice-based doctoral research examining graphic design as a form of writing and its ensuing public role.
Lecturer, Doctoral Candidate
Markus Joutsela is big fan of responsible and clever packaging design and has been involved with packaging as a practicing designer, researcher, and design teacher. Currently he leads the Pack-Age minor and works as the responsible researcher of Aalto University in Valuepack – Tools for Packaging and Branding 2014–2016 project funded by Tekes. Markus is also writing a dissertation about packaging experiences and designing for experiences.
Lecturer, Doctoral Candidate
Harri Heikkilä has a parallel mission of, a) opening the doors of the user centred, user interface, and user experience design world to the graphic designer, and b) convincing software engineers to understand the importance of quality graphic design. Harri has strived to combine these two approaches in new publishing culture on touch screen devices, as teacher, consultant, designer and researcher. Harri wants to believe, that ending the era of dull, frustrating and confusing software interfaces is a key position for graphic designers today.
Study Coordinator, MA degree programme
Sara Rönkkönen is a study coordinator in Master’s Programme in Visual Communication Design and Photography. She is responsible for MA and exchange students’ guidance and supports the academic staff in their work. Rönkkönen belongs to Aalto ARTS Learning Services’ Student Services team and is involved in new student orientation, student tutoring and Personal Study Planning (HOPS) development. She is interested in languages, educational sciences and cross cultural communication. Not to mention cycling between two campuses.
Study Coordinator, BA degree programme
Sari Tarvainen coordinates the major and minor studies in graphic design for Bachelor level students. She supports the academic staff among other things in curricula planning and tutors the students to plan their studies.
Producer Maria Leinvuo collaborates with external companies and public sector organisations. Her work includes project development, participation in educational activities, contract preparation and management, communication related to projects as well as organising events and competitions. If you are a business or organization interested in how our creative students can work on a project with you, please contact Maria.
Heikki Ohvo is the application designer in the ARTS Technical Services group. He has an expert handle on the computers in the graphic design classrooms, their applications, and guidance for use. He is also responsible for helping faculty with all their technology concerns.
As a technical assistance Mihail Solanakis is responsible for the department's equipment and materials as well as the availability of teaching facilities according to schedule. He also looks after staff members’ and students’ work permissions and facility keys.