(Top)EARTH HOUR creative by WWF's designer Copal Mathur; (Below) An assignments by students of Pearl Academy of Fashion

COPAL Mathur’s Communication Design programme at the Pearl Aademy of Fashion (PAF) demanded just one mandatory internship. Yet, she did seven, including those at an advertising agency, animation studio, papercraft studio and finally her current employer, wildlife conservation organisation WWF India.

Communication Design is a vast subject and these diverse experiences helped her zero in on her interest. Now, Copal designs campaigns for WWF’s global movements like Earth Hour,  which is quite a hit even in India. She elaborates," I grew to liking the idea of using design to promote conservation."

Communication Design

Opportunities galore
A programme that’s well-established at design schools in the US and Europe, Communication Design is gaining prominence at Indian design institutes because of the vast job scope. So, what does this area of design involve? Just as fashion designers use textiles as raw material to create clothes, Communication Designers use images, visuals and video as raw materials, to communicate ideas, advertise and promote products or services.

For instance, companies look for a logo that will be etched in the memories of consumers forever. Think Apple, Nike or even the Olympics. Known as brand identity, this is an upcoming area in India, which needs professionals with design skills and strategic thinking, a combination that Communication Design programmes aim to create.

According to advertising veteran Ravi Deshpande, design houses and design arms of ad agencies both work in the area of brand identity and need skilled people. But this is just one area where Communication Designers can be absorbed, and there are several more. This scenario prompted Ravi to bring French design school école intuit.Lab to India. Unlike other design schools it primarily focuses on graphic and visual communication design.

My design course was inter-disciplinary. Ultimately, you must mould the programme to suit your interest; I grew to liking the idea of using design to promote conservation.

Copal Mathur,
PAF alumnus & Design Manager @ WWF India

 Industry snapshot

~ Brand identity: Creating logos, pictograms, fonts and systems used by companies and organizations. It can also be applied to events or concepts.
~ Campaigns: Spanning all media platforms for commercial and social purposes – TV, posters, flyers, interaction capsules, social media, print ads, direct mailers, newsletters, campaigns can be for the purpose of advertising or social development campaigns.
~ SFX industry: An up and coming area, there’s a demand for technically savvy and creatively-minded individuals. Since the industry is in its infancy, this is the best time to break in!
~ e-learning design: Storyboards and interactivity are important elements in this field, which is growing in scope as e-learning becomes more popular.
~ Print publishing: Magazines, books and newspapers.
~ Packaging design: Enhancing the look of consumer products.
~ Broadcast design: Opening/closing credits, tickers and other aspects of films and TV programming.
~ User interface design: Typically, any product or service, where interactivity is an important feature, uses the support of good communication design. This includes design of retail spaces, websites, social media sites, computer & mobile interfaces, software applications, exhibition spaces, to name a few. For instance, in website design an understanding of information architecture is a must.
~ Event design: Conceptualizing the look and feel of exhibitions, events and conferences. Event management firm or be an independent professional.
~ Signage and way-finding systems: Signboards and pictograms for road networks, metro systems, malls, airports, company premises, parking lots and other public spaces like museums.


Why attend a design school?
Since Animation and graphic design are part of the Communication Design faculty, students may wonder if one can learn these at a training institute or in a BSc in Visual Communication course. Many of these programmes focus on teaching softwares, and serve as an eye-openers to various fields. “Quality of thinking, quality of craft, strategic design, ability to articulate ideas to clients who come from a marketing discipline, to talk about your art in a logical way for people to buy it from you for the price you demand. It needs that kind of training as well,” shares Ravi.

Problem-solving is an important need, shares Rama Brahmam Aleti, a co-founder of Think Design, a company which takes on projects including brand identity, packaging, logo design and more. Last but not the least, good research capability is a must for effective communication, adds Reetu Betala, Founder Director of Apeejay Institute of Design (New Delhi). This research is especially visible in the final year projects of Communication Design students, which often span a minimum of 200 pages!

"We will need great designers and brand builders to create supply of talent in the future"

Ravi Deshpande,
Chief Creative Officer
at Contract Advertising &  co-founder of ecole intuit.lab 

Curriculum matters
Courses like advertising and graphic design, moving graphics and animation, new media, user experience, packaging design, typography, brand communication, and publication design are all taught in Communication Design programmes in India and abroad. But while institutes like PAF and Symbiosis offer a programme which gives overall exposure to this field, others focus on specific areas. For instance, NID’s communication faculty offers Graphic Design, Animation Film Design, Film & Video Communication, Exhibition (Spatial) Design, as four separate programmes, which means that one would be focusing on a specific area for the next four years.

Sristi offers three courses in Visual Communication, Digital Video Production and Animation and Visual Effects. Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), one of the oldest institutes in Singapore’s Design & Media department offers a Diploma in Design & Media, with majors like Advertising, Animation, Graphic Design, Illustration Design, Interactive Media and Video Production. So, the structure of courses varies across institutes.

Choosing a programme
One question students may have is - should I opt for a specialised or general programme. One way to approach it is to consider latter if you are unsure of which area of communication design, you would wish to choose because it gives you exposure to various themes, until you specialise in the last year. A focused programme is advisable for those who are confident of the area they wish to specialise in. The other factor is, of course, the brand name and cost of the programme. While a course at an institute like NID costs between 2-3 lakhs (including hostel fees), a private institute could cost between 12 and 28 lakhs (does not include hostel fee). Students must also factor in cost of materials like paper, markers, printing charges, as well as travel and living costs for research projects. You may wonder why programmes cost so much. Well, good design faculty and equipment both come at a price. But the proof is really in the pudding.


Fraudulent schools
Though the promise of a career is definite, beware of institutes making false promises. Like a Gurgaon-based design school, launched with the USP that its curriculum was designed by an institute of national repute. The website boasts of design labs, a photography studio, et al. In reality, these do not exist. An ex-student (who does not wish to be named), was disappointed at the lack of infrastructure. “The faculty were brilliant but there’s only so much they can do when there no projector to make a presentation and speakers don’t work!”, she said. The final straw was when the original faculty quit. The student left mid-way and was lucky enough to get admission into another institute. She is satisfied with her current institute, but not all dropouts may be this lucky.

Know your institute
Another student felt that his programme focused too much on the print medium, whereas he feels the electronic design aspect is as important, if not more so in this era. The best way to evaluate an institute is to visit the labs and studios, yourself. A computer lab with enough machines (hopefully Macs!), an art showcase to display students' work, video shooting equipment and spacious, airy classrooms, are a must. Interact with faculty, view their design portfolio/ experience, for inspiration. There is no excuse for not connecting with alumni in the digital age!

Peter, a lecturer at Raffles, Delhi mentors students.

Getting in
Most institutes have a two or three-level entrance procedure. For instance, NID conducts NEED, a qualifying entrance examination for NID as well as other institutes. Other institutes like Sristi conduct their own tests. Besides this there is a studio test and an interview, which is common in many other institutes. A portfolio is not a necessity, but a good one improves you chances (Click here to read our advisory on  design entrances).

Love your Medium
Peter Sinclair, Multimedia Faculty @ Raffles Millennium International advises students:

"If you end up working in mainly print, then technical requirements associated with print-making will need to be learnt and understood. One must learn to communicate strong messages within a single frame when working in print, as you may not have the luxury of working over a ‘time-based medium’ like video or film to portray the same message. Working in ‘animation’ requires you to understand the ‘dynamics’ of the physical world, as well as knowing when it is possible to ‘enforce’ those dynamics or even ‘break’ them in order to express a particular point or message.

Understanding the art of a ‘narrative’ is a skill a designer must learn when working in time-based mediums like animation, video or film, as opposed to static forms, such as ‘Photography’ or ‘Print’. It’s certainly possible for a print designer to make that jump from print to a narrative, time-based medium. However, usually a print designer would have already had the ‘love’ of the medium to start off with, before making the move into directing photo/film shoots. For example, print designers like Daniel Barber are testimony to making the move from print to moving image. Whichever medium an individual ends up working with, usually it will or should reflect how that person’s mind already worked."

Learn by doing
Projects, assignments, industrial attachments and internships are a part and parcel of design programmes and if students of the institute you plan to join are not busy 24/7, you need to worry! In the final year, students usually work on a project in great detail. Typically, students pick a ‘client’, which could range from a jewellery design to mobile phone firm, or a non-profit, choose a theme and come up with solutions. For instance, Shivam Sharma did a six-month paid internship in mobile phone maker Micromax’s marketing department. During this time, besides posters, brochures and other marketing collateral, this Apeejay student designed such good-looking icons that the company actually used them in their model Kombat, which was released overseas!

Master your domain
PG programmes help build technical and conceptual skills. In the digital age, one can look at specialisations like Information & Interface Design, Digital Experience and Retail experience, all offered at NID’s R&D campus in Bangalore. Rama from Think Design, pursued a New Media programme at NID, taught at its Gandhinagar campus, and went on to develop in depth experience in UX, an upcoming design area.

Into the field
Young designers may find it hard to digest creative differences with clients. But it's part of the territory! “By all means get passionate about projects. But do not get too emotional about things within the commercial work space,” shares Peter. So, is this field for you? Ravi has some parting advice, "Come in if you like the idea of creating brand equity through your art and design skills. Your brain is stretched, there’s enough heart in it, and you get paid to have fun!”

Raising the bar

Vaithilingam Sairaj
Director, Content and Design Services, Cognizant

Q: What role do design hires play at Cognizant?
A: We provide User Experience Design services to customers, including User Interface strategy and design for website, applications and mobile platforms; creative design and e-learning. We currently have about 500 designers, and see a lot of demand and opportunities for designers in Cognizant.

Q: What skills do you seek in a potential design hire?
A: Essentially, we look for a person who is very strong in design conceptualization and execution, and shows the ability to work well in teams in a corporate environment and with international clients. In addition soft skills are required to function effectively in the modern-day workplace, such as attitude, communication, passion, and so on. Design graduates are expected to understand the business objectives, user requirements and technology, and provide best-in-class User Experience Design solutions to our customers.

Q: Tell us about your selection procedure...
A: We assess the skills through the candidate’s ability to express concepts and conceptualize, demonstration of skills through a test or work samples, and the overall sharpness a candidate is able to demonstrate in a particular domain.

Q: Do you hire from campuses?
A: We hire both through campus and lateral recruitment i.e., experienced professionals. In campus, we go for graduates in Product and User Interface design, Visual Communication and Applied Arts.


SELECT institutes offering communication design courses
Comm. Design UG programmes
Tuition fee
BA (Hons) Communication Design
4 years
Approx. 12 lakhs
  Diploma Prog. In: Graphic Design; Animation Film Design; Film & Video Communication; Exhibition (Spatial) Design
4 years
Between 2-3 lakhs including hostel
1. Foundation course in Art & Design
2. Professional Diploma in: Visual Communication, Digital Video Production, Animation and Visual Effects
1. 10+2
2. Graduate in any discipline or UG with two
years wishing to change line; student who has completed the Foundation course at Sristi
2 years
2½ years
1. Approx 5.6 lakhs
2. Approx. 2.5 lakhs per year
Bachelor of Arts in: Graphic design, Multimedia
10+2 or G.C.E ‘A’ Levels, and IELTS 6.0
3 years
Approx 15 lakhs
Prof. Diploma Graphic design;
Animation & Multimedia
4 years
Approx 6 lakhs
French Diplome in Visual
Communication Arts/Graphic Design
10 +2 (Class 10 in exceptional cases)
4 years
Approx. Rs 12 lakhs
French Level 1 Digital Director
Certificate in Animation
5 years
Approx 28 lakhs
Bachelor of Design in Comm.
Design & Fashion Communication
4 years
Approx 7.94 lakhs



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