The 5 best graphic design schools in Kenya
Graphic Design | Illustration

The 5 best graphic design schools in Kenya

Choosing a career and school to pursue your higher education is never an easy decision, especially if you’re just completing high school. There are so many factors to consider, from the location of the institution, fees, the quality of education on offer, and reputation in the industry which may affect your employability after you graduate. There are a number of Kenyan universities and colleges offering design courses, the majority of them being diploma and certificate studies with only two public universities offering a bachelor’s degree with specializations in Graphic Design, illustration or Fine Arts; the University of Nairobi and Kenyatta University.

Do you need to study Graphic Design or Illustration to practice?

Does one really need to study an approved course to be a designer or illustrator? Not really. There are very many successful self-taught designers in the industry (both freelance and employed) who do work that’s just as good if not better than those who went to higher institutions to learn the disciplines. But there are advantages to attending a school, such as;

  • Structured courses enable faster learning and acquiring of essential skills.
  • Learning communication skills, design lingo, critical thinking, and giving and taking criticism.
  • Collaboration through group projects and assignments
  • Learning presentation and pitching skills
  • Sharing resources that would otherwise be expensive if you were learning on your own, e.g Printing and photography equipment
  • Writing briefs, learning the design process and meeting project deadlines.

These again could all be self-taught but what you could learn at university in 3 or 4 years could take you much longer to teach yourself. You also have a community of designers and teachers that support you, offer constructive criticism and share information like jobs and opportunities with you.

In this article, I pick the top 5 Graphic design schools with established courses, good reputations and value for money that are well-known and respected in the Graphic Design and Illustration industries. None of the links in this article are paid promotions. Just an honest list.

University of Nairobi

University of Nairobi. Image source

The University of Nairobi is one of two on this list that offers a Degree course. The University of Nairobi School of Arts and Design located along State House Rd, Nairobi offers a 4-year course in Bachelor of Arts in Design. It’s a general course in design for the first 2 years but in your last two years of study you get to pick a specialization to pursue from a list of; Graphic Design, Illustration, Product Design, and Fashion Design. Interior design used to be in this group but was recently certified as a B.A Interior Design degree course that’s studied on it’s own.

The B.A design course at UoN is crafted to take students from the bare basics up to advanced design with additional classes in subjects like communication, statistics and even cost-planning. The public University is the oldest in the country, with an established reputation as a centre of excellence nationally and ranks top highly in Africa. If you care about the curricular activities, you’ll have access to the numerous sports and cultural activities the University runs and participates in.  The school of art and design is located in a cool serene spot of the city, a short walk from the CBD with easy access to Thika Superhighway, Waiyaki Way and Uhuru Highway. This makes accommodation and commuting easier if you live in or around Nairobi. You may also choose to reside at the university hostels, although they are a bit crowded and the facilities are quite sub-standard for a university as resourced as it is.

The school offers courses at Bachelor, Masters and PhD levels. They hold an annual exhibition for the 4th year students to display their final projects which are showcased to the public and potential employers. If you are interested in joining the school, this exhibition would be a great opportunity to see what they have to offer and the quality of their student’s work.

Duration: 4 years

Course: Bachelor of Arts in Design

Find out more on their website.

Kenyatta University

Kenyatta university. Image source

Kenyatta University, the second-largest public University in Kenya has a renowned Arts department. Their School of performing Arts, Creative and Media Studies offers courses in

  • Bachelor of Arts (communication and media studies) with graphic design and video editing being part of the classes.
  • Bachelor of Arts (Fine Arts). They also have Diploma, Masters and PhD in Fine Arts.
  • Bachelor of Science (Fashion Design and Marketing)

The B.A (communication and media studies) is well suited for one pursuing a career in Graphic Design. However, it’s not as specialised as the B.A Design course from the University of Nairobi. You’ll be required to complete units in Mass Communication, Radio Broadcasting, Video Editing and Copy writing. The scope of study is wide which could be to your liking if you’d like to be a jack of all trades or it may put you off. Check out their website for more on their list of units and other information.

The B.A. (Fine Arts) course would be a great and eye-opening journey for an aspiring illustrator. They have an experienced staff with expertise in traditional media. Their students on completion exhibit marvellous skill in different media from oil painting, drawing, pottery etc. There isn’t as much focus on digital illustration or painting as one looking to explore the media would like. However, any professional illustrator will tell you how important traditional art skills are for a digital illustrator. It’s also much easier to learn digital illustration after you’ve learnt the tips and tricks of traditional media. And you could learn that on the side on your own as you undergo your Fine Arts studies.

The school has experienced staff and adequate facilities, space, co-curricular activities and they often organize public shows and exhibitions. They have adequate accommodation and affordable meals. The campus is also close to the city, only 21 km from the CBD, and the gate stands right on Thika Superhighway so accessibility is not an issue.

Duration: 4 years

Course: Bachelor of Arts (communication and media studies) or Bachelor of Arts (Fine Arts)

Find out more on their website.

Academy of Graphic Technologies

Academy of Graphic Technologies. Image source.

This relatively young private institute is located on Maasai Road (off Mombasa Road) in Nairobi. With a young institution, comes the creativity and forward-thinking that the old universities lack. Their courses are more up-to-date, industry-specific and their computer labs are well-equipped. They offer a 2-year diploma course in Graphic Design. In this course, you’ll go in-depth into 3D design, Photography, Web Design and other Graphic Design units.

With most designers in Kenya practicing freelance, AGT aims to guide the learner into self-employment by instilling the required skills and knowledge required in the freelancing space. Learners are expected to create a potential business plan and portfolio for freelance activity. Their smaller classes and better student to teacher ratio means they provide a personalized learning experience which is essential in any creative class.

They pride themselves in encouraging experimentation and teaching students how to express and communicate their ideas. Find out eligibility criteria and more on their website.

Duration: 2 years

Course: Diploma in Graphic Design

Find out more on their website.

Buruburu Institute of Fine Arts

Buruburu Institute of Fine Arts. Image source

In every discussion about design schools in Kenya, the Buruburu Institute of Fine Arts is bound to be mentioned. This relatively small private institute boasts a large community of talented Alumni, Staff and students who only have great things to say about the school. They take on a hands-on approach to creative learning and a rich but focused curriculum that inspires and nurtures raw talent into professional designers and artists.

They also have an awesome informative website, which you’d think would be expected of a design school but the other schools in this list fall way short, with lagging and bland websites. One issue I have is that they seem to be afraid to mention what level of courses they offer on their site. I couldn’t tell if they are certificate or diploma but I found out anyway from other sources, though it’s best you enquire with them for accurate details. It’s nothing to be ashamed of guys.

They offer certificate and diploma courses in:

Drawing & Painting

Graphic Design

Interior Design

Fashion Design

Multi-Media Crafts

Sculpture Course

Fabric Decoration

Art & Design

One way to identify a great design school is the diversity of specializations on offer. It’s always a great learning experience to collaborate with different creatives and it gives you a feel of what it is to work in the industry. The Institute is located on Outering Road, Buruburu in Nairobi.

Find out more on BIFA courses on their website.

Nairobi Institute of Technology

Nairobi Institute of Technology. Image source.

The NIT offers diploma and certificate courses in Animation and Digital Media Design. They train students in Graphic Design, Multimedia content development, creation and rendering of Animations, Web development and Design.

They bring in practicing animators and designers to guide students and impart industry knowledge and skills. They also have a great technical team and well-equipped labs for content creation and software training. The diploma course spans 2 ½ years while their certificate course runs for 6 months.

The school is famous for its placement program which involves attaching students to firms and companies in their fields after their first academic year. They practice under supervision until the next semester. This helps students gain experience and workplace skills so by the time they graduate they hit the road running.

The institute is located in Westlands near PrideInn Hotel, Nairobi.

Duration: 2 ½ years for diploma and 6 months for certificate.

Course: Animation and Digital Media Design.

Find out more on their website.

Conclusion

To recap, my pick of the top 5 best graphic design and illustration schools in kenya are the University of Nairobi School of Arts and Design, Kenyatta University, Bururburu Institute of Fine Arts, Academy of Graphic Technologies and the Nairobi Institute of Technology. I hope this information helps in guiding you towards a fulfilling career as a graphic designer or Illustrator.

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