Communication Design: Illustration MA

Why choose this course?

The Communication Design Illustration MA course is structured to challenge you and your preconceptions about both illustration and design. The course place an emphasis on the patterns of research you develop and the visual methods you employ to explore and unravel briefs. You will be expected to demonstrate how you research and develop your ideas. In this context, research is not only a working process it can also be considered an outcome in its own right.

This programme asks you to examine: what, how, why and who as key factors in design thinking. This represents a shift from the traditional definition of design and illustration as a problem solving activity to a placing the focus on problem finding. The course encourages the exploration and understanding of the methods and processes at work in contemporary illustration.

This course has been designed to enhance your long-term employment possibilities through an appreciation of the changing global, technological and social context of illustration and design.

Mode Duration Attendance Start date
Full time 1 year 2 days a week September 2020
Full time 2 years including professional placement 2 days a week plus placement year September 2020
Part time 2 years Contact the course leader for details September 2020
Location Kingston School of Art, Knights Park

Reasons to choose Kingston University

  • The course is taught by practising illustrators, designers and researchers in design. They will help you develop your understanding of the relationship between illustration, words and communication.
  • You will study with students from across the Design School, building your own visual language and ‘tools' in response to briefs in each module.
  • Your learning will be supported by studio visits, tutors from industry, live projects, competitions, lectures and workshops.

What you will study

Project work will challenge you to develop and enhance your existing ways of working. You will explore the importance of research in underpinning your practice and will be encouraged to build your own visual language and ‘tools' in response to set briefs within each module. In the final stage of the course, you will propose and develop your independent major project. You will be taught by experienced academics and specialist tutors from industry who encourage you to develop your understanding of the relationship between illustration, words, pictures and their means of communication and transmission.

This specialist pathway of the Communication Design MA course is part of the School of Design's postgraduate programme. The structure - shared with students from Product & Furniture Design MA and Sustainable Design MA - enables you to explore your individual specialist interests in illustration within an integrative learning environment that provides a comprehensive understanding of the value and role of interdisciplinary methods and ways of working. The influences and impact of thinking from other related design subjects on your own specialist study is an important aspect of the identity and the community of interdisciplinary practice at masters level in the School of Design.

This structure is designed to help progress and develop your independent learning, encouraging you to construct and explore projects concerned with areas of particular personal interests. The overarching course philosophy, based upon an emphasis on research, methodology and design thinking, allows individual and personal concerns to be explored through focused study in illustration and the creation of images.

The two shared modules of the School of Design's Postgraduate Framework both commence with a symposium, in which high-profile external speakers present their work and contribute to a debate on a topic of relevance to all courses in the Framework.

Year 1

Optional placement year

Core modules

Visual Grammar, Literacy and Intelligence

30 credits

This module explores the fundamental and underpinning aspects of communication design and the key skills related to visual thinking and is intended to introduce you to the expected ways of working whilst undertaking study on the course. The module places an emphasis on the nature of individual enquiry and the process of questioning. The primary focus of the module is problem finding, and simply put at this stage of the course: the point of a good research question is a better research question. You will be required to revisit the fundamental aspects of your practice through the exploration of form and context and their relationship to how meaning is established and importantly, communicated. This will build upon your existing ways of working and is a building block in the further development of your field of operation as designer on the course and your future career. The focus during this first module is upon visual grammar and how the essential elements of visual communication are related to the relationships between objects, patterns, and processes: the manner in which things relate to each other and the viewer/user.

Your understanding of form and the (inter)relationship between word and image; how meaning is established and communicated (context) will be explored through a process of de-thinking and re-thinking whereby established ways of working and developing ideas are challenged and (re)built upon. You will be expected to demonstrate through the visual documentation you produce how you have explored and tested your ideas.

Designing Research

30 credits

The aim of the module is to give you understanding of the design research tools and methods that are available to you, to inform and support the development of your practical study, and to provide the basis of your further study on your course. Practical research methods are explored, with an emphasis on the development of creative and evidence-based approaches to experimentation, and critical reflection on practical design work.

Visual Storytelling: Narrative and Sequence

30 credits

This module encourages you to look critically at the role of storytelling within the practice of communication design, in particular the relationship between narrative and sequential thinking using visual means. Contemporary culture is influenced by rapid technological change and this has a profound effect on how we transmit, receive and understand messages and information. Increasingly the role and relationship between the single and serial image in sequential and non-sequential forms has become more significant.

The existing relationship between the image and the word has become more complex as both old and new media are (re)defined by both the means of production and transmission. These changes are creating new dialogues between users and creators in both commercial and social arenas that employ narrative/storytelling devices and techniques. Storytelling is central to the many forms of visual communication that now exist whether fixed in traditional linear and sequential ways or based in dynamic and interactive screen-based environments. This presents new challenges and opportunities to designers, in particular to develop new and sustainable ways of thinking and working that are also able to transcend the technology of the moment.

The module allows you to develop your individual practice whether you are focused on the creation of content as a key aspect of your making or whether you situate your practice in relation to the interpretation and adaption of existing 'texts' and content in the act of storytelling. It is also the understanding of the history of visual storytelling and the diverse approaches to narrativity and seriality that are influenced by culture, language and technology.

Creative Futures

30 credits

This module is based on the assumption that the best jobs/careers in the creative industries do not exist – they are invented from individual creative ambitions. The module explores how this can be approached in practical terms. The programme of study encourages you to develop a personal and critical approach to your future career, and how this can inform the development of your individual major project for the Major Project.

The Major Project

60 credits

The Major Project – the capstone project – consolidates the knowledge gained in earlier modules, and is informed by your prior learning within the Design School's postgraduate interdisciplinary framework and course-specific specialist study. You will extend your work on the course thus far in the form of a practical design proposal, defining and developing a substantive solution to an individually defined design-related problem. In so doing, you will demonstrate advanced understanding and application of contemporary design practice as it can be brought to bear on a specific challenge of sustainability.

Many postgraduate courses at Kingston University allow students to do a 12-month work placement as part of their course. The responsibility for finding the work placement is with the student; we cannot guarantee the work placement, just the opportunity to undertake it. As the work placement is an assessed part of the course, it is covered by a student's Tier 4 visa.

Find out more about the postgraduate work placement scheme.

Core modules

Professional Placement

120 credits

The Professional Placement module is a core module for those students following a masters programme that incorporates professional placement learning, following completion of 120 credits. It provides you with the opportunity to apply your knowledge and skills to an appropriate working environment, and to develop and enhance key employability skills and subject-specific professional skills in your chosen subject. You may wish to use the placement experience as a platform for your subsequent major project module, and would be expected to use it to help inform your decisions about future careers.

The information above reflects the currently intended course structure and module details. Updates may be made on an annual basis and revised details will be published through Programme Specifications ahead of each academic year. The regulations governing this course are available on our website. If we have insufficient numbers of students interested in an optional module, this may not be offered.

Entry requirements

Typical offer

What you need to apply for this course

  • Applicants should have a good BA (Hons) degree or equivalent qualification in illustration or animation or a related subject, such as fine art, graphic design, photography, printmaking, fashion or textiles.
  • A portfolio of work, must accompany your application.

Please see our Portfolio Preparation short course for help with your portfolio.


We will invite all shortlisted candidates to an interview. You will need to bring your portfolio with you. We can make alternative arrangements for international students based overseas.

Prior learning - AP(E)L

Applicants with prior qualifications and learning may be exempt from appropriate parts of a course in accordance with the University's policy for the assessment of prior learning and prior experiential learning. Contact the faculty office for further information.

English language requirements

All non-UK applicants must meet our English language requirement, which is Academic IELTS of 6.5 overall with at least 5.5 in each element. Make sure you read our full guidance about English language requirements, which includes details of other qualifications we consider.

Applicants who do not meet the English language requirements could be eligible to join our pre-sessional English language course.

Applicants from a recognised majority English speaking countries (MESCs) do not need to meet these requirements.

Teaching and assessment

You'll be strongly encouraged to develop your own informed and creative approach, taking into account contemporary research, current industry and design practices.

Guided independent study

When not attending timetabled sessions, you will be expected to continue learning independently through self-study. This typically involves reading and analysing articles, regulations, policy document and key texts, documenting individual projects, preparing coursework assignments and completing your PEDRs, etc.

Your independent learning is supported by a range of excellent facilities including online resources, the library and CANVAS, the University's online virtual learning platform.

Support for postgraduate students

At Kingston University, we know that postgraduate students have particular needs and therefore we have a range of support available to help you during your time here.


7.7% of your time is spent in timetabled teaching and learning activity.

Type of teaching and learning

Type of teaching and learning
  • Scheduled teaching and learning: 230 hours
  • Guided independent study: 2220 hours
  • Placement: 550 hours

How you will be assessed

Assessment typically comprises of project work, visual research, written project report/summary, exhibition, and final major project. The approximate percentage for how you will be assessed on this course depends to some extent on the optional modules you choose.

Type of assessment

Type of assessment
  • Coursework: 100%

Feedback summary

We aim to provide feedback on assessments within 20 working days.

Who teaches this course?

You'll be taught by academics who are practising designers and researchers. There is also a regular programme of professional lectures and studio visits. Postgraduate students may also contribute to the teaching of seminars under the supervision of the module leader.


There is a wide range of fantastic facilities at Knights Park, where this course is based. Teaching is mainly studio-based so you will spend a lot of your time in the illustration studios, but you will also have access to:

  • a life room for drawing practice
  • fully-equipped film/animation studio
  • printmaking equipment – including equipment for relief, intaglio, screen printing and photographic-based imaging
  • photography equipment – including for digital printing
  • whitespace film studio – with animation programmes, animo, toon boom and 2D packages
  • a general wood and metalwork workshop

Find out more about the Kingston School of Art at Knights Park campus in the virtual tour.

Computer workshops include:

  • Mac software – Adobe Creative Suite
  • editing programmes – including media 100 and final cut PRO
  • compositing programmes – including After effects, Combustion, 3D Animation, 3D Animation and 3D Studio MAX

You will also benefit from:

  • well-equipped lecture theatres, seminar rooms and workshops
  • the library's extensive book and journal collection, including over 150,000 slides and visual references dating back to the 1600s
  • the dedicated Graduate Centre on campus – including IT facilities, seminar rooms and social spaces

The University has its own on-site galleries, including:

Resources in London

Kingston is just a 30-minute train journey away from central London. Here you can access a wealth of exhibitions and galleries, including the Cartoon Museum and the National Film Theatre.

Fees for this course

Home and European Union 2020/21

  • MA full time £9,500
  • MA part time £5,225

Overseas (not EU) 2020/21

  • MA full time £17,600
  • MA part time £9,680

Fees for the optional placement year

If you choose to take a placement as part of this course, you will be invoiced for the placement fee in Year 2. Find out more about the postgraduate work placement scheme and the costs for the placement year.

Funding and bursaries

Kingston University offers a range of postgraduate scholarships, including:

If you are an international student, find out more about scholarships and bursaries.

We also offer the following discounts for Kingston University alumni:

After you graduate

This course helps prepare you for roles in the creative industries. Some students follow a traditional path of freelance illustrators; others pursue a wide range of careers, such as:

  • art directors
  • illustrators
  • graphic designers
  • web developers
  • app developers
  • teaching
  • work in editorial art departments
  • work in book publishing art departments
  • fine artists
  • animators
  • work in theatre and set production
  • tattoo artists

What our graduates say

When I visited Kingston for an Open Day I felt at home. The atmosphere was positive and friendly, the campus had a great feel with ample facilities and lots of creative inspiration.

The course was completely transformative; my thinking and approach towards illustration has never developed and matured so rapidly. This is reflected in my work.

The teaching is excellent. Tutors facilitate a supportive, open and experimental environment. Projects are extremely well structured to allow students to question and test their understanding whilst progressing their technical ability and skills base.

I have met dozens of like-minded people and made friends for life. I would completely recommend this experience to anyone looking to progress their career and carve a new path in the world.

Maisie Noble from London

If you want to develop your thought and style, this course will be right for you. Throughout the course I was able to experiment well and think more deeply. Every module allowed me to think in order to pass to the next level, which was hard at first. However, I learned through the process more than I expected.

I am very pleased that I chose Kingston and I met my lovely tutors and peers. The tutors always cheered me up and gave me suitable references to help my project. I had the opportunity to make everything in both the printmaking studio and the 3D workshop, regardless of material. It was great!


Hoyong Sol from South Korea

I came to this course with a background in film. During the previous couple of years my interest in illustration had grown and I wanted to try my hand at improving my practice. The course offered me a way to experiment with illustration that took me to unexpected places and outcomes. However, I never felt a lack of confidence due to my background. I was encouraged to build on my previous experiences and almost 're-learn' the way I worked as a designer. The experience was intensive, but I never felt a lack of support.

Ryan Dethy from the USA

I have gained so much from doing this MA at Kingston. The course has helped me deconstruct my creative practice, so that I can understand how I work and then build stronger and more effective methods for creating meaningful visuals. I developed better visual research skills, learnt to critically reflect, evaluate, question and test all the way through, while practising and improving my drawing skills.

With the emphasis taken off style and outcome and with space for mistakes, I was able to really examine content generation and how to communicate ideas visually. 

Jasmine Parker from London

The MA experience at Kingston University has been precious, particularly for the chance of meeting and working with people from different design backgrounds and with varied skill sets. I found the emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration and teamwork provided useful training to prepare me for the jobs market.

Chiara Sacchi from Italy

It's fantastic to study MA Illustration here! The faculties are good and the staff are helpful. In this year, I have learned a lot, especially the critical thinking methods!

Yihan Wang from China

My previous degree was a BA based on film and radio. After this I found myself moving towards image-making and illustration. I'd been considering a masters in Communication Design for a while because I felt that there was much more that I needed to learn.

Kingston was definitely the best choice. Being motivated into experimenting with techniques and materials has helped me discover new ways of working and thinking. The support, advice and encouragement from the tutors was amazing and made the degree a great experience. I've noticed my confidence increase but also identified how to work on any potential weaknesses.

At times the course has been challenging and intense, but that has made it all the more worthwhile. I have learnt so much in my time at Kingston.

Roxy Leaver from London

For me, Kingston offered the greatest programme, in terms of content and quality. The course covered both practical and academic elements, both of which are important for creative communication.

The modules cover many different interests, the tutors are enthusiastic and engaging, and the facilities for practical work are great. We can use all the facilities to make good structures for illustration, such as the printmaking studio, 3D workshops and the academic library.


Ran Kim from South Korea

This course at Kingston Uni has been by far the best I have ever attended! There are competent and knowledgeable tutors, great facilities and the location is close to all of London's museums, exhibition and education spaces.

Cathrine Bowitz from London

Links with business and industry

This course and the Design School have strong and well-established links to the design industry both nationally and internationally. This is significant as many of our students are from overseas. After graduating they often return to a wide range of international locations. Course modules address the changing nature of communication design in the global workplace.

The course works in collaboration with organisations and business. Recent projects include working with Illy Coffee in Italy to produce a magazine that was distributed around Europe and with Draught Associates in London who reviewed portfolios, provided professional guidance and offered internships.

Competitions are offered as part of the course, providing opportunities for students who wish to add to their portfolio.

The course has developed collaborative projects with Hongik University in Korea. This has included a focus on the use of new technologies to create professional networks and new opportunities for designers.