Tuesday, September 16, 2014

20 Graphic Design Art Lessons for High School Students: A Guide for Teachers

In any Graphic Design or Digital Art class, the very first lessons must introduce students to graphics software - such as Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator - and digital hardware, such as cameras and scanners. However, once students have a good handle on the equipment, where does a teacher go next? What art lessons can be taught that are meaningful, relevant and motivating, help students master software, and teach them about the professional field of Graphic Design? Here are 20 Art & Design projects that are suitable for high school students who have a basic knowledge of graphics software and hardware:

1.    Found-Object ABC (or Number) Photography
Students use digital cameras to search out (scavenger-hunt style) the ABC’s or numbers in found-objects - for instance, the support bars on the side of a swing-set could appear to be a letter ‘A’. Students upload their photos and use Photoshop to enhance each photo, emphasizing the letter or number they are showcasing. Finished photos may be printed or turned into a digital collage.

2.    Hometown Landscape Photography

I took my Graphic Design students on a field trip into the picturesque courthouse-square and downtown area of our city. You could also take students to state parks or local attractions. Students used digital cameras to highlight points of interest in our downtown area, and were told to focus on unique perspectives, angles and viewpoints. Students uploaded their photos and used Photoshop to enhance each photo, even adding visual effects and filters. Finished photos were printed, framed, and displayed in our city’s local art gallery in a special student exhibit.

3.    Manipulated Self-Portraits
Teens love to take selfies – exploit that interest with this project. Students use digital cameras to take unique photos of themselves, exhibiting unique angles, viewpoints and backgrounds. Photos are uploaded, then Photoshop is used to enhance each photo with effects and filters.

4.    Juxtaposing Self Seamlessly into Famous Artwork
Students search Internet (www.artchive.com, Wikipedia, or www.artcyclopedia.com) for a well-known artwork they are interested in using, or scan artworks from Art reference books – paintings with figures work best. Students use digital cameras to take photos of themselves in a way complementing the artwork. Students must use filters, tools and blending options to juxtapose themselves seamlessly into the artwork. I have had students print these as 8x10s, mat, and then display in the school hallway – teachers, students, and administrators alike love to look at these and comment!

5.    Juxtaposing Self Seamlessly Into Famous Historic Photograph
Discuss the movie ‘Forrest Gump’ and how digital artists had to juxtapose Tom Hanks’ character seamlessly into historic video footage. Students search Internet for well-known historic photographs or scan from history or reference books. Students use digital cameras to take photos of themselves in a way complementing the photograph. Students must use filters, tools and blending options to juxtapose themselves seamlessly into the photograph, so it appears as if they were there in person. Black and white photos work very well for this. These are also a hit when displayed in the hall.

6.    Layers-upon-Layers Digital Artwork Presenting Opinion, Issue or Viewpoint
Students decide upon an issue they have a clear opinion on, or a viewpoint they want to express. Students must express this viewpoint using multiple layers of text, graphics, effects and blending tools to design a digital artwork in a propaganda-style. Students may search internet, take photos, scan artwork or create original material for images.

7.    Me & My Clone(s):  Interactive Portrait
Students must decide upon a location and action in which to photograph themselves in various positions. A student’s teammate will photograph while the student poses in ways in which the resulting figures will be interacting when placed together in a montage. Students can interact with one clone, or two or three or more, depending on the action. Photos are uploaded and students manipulate their photos to have their clones ‘interacting’ in one location. I have had some students do this as if they are posing with themselves in a pyramid, others where they are tripping themselves in the hallway, or jumping over themselves playing leapfrog.

8.    Celebrity Airbrushing: Myself as a Magazine Cover
Students research the controversial topic of model airbrushing (and view good and bad examples of this practice). Students watch tutorials – there are plenty of appropriate and informative Photoshop tutorials on perfecting skin tone, changing hair color, adding makeup, etc. – on YouTube. Students take ‘cover photos’ with themselves as models, upload, and airbrush their photos to be cover-ready. Next, they add magazine titles, headlines and other features to design a magazine cover.

9.    New School Website & Logo Design
Most schools have logos and websites, and most of them are also outdated and old-fashioned. Students must first consider the needs and image of their school (it would be a good idea to invite the principal in as a guest speaker), and design a new logo for the school. Next, students design a new home page for their school’s website, using this new graphic. If you work carefully and professionally, you may even be able to convince those in charge to consider utilizing your students’ graphic designs.

10.  Greeting Card Design
Students choose a holiday, life event or other occasion for greeting cards, which must be researched (www.hallmark.com and www.americangreetings.com are good companies to use for research). After learning about styles and current trends, students design a series of greeting cards – including original logos and graphics.

11.  Food Styling Design
Students research food styling, then use digital cameras to take appetizing and artistic photos of their lunch (at school) or another meal (at home). These photos are uploaded, and students design advertisements, cereal boxes, product labels, menus, or magazine covers with their photos.

12.  Yearbook or Book Cover Design
Students may work with the school’s Yearbook staff, if desired, to custom-create the school’s next yearbook cover. If this is not feasible, students may choose to design the cover for their autobiography, or re-design a new cover edition for an existing book.

13.  ‘Movie About My Life’ Poster Design
Students love to imagine themselves in the movies. They will decide upon a title for their movie, the actors in it, and a basic plot – and use the Internet, cameras, and Photoshop to design the promotional movie poster, including credits, graphics, a release date, plot summary, critic review and a slogan.

14.  Corporate Identity Design
Students first research corporate design, view plenty of examples and learn the basics of graphic design in logos (color selection/meaning and typography). Students then create their own companies, and design a corporate logo, letterhead, and business cards.

15.  School Event Planning Design
Students may be given actual school events to design custom graphics for – school dances, fundraisers, Art shows, athletic events, music concerts, awards, etc – which will make their designs relevant to their school environment. If students are seniors, however, they might design graphics for their upcoming graduation or open houses. Students will be assigned to design event tickets, programs, brochures, and advertisements for the event that all show cohesive design and graphic unity between each item.

16.  School/Organization Advertising Design
Have your school’s Business Manager or Director of Development come in and talk to students about school publicity and advertising, and real ads that they must place in newspapers – such as enrollment notices, Open House ads or athletic schedules. Students must take into account school image and needs, and create a potential newspaper advertisement, promoting the school. If possible, arrange to have one of the student ads used in the actual newspaper.

17.  Record Company/CD Cover Design
Students create a record company and a band of their own, then use Photoshop to design their first CD cover. Students should take into account the style of their band’s music, as well as consumer expectations, and consider these ideas in the graphics. Designs should include the band’s name, album title, company logo, and a listing of the tracks, as well as graphics.

18.  Real Estate Advertisement Design
Students research the real-estate market in their area (use websites of local real estate brokers). Students select a property they find, and design a housing-magazine advertisement for the property, displaying the housing graphics, including descriptions, listing agents, prices, contact information, and more. It would be fantastic to have a real-estate agent come in and present to the class about how they market their listings. If it can be arranged, real-estate agents may select student promotional designs to use to market their listings.

19.  Video Game Design
High school students love video games. Each student should imagine a brand-new video game of their own, and design a screenshot of the game - showing the characters and game graphics - as well as a promotional poster, advertisement or game box design.

20.  Television Graphics Design
If feasible, invite a Graphic Designer from a local news station to come and present to the class about television graphics, the software they use, and job specifications. Students imagine a brand-new TV channel, design the logo for the evening news program, and design custom graphics for the weather forecast, ‘Breaking News’ stories, and more.

Keep in mind that to successfully teach these Graphic Design and Digital Art lessons, the Art teacher will need to have access to computers for each student, digital cameras, a good color printer, graphics software (such as Photoshop or Illustrator), the Internet, a scanner, and flash drives for students to save their own work.

High school Art students are already bombarded by thousands of visual images and propaganda on a daily basis. Thus, the idea of using computers to create Digital Art is already motivating to students – it is up to the Art teacher to harness that interest and energy into guiding them to learn about the real world profession of Graphic Design. Using any of these Art & Design lessons will be a fantastic jumping-off point for teaching students about this new, important and relevant career.


  1. Thank you! This list was very helpful. I have taught Beginning Graphic Design for 2 years and this year, we are adding an advanced class. I was looking for some new project ideas for my students that already have a grasp of Illustrator and Photoshop. Excited to try these!

  2. Great ideas and I will implement. I teach graphic design at a gifted school and these kids will LOVE these projects!