Visual Communication - MA
Our MA Visual Communication course is interdisciplinary and specialist in approach, reflecting the dynamic and contemporary practices within the creative industries. We create innovators and leaders in the field of visual communication, challenging and stimulating you to produce original, cutting edge work and research....
Studying with us in 2021/22
It is possible that the 2021/22 academic year may be affected by the ongoing disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Information about the arrangements the University has put in place for the 2021/22 academic year in response to Covid-19 and the emerging variants can be found here.
Should the impact of Covid-19 continue in subsequent years of your course, any additional and/or alternative arrangements put in place by the University in response will be in accordance with the latest government public health advice, pandemic-related/health and safety legislation, and the terms and conditions of the student contract.
Our MA Visual Communication course is interdisciplinary and specialist in approach, reflecting the dynamic and contemporary practices within the creative industries. We create innovators and leaders in the field of visual communication, challenging and stimulating you to produce original, cutting edge work and research.
The structure of our course is designed with imaginative approaches to visual practice in the creative industries.
What's covered in this course?
You'll be able to specialise by choosing one of 5 awards:
- MA Visual Communication
- MA Visual Communication (Photography)
- MA Visual Communication (Graphic Communication)
- MA Visual Communication (Illustration)
- MA Visual Communication (Film & Animation)
As a creative practitioner you are inspired to create and engage with industry alongside taught elements. Throughout the course you will have the chance to develop deep specialist knowledge in graphic communication, photography, illustration, film and animation, and research. The course provides an immersive and advanced learning experience for both advanced practitioners and recent graduates within the broad field of visual communication.
Our visual communication Master's course is designed to provide you with the best possible chance to further your skills and widen your knowledge of the communication arts and industries. The programme is rooted in practice, teaching you interdisciplinary design and research processes.
The variety of subjects covered within this degree allows you to receive guidance in forming a more specific interest for Master's level study. Whether you have a definitive subject in mind, or you have a broader interest in the study of visual communication, the programme is both interdisciplinary and specialist in approach, echoing the dynamic changes within its related industries.
As a school we have strong industry connections which include live partnerships and collaborative projects. We have ongoing dynamic dialogues with international players in the creative industries. These leading professionals have provided us with direct feedback, identifying our programmes as world-class models of creative education and fully supporting contemporary practice in an international context.
We have a continuously developing and progressive vision of employability. We feel that as a creative practitioner you will need to adapt and respond to the demands of industry.
Why Choose Us?
- The School of Visual Communication is one of the largest of its kind in the UK, with an international student body.
- Based in the Parkside Building, we offer outstanding facilities such as a Hollywood-standard MILO unit - one of only two owned by universities in Europe.
- Here at the School of Visual Communication, your knowledge will develop, you will be challenged and your creative practices will thrive. Graduates of our MA Visual Communication course have produced meaningful work that is ground breaking within the creative industries.
- You will enhance your research knowledge and skill with the chance to take on further study at PhD level.
- You will be supported by a high-profile group of practitioners, theorists, academics and professionals in the creative and cultural industries who will enable you to realise your potential.
- Our involvement with the visual arts, culture and institutions extends to staff and students exhibiting in major venues such as The REP, The Ikon Gallery, The Venice Biennale, The Hong Kong Design Institute and the Shanghai Biennale, and working in community-based art initiatives across the world.
- Our Masters graduates have located themselves across the globe, including Shanghai, Spain, Malaysia, London, Hong Kong, Birmingham, India, Kuwait, Thailand and Taiwan to name but a few. We are a truly global Master course.
An undergraduate degree (2.1 and above) in the same subject, or a very closely related subject, equivalent qualifications or professional experience.
A digital portfolio that shows examples of creative visual work, including developmental work and final outcomes. Please include at least 15-20 pieces highlighting your area of practice.
As part of your application please include the following:
Fees & How to Apply
- UK students
- International students
Starting: Jan 2022
- Full Time
- 1 year
- £7,700 per year
- Full Time
- 18 months (including Professional Placement - see below*)
- £8,500 per year
Starting: Jan 2022
- Full Time
- 1 year
- £13,200 per year
- Full Time
- 18 months (including Professional Placement - see below*)
- £14,520 per year
Access to computer equipment
You will require use of a laptop, and most students do prefer to have their own. However, you can borrow a laptop from the university or use one of our shared computer rooms.
You will receive £5 print credit in each year of your course, available after enrolment.
All essential field trips and associated travel costs will be included in your course fees.
Access to Microsoft Office 365
Every student at the University can download a free copy of Microsoft Office 365 to use whilst at university and for 18 months after graduation.
You will be able to download SPSS and Nvivo to your home computer to support with your studies and research.
Subscriptions to key journals and websites are available through our library.
Free access to Rosetta Stone
All students can sign up to the online learning language platform for free through the Graduate+ scheme.
Free Adobe Creative Cloud licence
Students studying on this course can request a free licence to install the entire suite of applications on up to two personal devices.
Project materials (mandatory)
This course includes project work that requires you to develop and produce a portfolio or collection. You'll be expected to provide the materials for use in your individual major projects; costs will vary depending on the materials selected.
Excess printing (optional)
Once you have spent your £5 credit, additional printing on campus costs from 5p per sheet.
Field trips (optional)
This course includes the option of additional trips that may enhance your experience, at extra cost.
Personal equipment (optional)
Whilst not essential is it adviced you own a computer or laptop capable of design and video editing.
Accommodation and living costs
The cost of accommodation and other living costs are not included within your course fees. More information on the cost of accommodation can be found in our accommodation pages.
*Professional Placement option
The Professional Placement version of the course is optional and is offered as an alternative to the standard version of the course.
This will allow you to complete a credit bearing, 20 week Professional Placement as an integral part of your Master’s Degree. The purpose of the Professional Placement is to improve your employability skills which will, through the placement experience, allow you to evidence your professional skills, attitudes and behaviours at the point of entry to the postgraduate job market. Furthermore, by completing the Professional Placement, you will be able to develop and enhance your understanding of the professional work environment, relevant to your chosen field of study, and reflect critically on your own professional skills development within the workplace.
You will be responsible for finding and securing your own placement. The University, however, will draw on its extensive network of local, regional and national employers to support you in finding a suitable placement to complement your chosen area of study. You will also benefit from support sessions delivered by Careers+ as well as advice and guidance from your School.
Placements will only be confirmed following a competitive, employer-led selection process, therefore the University will not be able to guarantee placements for students who have registered for the ‘with Professional Placement’ course. All students who do not find a suitable placement or do not pass the competitive selection process will be automatically transferred back to the standard, non-placement version of the course.
Your portfolio might be viewed when you are not present, so make sure it is easy to use. Your name and a title on the outside will be useful, this also helps to distinguish the front from the back. Most importantly, do not worry, this is your showcase.
Be relevant, be current and show the most recent things that you have been working on. Include relevant work related to the subject area of interest. Know about the course you are applying for. Show ideas generation, experimentation and risk taking. Within your portfolio, are you able to demonstrate knowledge of the subject discipline, practitioners and individuals that have inspired you? It’s sometimes very useful to unfinished projects and on-going projects, as this is an indicator of commitment to your subject and yourself.
Think about the basics
Show examples of paintings, drawings, photographs, three-dimensional work, time-based work and anything else relevant to the area of practice. Show your web presence, social media interactions and the competitions that you might have entered.
Tell a story
Try to show one full project from start to finish with the preparatory drawings, ideas, contact sheets etc. Annotations are helpful as they show how you research and reflect on the development of your work.
Include three or four final pieces that you are able to talk about in some depth.
If you have any written work, please include this. A PDF of your dissertation is good to read.
Include sketchbooks. These will give us an understanding of how you think (through your annotations) and allow us to see the development of your drawing. (If your portfolio is digital, photograph or scan the pages from your sketchbooks and put them into a PDF).
Download our checklist to help you to complete your application.
Students are required to submit a personal statement as part of their application for this course.
Your postgraduate personal statement is going to shine a light on your personal experience, academic success, personal skills and any other factors that will support your application for further study.
Here are the key areas you’ll need to address:
Your passion and motivations
Studying a postgraduate course usually means you want to specialise in something. So what’s driving you?
Why this course?
Show that you’ve researched the course offering. What is it about this particular course that appeals to you? Is it the lecturers? The modules? Etc.
What makes you a good postgraduate candidate?
Tutors want to know that you can handle postgraduate study, so show them how your undergraduate experiences or work life has equipped you for a more advanced level of study. Key areas to address are research and group work but this can vary depending on your chosen course.
Relevant academic or work experience
Add anything relevant that relates back to your chosen course and shows how your skills will contribute towards your learning. What extra-curricular activities have you taken part in? What awards have you won? What employment or voluntary experience do you have that has helped you develop transferable skills? How do these specifically relate to the course you are applying for?
You should also mention your future plans and how a postgraduate qualification fits in. Try to look beyond your postgraduate study – do you plan to jump straight into a specific career or follow your studies with a research degree? Lastly, use plain, professional English and, where possible, utilise the language of your chosen industry.
Get more information on writing personal statements.
Course in Depth
In order to complete this course you must successfully complete all the following CORE modules (totalling 160 credits):
This module develops analytical, reflective and evaluative design skills, which, through creative thinking, experimentation and iterative design processes, enables you to define your specialist area(s) of professional practice.
This module develops deeper analytical and evaluative skills, promoting critical awareness within your specialism, and advancing your professional relationships through engagement with externally generated professional briefs (Competition or Live), OR self-directed negotiated proposals or brief(s).
The process of constructing and delivering a lecture or other creative forms of presentation to a peer group is an immersive learning process. It requires advanced subject knowledge and a critical thinking approach. Peer learning is a fundamental component of this module.
The purpose of the module is to enable you to undertake a sustained, in-depth and theoretically informed research project exploring an area that is of personal interest to you. It is important that we can support you appropriately, so you will be guided towards choosing a research topic which is relevant to your discipline and in which your lecturers have expertise. The outcome may take the form of a written dissertation or a practical outcome with accompanying reflective, critical and contextual material. The main consideration when choosing your topic is that it must be relevant to your programme and you should consider the relevance of this topic to your future academic or professional development.
In order to complete this course you must successfully complete at least 20 credits from the following indicative list of OPTIONAL modules.
This module emphasises learning that is achieved through an integrated understanding of theory and practice, including the systematic exploration and analysis of current and historical media and practice. This will be achieved through advanced scholarship within, and beyond, your specialist practice, applying a rigorous critical perspective.
Core modules are guaranteed to run. Optional modules will vary from year to year and the published list is indicative only.
Our MA in Visual Communication course is delivered over one year for full-time students. You will study for three semesters, each semester takes place over a 15 week period.
The processes of design thinking - research, analysis, evaluation, creativity, craft and production - across all specialisms within visual communication are central to this course.
You'll have the chance to learn in our Research & Development labs that we've developed as a result of our partnerships with organisations, practitioners and industry. The labs allow you to take part in learning, teaching, research, innovation and professional development within visual communication.
Learning will be achieved through the development of a critical understanding of practice. You will be taught methods that will cover the systematic analysis of media and practice, and the determining of key and advanced practice-based principles. You will establish evaluative criteria and learn how to apply your knowledge to practice.
Here at the School of Visual Communication, we aspire to make you feel comfortable by encouraging a sense of community. We use one room for all meetings and teaching, to offer space for lectures and workshops as well as group work. We strongly believe that the support of a learning community will encourage you to take risks and be innovative in your work.
As a Master's student you will engage with external associates and develop strategies that will aid in the implementation of your research and craft skills, and of your knowledge and practice.
A team of committed, enthusiastic and experienced staff deliver the programme. In addition, we welcome external academics, creative practitioners and other in-house staff that will provide you with a wealth of industry knowledge, research opportunities, skills and influence.
Once you have established your specialist area of visual communication, you will receive specialised support from expert individuals within the School.
Classroom activities will include critical writing workshops, research development activities, micro projects, case studies and student lecture presentations.
A photographer who has shot internationally for over 25 years. He has won many awards for his work including the Association of Photographers' Gold, multiple Design and Art Direction (D&AD) awards for photography, as well as winning at the London Photographic Awards and the Sun Awards.
Enhancing Employability Skills
This course enables you to develop your practice within the field of visual communication. You will do so through a range of relective learning methods that will enhance advanced subject knowledge, developing your creative and innovative thinking, critical awareness and analytical practice. You will gain a comprehensive understanding of techniques applicable to your own research and advanced scholarship.
You will establish a deep and clear understanding of how meaning is constructed with visual communication, across a range of media. You will acquire the skill and knowledge to produce meaningful and creative visual work within your own specialism.
The course will encourage you to challenge yourself, exceed your boundaries and produce work that is original, and significant. You will develop as a creative individual equipped not only for a career in your specialism, but with transferable skills which will benefit a whole range of professional contexts. Through research theory and practice, you will develop new knowledge that will pave the way for imaginative visual communication research. You will be able to engage directly with industry, with the possibility of collaborations, much like recent graduate Diane Maybey. Diane published work in partnership with Birmingham Children's Hospital. She also produced an environmental therapeutic illustration for CAMHS Leicester Partnership Trust and is currently studying her PhD, researching into Therapeutic Storytelling.
While placements are not a compulsary aspect to this course we will encourage you and expect you to continuously engage with external associates such as practitioners, employers, clients and researchers. We feel that it is vital that you develop your own connections with the creative industries, expanding your network and providing opportunities for work.
OpportUNIty: Student Jobs on Campus ensures that our students are given a first opportunity to fill many part-time temporary positions within the University. This allows you to work while you study with us, fitting the job around your course commitments. By taking part in the scheme, you will gain valuable experiences and employability skills, enhancing your prospects in the job market.
It will also allow you to become more involved in University life by delivering, leading and supporting many aspects of the learning experience, from administration to research and mentoring roles.
Our graduates have gone on to work within the communication industries, both within the UK and further afield. The nature of the programme provides students with the skills to either undertake further study at PhD level, or develop careers as innovative practitioners in the industry. We have graduates working in locations across the world, applying their expertise internationally, in countries such as India, Thailand, China, Spain, Malaysia and the UK.
As a School, we are very proud of the professional creative practitioners that we produce, and we stay in contact with our graduates. More than half of our graduates have recently become employed within a visual communication company at senior or mid-management level, with others working freelance, starting their own businesses, taking on further placements or progressing to PhD level.
Birmingham City University is a vibrant and multicultural university in the heart of a modern and diverse city. We welcome many international students every year – there are currently students from more than 80 countries among our student community.
The University is conveniently placed, with Birmingham International Airport nearby and first-rate transport connections to London and the rest of the UK.
Our international pages contain a wealth of information for international students who are considering applying to study here, including:
Our students come from across the globe. We have many from Asia, Europe and the United Kingdom.
Students come to study in the School of Visual Communication from all over the world and we have nurtured some long-standing relationships with Malaysia, Thailand, China and India.
If you are a student from these, or any other countries, you should consider studying with us as we offer a wide curriculum that has internationalisation built into the MA modules. We actively encourage learning across creative disciplines and live briefs. We have also established relationships with numerous colleges and industry overseas.
Our international students
Yifan has become a bestselling graphic artist and was given a Professional Achievement Award at the Education UK Alumni Awards 2016, organised by the British Council.
More widely known by her pen name, Buddy, Yifan has been creating manga comics professionally for several years. During this time, she has published more than 20 books internationally and her online manga story ‘Guarding’ has been viewed by over 110 million people.
Facilities and Staff
Our visual communication degrees are housed in the state of the art £62 million Parkside Building, part of our City Centre Campus.
We offer extensive studio and workshop space and cutting-edge equipment such as Vicon 3D (an external tracking motion capture facility) and Gypsy (an exoskeleton-based motion capture system). Both of these systems extend the possibility for production of 3D animation and films.
You will enjoy access to our Hollywood standard MILO unit. We were the first School of Visual Communication in Europe to offer MILO motion capture technology, now one of only two owned by Universities in Europe.
We offer cutting-edge provision such as digital print centres and Sonny Ross became the first student on the Visual Communication course to master the art of the RISO machine. He has since used this to produce many successful RISO publications including “Rojo & Baxter” which has been a success at various zine and book fairs across the country.
The Parkside Building also offers:
- exhibition space
- digital and analogue photographic facilities and studios
- dark rooms
Associate Professor – International | Course Director - Postgraduate Studies
As Course Director for postgraduate studies within The School of Visual Communication, and as part of The Birmingham Institute of Creative Arts, Robert teaches across a range of subjects, with specialist areas including Photography, Fine Art, Curation, and Art & Design history.More about Robert
Professor Andrew Kulman
Principal Lecturer in Visual Communication
Principal Lecturer and Professor of Graphic Art. Award winning Illustrator with 30 years of industry engagement. Currently Head of Undergraduate Studies in the School of Visual Communication. Responsible for developing courses in the School of Art and initiating several outreach programmes for the University. Research areas include the development of autographic print processes in contemporary graphic art practice.More about Andrew
Robert Sharl is a Senior Lecturer in Visual Communications in the School of Visual Communications at Birmingham City University’s Faculty of Art, Media and Design. He is also Deputy Director for the MA in Visual Communication, and Course Coordinator for the University’s partner course in Visual Communications at the School for Higher and Professional Education (SHAPE) in Hong Kong. He joined the University in 1999.
Robert Sharl is changing the way that industry and the School of Visual Communications collaborate. Instead of having external businesses being a plug-in part to the students’ timetable, he puts the University to be at the centre of creative activities in the city. It means that major events, such as the Flatpack Festival – a film festival that is held in Birmingham, are integrated into the curriculum.
“In the last couple of years, we have started to structure our courses around the external communication with industry. It is a great benefit to both our students and the course. We are structuring our course around the commercial and professional world, ensuring that these events are central to what we do. It means that students can document aspects of the festival or event, as well as interview practitioners or assist in it.”
Before he was a lecturer, Robert ran a consultancy business that focused on digital, online and interactive media. He helped to develop the first cyber café in the city and was instrumental in making the Custard Factory the first public building in the UK permanently connected to the Internet. He worked as a consultant for Digital Central, helping music industry professional’s access funding for projects. He is working on a number of projects with Hong Kong photographer, Kwan Chun In.More about Robert
Deputy Course Leader MA Visual Communication
Matt is an experienced and dynamic creative producer, director and writer. His areas of expertise lie in film and narrative. He has major international feature film credits and a strong track record in critically acclaimed and commercially successful cinema. Matt has worked as a producer in Europe and America, and has extensive knowledge of film and other related industries.More about Matt
More about Naomi
Becky has over twenty years of professional experience working internationally across several disciplines; graphic design, fashion communication, textile design and interior design.
Becky is undertaking PhD research in typography letterpress printing and is developing experimental typographic research practice. Recent and ongoing projects include the Letterpress Workers publication, Design Manchester group exhibition, Open_Collab Global and a collaborative project with Patrick Thomas. This extensive professional experience and PhD research directly informs Becky’s teaching. With eighteen years experience in teaching at several HE and FE institutions, Becky is currently working on a part time basis on the BA Graphic Communication and MA Visual Communication programmes in the School of Visual Communication. In 2017, she set up Print Club Birmingham, an experimental print workshop to encourage collaborative and explorative ways to approach Graphic Communication. Print Club Birmingham now sees projects with different colleges, universities and industry professionals such as Anthony Burrill, Malcolm Garrett, The Print Project, Extinction Rebellion, Print Club Torino, Patrick Thomas and Birmingham Design Festival. Becky is a member of the Letterpress Workers, an international group committed to working with and in traditional typesetting and printing methods, participating in an annual
summit and exhibitions. Becky has recently presented papers at MakeReady2020, an international letterpress educators conference and the Valencia Design Educators Forum 2020, and enjoying sharing experiences and practices within a community of designers, printers, typographers, creatives, educators, colleagues and students.More about Becky
Lecturer in Language and Culture
Carla is a full-time lecturer in Language and Culture and a part-time PhD researcher originally from Argentina. With over twenty years’ experience of teaching and lecturing, Carla has worked with a wide range of students in UK and overseas. Carla gained a First Class Honours degree in Fine Art and Art History before completing an MA in Contemporary Art, TEFL course and Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice. She subsequently began her PhD Practice-led Photography research at Middlesex University exploring the ethics of photography within the ethnographic turn in the arts.
Carla teaches Contextualised Language and Academic Skills for international students in the Faculty of Arts, Design and Media.More about Carla