Course details

Study options

Full-time: 4 Years, Part-time: 6 Years

UK/EU fee

£9,250 per year* (2020/21)

International fee

£14,045 per year (2020/21)

UCAS points

120 (September 2020 entry)

UCAS code


Course level




Start date



Markeaton Street, Derby Campus

If you do not achieve the typical entry points required, you may want to consider studying this course with foundation year.

View with foundation year optionView with foundation year option

Course description

What is an MDes?

This is a four-year studio practice based course, incorporating undergraduate study and leading to a Masters qualification.

You will be eligible for a UG student loan for fees and maintenance for all four years of study. This is a good opportunity to achieve a postgraduate qualification making you one-step ahead in the graduate jobs market. On successful completion of the undergraduate modules of the programme you will be guaranteed progression to study at Masters level, as one learning journey, rather than having to apply.

If you change your mind during the first three years of the programme you can transfer back to the relevant BA and complete with a BA qualification. Masters depth of study provides more focused specialist knowledge, which is highly respected by employers. The later stages of the four-year course include professional engagement opportunities, helping you to establish your graduate career whilst you are still a student.

The first 2.5 years are taught alongside the BA undergraduates in your specialist discipline of Illustration and then for the final 1.5 years you will study Masters level modules in your subject discipline.

The integrated learning journey through undergraduate to postgraduate encourages you to be committed from the early stages, identifying yourself as an ambitious deep thinker, risk taker and innovative practitioner. The four-year course will give you more time and opportunity for in-depth practice as well as academic research and study.

About the course

You'll explore sequential and interactive image making, 2D and 3D animation, narrative, timing, creative storytelling, character design, the web, scripting, sound, and the historical and contemporary context of your work. You will gain professional knowledge and skills in the creative application of digital software for animation, experimenting with state of the art equipment and resources that are constantly updated.

During your final year you'll produce in depth, challenging and original creative ideas through a final major project. You will consider the ethical impact of your practice and individuality as a designer, by questioning and challenging what the subject can be and pushing boundaries.

We’re ranked 15th highest amongst all UK universities and 12th for English institutions with 96% of graduates in work or further study within six months of completing their degree: HESA 2016.

Logo celebrating 21 years of Illustration at Derby
Artwork by 3rd year MDES students Richard Ivens.

21 Years in the Making

In January 2019, we proudly celebrated 21 years since the Illustration course was established at Derby with an exhibition titled "21 Years in the Making."

The exhibition tracked back through the 21 years and celebrated the successes of the programme alumni, staff, technicians, and current students while presenting the diverse and innovative approaches to Illustration that began at the University in 1997. 


All art and design courses are based at our Markeaton Street site where modern, purpose built studios and labs provide a modern creative space for our arts students. Markeaton Street encompasses Chandos Pole Street (home to our Fashion and Textiles courses) and Britannia Mill (home to Fine Arts and our print-making facilities). Students on any of our theatre related courses also get to study at Derby Theatre, and Dance students study at Deda.

Markeaton Street is a 15 minute walk from Kedleston Road, and is serviced by regular free site shuttle buses.

Explore our facilities through our Virtual Tour:

Markeaton Street

Art and Design creative spaces

A student drawing in her sketchpad

What you will study

Year 1Year 1Year 2Year 2Year 3Year 3Year 4Year 4

Code: 4VC515

Creative Curiosity

As an illustrator what makes you curious? How do we use drawing and image making? How can you visualise? What materials do we use? What new materials can we discover? And how do we use them? You will be challenged to explore a broad range of methods, making and materials, experimenting with various visual approaches. Through experimentation and exploration, you will gain an understanding of meaning and communication in creating work.

Practical projects requiring observation, experimentation and making will enable you to gain an understanding of design process and spatial awareness for layout, composition and communication.

You will discover the ability to experiment with a wide variety of methods of recording, collecting and manipulating visual material and a fundamental resource of abilities and understanding for future modules.

You will challenge yourself to create practical projects that will require you to visually investigate creative tasks, through collecting and recording visual material, using processes such as digital, printmaking, photography, found objects and drawing.

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20 Credits

Code: 4VC516

Understanding Illustration

What is a contemporary illustrator? How do we begin to understand the strengths of Illustration? How do we use them? What is the significance of personal voice and how do we develop it?

You will be introduced to the fundamentals of being an illustrator and gain an awareness of your own developing visual language. You will establish and identify your own strengths and interests within Illustration. Module sessions will encourage you to evaluate and redefine what an illustrator is in order to become more curious about your subject.

You will be encouraged to question and challenge the role of the illustrator? You will also be encouraged to closely consider the context of illustration outcomes through practical projects.

The module will include software introductions, as well as directed and self-directed exploration of a range of appropriate software at an introductory level, to establish familiarisation and independent experimentation. The knowledge and skills acquired will underpin and support the development of your ways of working across your practical outcomes in this module.

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40 Credits

Code: 4VC517

Illustration: Concepts

What are the perceived outcomes of illustration? And how can you challenge these? You will explore methods and means of visual problem solving in illustration. You will work in an active creative community developing working methods to resolve communication problems.

You will challenge the illustrative outcomes and concepts of the subject and the be encouraged to experiment and extend your developing ways of working, to understand the design process, leading to practical creative outcomes in a broad range of methods and media including digital image making and moving image, drawing, printmaking and letterforms.

The module encourages critical consideration of how images communicate ideas. You will gain an understanding of audience and purpose in devising visual communication solutions. Through experimentation, risk taking and testing, you will understand the importance of visual research.

You will complete a series of projects that explore the wide array of disciplines within Illustration. Opportunities will require you to re-evaluate the role of the illustrator, to explore subject connections and to diversify your interest in the discipline.

You will be encouraged to consider your work within an historical and contemporary context. The project outcomes should reflect your understanding of the context of the work and will require effective and appropriate research to resolve the project briefs.

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40 Credits

Code: 4VC518

Illustration: History and Culture

This module introduces the fascinating history of Illustration. It will help broaden your knowledge on Illustration and provide rich material for you to be considering as a developing practitioner. We consider how historical contexts have influenced Illustration, but, also, importantly, how Illustration has itself shaped culture and society. At this level, the module encourages you to embrace ways of seeing how Illustration may impact on the world, in both the past and present.

Specific historical periods are identified in which the dissemination of illustration is examined in relation to technological, socio-cultural and political contexts.

The module encourages you to consider the usefulness of the history of Illustration in relation to your own practice.

Learning will take place in the contexts of slide-lectures, gallery visits, seminars and tutorials and we will focus on the close study of illustration. Academic assignments will be set which will foster development of skills in researching, essay writing, intellectual discussion and visual analysis.

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20 Credits

Code: 5VC504

Directed Projects in Illustration

This double module offers you the opportunity to apply your developing working methods and the design process to a range of practical projects, within the specialist subject of Illustration. The aim of the module is to increase your knowledge of the subject of Illustration.

Through experimentation with methods and media, the projects are designed to help you to apply your work to the many forms illustration can take. You will be encouraged to push the boundaries of the subject, to challenge what has gone before and to develop your own personal agenda, concepts and ideas in making work.

The module will provide advanced practical workshop sessions and supported experimentation such as digital media, printmaking, etc. Enabling you to explore in greater depth processes and working methods relevant to the development of your approach to your practical work and personal voice.

Studio based project work will be supported by group work checks, seminars, workshops and visiting lecturers. A portfolio of practical work will be produced and your outcomes should evidence an increasing understanding of contemporary and historical trends.

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40 Credits

Code: 5VC505

Professional Practice

This module explores and considers the many facets of each of the three Visual Communication programmes, Graphic Design, Illustration and Animation and introduces you to the professional external world of your practice specialism. You will learn more about the professional skills necessary to a career in your chosen subject and will begin to explore the main options open to you on graduation.

Your Personal Development Plan, begun in the module Graphic Design, Illustration or Animation Practice, you will be encouraged to be reflective and increasingly aware of your strengths, weaknesses and transferable skills, to define your personal identity as a designer.

Tutorials and group seminars will provide you with projects and workshops that challenge your promotional and networking skills in your subject area. This will prepare you for your future and increase your initiative, confidence and autonomy.

You will be encouraged to work on collaborative cross-disciplinary projects in order for you to begin networking and broadening your internal and external contacts. There will be study visits to exhibitions, visiting speakers, conferences and related events as appropriate.

Additionally, this module will provide you with the opportunity to relate your academic knowledge and vocational skills to the professional work environment.

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20 Credits

Code: 5VC507

Visual Culture: Theory

This module will further develop the ideas and knowledge introduced in the module “Visual Culture: History”. The module will introduce various theories that are commonly attached to the study of visual culture and the disciplines of art and design. We will consider how “critical theory” can help us to analyse visual material with a higher level of understanding, your understanding of visual culture will be extended by looking at the ways in which visual communication produces and reproduces ideologies of culture, society, politics and economics.

We will also study the ways in which visual communication challenges or resists dominant social and cultural values. We will work towards applying various theories in order to analyse works by visual practitioners, so as to better understand their work and what may be learned from it.

There will be an emphasis on undertaking scholarly research on critical theory alongside detailed research on specific visual practitioners. Working in this way will help you to explore the relationships between theory and practice.

Learning will take place in the contexts of slide-lectures, seminars and tutorials and we will focus on the close study of images. You will undertake written assignments as well as an oral seminar presentation.

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20 Credits

Code: 5VC500

Design Strategies

This double module focuses on design strategies for a broad range of formats and purposes. The module will explore print based design solutions, including; magazines, books and posters, literature and identity and new media formats and digital environments. You will be encouraged to experiment within this area to identify your strengths, interests and potential.

Module sessions will explore considerations of audience, including; readability, information hierarchy and usability, through effective typography, layout and control of aesthetic considerations in persuasive communication. Understanding of the context of outcomes and the forms they take will be established and you will be encouraged to challenge the norms of mass communication in your experiments and outcomes.

In response to given themes, you will also be challenged to self-author projects, taking control of the concept from the initial intended communication to the fully resolved outcome.

Critical evaluation of the communication value and historical and contemporary context of your work will form an important element of the learning in this module. This will be extended and supported by group work checks, seminars, workshops and visiting lecturers.

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40 Credits

Code: 5VC501

Digital Moving Image

This double module provides an opportunity for you to focus on making and manipulating digital moving images. The module sessions will be structured around the making of a short digital film. Throughout the process of making your film, module sessions will explore concept development, time planning, scripting, sound and film making techniques.

This substantial project will encourage you to experiment within digital film-making, to discover new ways of working, identify your strengths and further develop your personal voice. You will also be encouraged to discuss and develop your own concepts and themes to explore visually, take risks and try new approaches. 

Critical evaluation of the communication value and historical and contemporary context of the work will form an important element of the learning in this module. Your studies will be supported by group work checks, seminars, workshops and visiting lecturers. 

A digital portfolio of practical work, including all development work, will form the means of assessment, and your outcomes should evidence an increasing confidence in understanding the cultural context of the work.

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40 Credits

Code: 5VC506

Sequential Illustration

This double module focuses on creating sequential and narrative illustration. You will explore how sequences can be created and manipulated to communicate concepts effectively within the format of books, exhibitions, editorial, packaging, reportage and many other possibilities.

You will experiment with methods of controlling the experience of the viewer, holding the viewer’s attention, taking the viewer on a journey and communicating feelings and sensations through controlling atmosphere, timing and visual information.

You will explore the narrative form in depth and will have the opportunity to express your own ideas and concepts as appropriate to your developing personal direction, through a substantial sequential illustration project.

In response to given themes, you will also be challenged to self-author, taking control of the concept from the initial intended communication to the fully resolved outcome. Audience, purpose and your concept are the central defining factors and you are expected to explore, challenge and experiment with formats such as the book, graphic novel or other sequence, in response to the project theme.

Studio based project work will be supported by group work checks, seminars, workshops and visiting lecturers. A portfolio of practical work will be produced and your outcomes should evidence an increasing understanding of contemporary and historical trends.

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40 Credits

Code: 6VC503

Negotiated Study in Illustration

This double module will enable you to select from a range of illustration projects, including competitions and live briefs. The selections you make will enable you to refine the focus of your practice, to build a portfolio that represents your strengths and to begin to direct your own learning in the areas that most interest you. You will be expected to challenge your abilities, processes and methodologies in addressing the projects selected and to refine your ways of working to achieve professional standards in preparation for employment and/or further study.

You will negotiate your project selections with your assigned Personal Tutor and with your Module Tutors, who will support and advice on identified strengths and the balance of the projects chosen. Your goal will be to express your personal voice and extend your individual direction within graphic design.

All of the projects offered will be challenging visual communication problems across a range of issues offering a wide choice of options to respond to in your own way, within your practice focus. Collaborative or joint projects may also be negotiated.

You will be required to produce a portfolio of your practical work responding to the projects set. You will also be required to evidence the application of a high level of research and understanding of historical and contemporary practice in the subject area in responding to and developing your selected projects.

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40 Credits

Code: 6VC507

Visual Culture: Extended Essay

In this module you will produce an extended essay on a topic determined by you with the support of your tutor. While the topic will be of your own choosing, it should relate to your own discipline and practice.

The topic selected should offer enough depth to allow you to identify issues for research, investigation and analysis. You will be encouraged to build on and apply the theories and historical knowledge explored in the modules “Visual Culture: History” and “Visual Culture; Theory.”

Your topic will be carefully selected and honed to ensure that it helps inform your understanding of your discipline and practice. For example, you may focus on a specific practitioner whose work successfully responds to a set of problems, which are pertinent to your own concerns.

There are indeed other approaches to identifying a topic focus and research question; for example, one method is to compare and contrast, while another may be to focus on a narrow historical period or a narrow genre of visual texts. Your tutor will help guide you in refining your approach and in establishing your title for the extended essay.  

You will identify, negotiate and assume responsibility for conducting your research and producing the extended essay.

You will work towards developing a coherent argument, informed by your research, which will drive the structure and logic of the extended essay. You will work towards producing coherent academic writing, which adopts the scholarly conventions of referencing according to Harvard procedures.

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, students will be able to:

  1. Initiate, generate and research an individual topic relevant to your subject, with reference to cultural, theoretical and historical influences
  2. Articulate an analytical and critical written presentation on that topic establishing a considered argument
  3. Engage in critical discussion, articulating ideas effectively and contributing to current debate within your specialist subject

Module content

In consultation with tutors, you will define and research an area of study, which will reflect and complement your particular individual practice.

Tutorials will provide advice, direction and additional sources of research and visual material where appropriate. The tutorials will also provide a framework for ensuring coherence of the topic, and direction for the methods and planning of research, draft versions and final presentation issues.

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20 Credits

Code: 7VC500

Personal Practice & Methodologies

This module will focus on the exploration, critical review and development of your personal practice and methodologies. Your interests, philosophical concerns, and ethical stance as a designer will be explored and considered. You will consider your practice from a sociological, philosophical, commercial, professional, ecological and cultural perspective. Emphasis will be placed on developing a sophisticated knowledge of visual communication as a cultural entity and its significance to society.

You will be encouraged to employ critical judgement to analyse and evaluate your strengths and areas for development in your work and the module will challenge your approaches, use of media and techniques, knowledge and understanding to establish new ground and cement ownership of your personal voice.

Exploration of conceptual and visual research methodologies will accompany your development of personal voice and will challenge you to organise, synthesise and communicate your research and practice effectively. A high level of subject knowledge will underpin all aspects of the module through engagement with contemporary and historical practice, with particular reference to current debates and issues within design. This learning will be further enhanced and supported through seminars in the module ‘Visual Culture: Debates’, to achieve a sophisticated engagement with critical and theoretical debates within visual communication.

The module will culminate in the identification of an ‘Area of Focus’, which will form the basis of your Master’s Practice Project to be further developed in the modules, ‘Concept’ and ‘Realisation’. Your identified Area of Focus, potential external links relating to the Area of Focus, and an evaluation of your development and discoveries in this module will begin your Level 7 Personal Development Plan. This will be submitted with your practical work at the end of the module. Concept Panels mid module and at the end of the module will consist of members of your teaching team who will critique, question, debate and discuss your identified ‘Area of Focus’, to ensure rigorous thinking and critical judgment have been applied.

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40 Credits

Code: 7VC501

Visual Culture: Debates

This module aims to extend your knowledge and understanding of visual culture, through the exploration of critical and theoretical debates. It takes as its starting point selected academic texts, which will be the focus for initiating debate.

These texts will be the focus of critical scrutiny, and will provide a platform for developing a scholarly understanding of such concepts as ideology, identity, ethics, aesthetics and how these might be related to issues relating to gender, globalisation, sustainability, taste and consumer culture. Seminar debate will aim to cover a range of different and often contested positions relevant to visual communication and its socio-cultural, historical, artistic, technological and political contexts. 

Through the process of debate you will become able to demonstrate a sophisticated level of critical engagement with the literature and existing research relevant to your discipline and you will be able to apply the academic reading and learning methods practiced to your individual areas of specialist focus.

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20 Credits

Code: 7VC502


This module represents the ‘concept’ phase of the body of work that will form your Master’s Practice Project. The module provides a period of time in which to extensively research and explore your individual ‘Area of Focus’ in your practice, as identified in the previous module, ‘Personal Practice & Methodologies’.

Practice-based research produced will aim for originality and innovation, exploring and seeking to challenge the boundaries of your subject. You will be encouraged to apply structure and methodologies in your approach, to organise, rationalise and interpret ways of working, experiments and research gathered, in order to create a fully considered Practice Concept to be realised in the following module, ’Realisation’.

You will also make contact with external links in relation to your ‘Area of Focus’, testing ideas, gaining knowledge and identifying further external arenas and debates that your work may benefit from and contribute to.

The development of a well-conceived Practice Concept will require initiative, personal responsibility and independent scholarship. You will also identify the practical and logistical components and resources needed and explore the ethical and health and safety implications of the project. The Practice Concept will be critically evaluated, debated and supported by a Concept Panel mid module and also at the end of the module. Through discussion and debate the Concept Panels will challenge you on the feasibility of your concept, consider practicalities and provide a critical assessment of the project.

These discussions will inform your decision-making to ensure comprehensive consideration of all aspects of your practice concept, which will need to be agreed by the Concept Panel. The module will be significantly informed throughout by the development of your Dissertation in the module ‘Visual Culture: Dissertation’.

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40 Credits

Code: 7VC503

Visual Culture: Dissertation

You will plan a personal programme of research around a negotiated topic, relevant to your studio practice and identified Area of Focus. Your topic will be carefully selected and honed to ensure that it successfully informs your practice.

The module aims to extend your knowledge and understanding of visual culture to an advanced level, through the scholarly research and preparation of a dissertation. Your Master’s dissertation will display advanced scholarship and sophisticated engagement with your discipline. This module will support you in developing research methodologies and strategies of research gathering appropriate to this level of study. Building on the module, ‘Visual Culture: Debates’ you will extend scholarly research in relation to your practice focus.

Your writing will generate a body of original work, based around an independently conceived argument. You will work towards developing a coherent argument, informed by scholarly research, which will drive the structure and logic of the dissertation. You will work towards the coherent articulation of sophisticated material following accepted scholarly conventions.

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20 Credits

Code: 7VC504


This module is the culmination of your Master’s Practice Project and will enable you to undertake and realise the Practice Concept defined and researched in the module ‘Concept’. This triple module provides a significant period of time in which to create an extensive body of highly developed practice in response to the challenges you have set yourself.

You will be expected to work with independent scholarship, with an enquiring and questioning approach and to realise, analyse, test and critically evaluate your Practice Concept within your practice specialism. Concept Panels will support, challenge, advise and help you to evaluate your progress and the outcomes of the realisation of your project through peer learning and academic critique.

Within this module your Personal Development Plan will include: an account of the research and testing of the concept, evaluate the process of realising the concept and critique the effectiveness and future potential of the final outcomes with full bibliographic reference to the material used and influences. The completed PDP will help you to view this extensive project beyond graduation and to plan for the next stage of your career.

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60 Credits

Please note that our modules are subject to change - we review the content of our courses regularly, making changes where necessary to improve your experience and graduate prospects.

University of Derby student drinking coffee

How you will learn

How you are assessed

Assessment of all of your modules is by 100% coursework reflecting the practical nature of this creative, practice-based discipline. The coursework will focus on and around the range of projects and assignments you undertake throughout the programme, including studio work, industrial liaison, presentations, written and oral reports, seminar reports and your dissertation.

Who will teach you

Programme leader

Tracy Tomlinson

Entry requirements

September 2020 typical entry requirements

RequirementWhat we're looking for
UCAS points120 (up to 16 from AS-levels)
Specific requirements at A-level

No specific subject requirements

Specific requirements at GCSEGCSE Maths and English Grade C/Grade 4 (or above) or equivalent qualification
IELTS6.0 (with 5.5 in each skills area)
Interview / AuditionYes - see interview details

 Alternative entry qualifications:

We usually consider an A-level in General Studies as a supplementary qualification. A good application/performance will be taken into account if you do not meet the criteria/offer conditions.

Our entry requirements for this course should be read together with the University's general entry requirements, which details subjects we accept, alternative qualifications and what we're looking for at Derby.

Fees and funding

2020/21 Fees


£9,250 per year*

£1,155 per module*


£14,045 per year


* The fees stated above are for the 2019/20 academic year; fees for 2020/21 have not yet been confirmed by the UK government. We will update this information as soon as it is available.

Further information about our fees and support you may be entitled to.

Additional costs and optional extras

How to apply

UK/EU students

Full-time students applying to start in September should apply for this course through UCAS or you can apply directly to the University for an undergraduate course if you’re not applying to any other UK university in the same year.

Part-time students should apply directly to the University.

Apply through UCASApply directly to the University

Guidance for EU students post-Brexit

International students

Full-time students applying to start in September should apply for this course through UCAS or you can apply directly to the University for an undergraduate course if you’re not applying to any other UK university in the same year.

Apply through UCASApply directly to the University

Guidance for international applicants applying for an undergraduate degree


After you’ve graduated from this distinctive course, you’ll be one step ahead of others in the graduate job market. You’ll achieve a masters award at the end of four years’ study without needing to change universities or find postgraduate funding and you’ll already have a highly professional illustration portfolio.

Contact us

If you need any more information from us, eg on courses, accommodation, applying, car parking, fees or funding, please contact us and we will do everything we can to help you.

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Additional information about your studies

Download programme specification

Teaching hours

Like most universities, we operate extended teaching hours at the University of Derby, so contact time with your lecturers and tutors could be anytime between 9am and 9pm. Your timetable will usually be available on the website 24 hours after enrolment on to your course.

Additional costs and optional extras

We’re committed to providing you with an outstanding learning experience. Our expert teaching, excellent facilities and great employability prepare you for your future career. As part of our commitment to you we aim to keep any additional study costs to a minimum. However, there are occasions where students may incur some additional costs.

Included in your fees

Mandatory costs not included in your fees

Optional costs not included in your fees

Please note: Our courses are refreshed and updated on a regular basis. If you are thinking about transferring onto this course (into the second year for example), you should contact the programme leader for the relevant course information as modules may vary from those shown on this page.

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