Design (DSGN) - Personal Computing Guidance

content last updated 8-31-2022

To succeed and thrive, students majoring or minoring in Design (DSGN) must be agile and mobile, equipped and prepared to create, edit, present, and collaborate on design work in a variety of locations both on and off campus.


The Design program requires majors and minors to own and maintain a robust personal laptop equipped with the macOS or Windows operating system and the software they will need to excel in their coursework and effectively engage with their peers, instructors, and community partners.

A responsible Design student keeps their laptop in good working order by...

  • taking measures to protect it from damage and theft.
  • regularly backing up their files.
  • routinely deleting files they no longer need.
  • only installing software from reputable sources.
  • uninstalling applications that they no longer use.
  • installing antivirus software (such as Sophos Home) and keeping it up to date.
  • regularly installing application updates.
  • regularly installing Mac and Windows system and security updates.
  • routinely restarting their laptop, at least once a week, as a preventive measure.


The Design program requires majors and minors to acquire and install the following industry-standard software on their personal laptop.

Note: Some Design courses require additional software, but most of it is free, and you do not need to acquire or install it until the instructor advises you to do so.

Title Runs on
a Mac
Runs on
a PC
Source Student
Price *
Adobe Creative Cloud
(includes 20+ apps including Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Premiere Pro, and Acrobat)
Y Y Adobe $240 / year for the first year, then $360 / year (can be paid monthly, but annual contract still required) 3 Subscription (requires yearly renewal of student status)
individual Adobe apps Y Y Adobe Creative Cloud Plans & Pricing » click "Individuals" tab » click "See plan & pricing details" under the app » select "Monthly plan" $31.50 / month with no contract for a major app; no student discount Subscription
Visual Studio Code Y Y Visual Studio Code Free Perpetual
Google Chrome Y Y Google Free Perpetual
Firefox 1 Y Y Firefox Free Perpetual
Safari 1 Y N pre-installed on every Mac Free Perpetual
Google Workspace a.k.a. DonsApps (includes Google Drive, Docs, Sheets, Forms, and more) Y 2 Y 2 access Google Workspace through myUSF Free Perpetual (while enrolled at USF)
Canvas Y 2 Y 2 access Canvas through myUSF Free Perpetual (while enrolled at USF)
Zoom Y Y download Zoom through myUSF Free Perpetual (while enrolled at USF)
Sophos Home (anti-virus software) Y Y Sophos Free Perpetual

* prices last verified November 2021

1 two web browsers are required: Google Chrome plus either Firefox or Safari

2 runs in a web browser; no installation required

3review the terms and conditions for Adobe Creative Cloud for Education, including cancellation terms »


All USF students have free access to LinkedIn Learning, a software training website that offers self-paced, online training in many of these applications.

Access LinkedIn Learning through myUSF



Students majoring or minoring in Design will need to print in both black & white and color using their own printer, a print shop or print service (such as FedEx Office or Copy Mill), or printers on campus (when available).



DIGITAL photography

Students majoring or minoring in Design will need to take photos using their own digital camera, their own camera-equipped smartphone, or a digital SLR camera they've borrowed from the department's loaner pool (when available).




Many computer makers offer discounts to students, including USF's preferred vendors, Apple and Lenovo. Take the time to inquire as you shop and be prepared to verify your student status during the checkout process.

USF KNOWLEDGE BASE: "Am I able to purchase a personal computer through USF at a discount?"

Mac or PC

This is strictly a personal preference. If you acquire a Mac with an Intel processor, you have the option of installing Microsoft Windows on it using "Boot Camp Assistant" in order to run both Mac and Windows software.

Avoid Chromebooks and other laptops incapable of running the macOS or Windows operating system. They're incapable of running some required software.

Screen Size

The bigger the screen, the larger and heavier the laptop will be (and usually the more expensive), but the easier it will be to work in applications with user interfaces that take up a big portion of the screen. Screen size is really a personal preference. Some people don't mind a small screen. Others might like a small screen for portability reasons, but connect their laptop to a large, external display on their desk at home.


The more memory your computer has, the more tasks it can perform simultaneously before it starts to slow down; for example, more open applications, more open browser tabs, or more open files.

Advice: Invest in a minimum of 16 GB, but go for 24 GB or even 32 GB if your budget allows.

Note: You cannot add more memory to many laptop models after purchase, including all current Mac laptop models as of this writing, so think long-term.

Internal Storage

The more internal storage your computer has, the more stuff -- applications, files, photos, etc. -- you can store on it, and the more free internal storage space you'll have, which allows your computer to run more efficiently. In addition, the type of internal storage matters.

Advice: We recommend a drive that's at least 256 GB in size, but if your budget allows, aim for 500 GB or more. We also strongly recommend a "solid state drive" or "SSD". It makes for a significantly speedier and more responsive laptop than a traditional hard drive.

Note: Although you can always connect an external drive, it's not possible to upgrade the internal storage drive of many laptop models after purchase, including all current Mac laptop models as of this writing, so think long-term.


Think of the processor or "CPU" as your computer's brain. The faster the speed of your CPU, the faster your computer can "think". The more cores your CPU has, the more instructions it can receive and process at once.

Advice: In general, the number of cores that your processor has contributes more to the speediness of your laptop than your processor's speed. So don't invest too much in a slightly faster processor, but do invest in a processor with as many cores as your budget will allow.

Note: For most laptops, it's not possible to upgrade to a more powerful processor after purchase, so think long-term.

Graphics Processor

The faster your graphics processor unit or "GPU", and the more memory that GPU has, the faster your computer can update what's on your screen and perform graphics-intensive tasks like modeling, rendering, video editing, animation, effects and filters, etc.

Note: Some laptops with modern CPUs, such as those with "Apple Silicon" processors, don't have a GPU at all, in which case this won't be a factor in your decision.

Advice: If it's within your budget, opt for a laptop with an advanced GPU. Some laptops have less powerful, "on board" GPUs, while others have more powerful, separate, a.k.a. "discrete" GPUs. Some laptops even have two GPUs installed, i.e. a less powerful "on board" GPU for when you're on battery power and a more powerful, power-hungry "discreet" GPU for when you're plugged in. In addition, GPU's have their own on-board memory separate from your computer's memory, typically somewhere between 2 GB and 8 GB. The more memory, the more efficient the GPU.

Note: For most laptops, it's not possible to upgrade to a more powerful GPU after purchase, so think long-term.


If your laptop doesn't have the ports below built into it, consider investing in one or more adapters so that you'll be prepared to connect a device to a port on your laptop no matter where you are:

USB Type A
a.k.a. Standard USB
printers, scanners, flash drives, portable hard drives, mice, pen tablets USB Type A Port USB Type A Connector
HDMI projectors, televisions HDMI Port HDMI Connector


If you qualify for federal financial aid and have not already accepted the annual maximum in federal student loans that have been offered, you may request an increase in the federal student loan of up to $1,7501 to assist you with the purchase of the laptop and software.

Financial aid can be used at the USF Bookstore for technology purchases (hardware and software).

You do not need to purchase a laptop or software at the USF Bookstore to qualify for additional aid. If you purchase your laptop or software at an outside retailer, you can complete a form from USF’s financial aid office for a loan refund of up to $1,7501. Be advised that a loan refund will not be made available to you until the week before classes begin. To request this form, send an e-mail to

1 as of June 2020

Visit the USF Bookstore page for new students and parents



ITS Help Desk

The ITS Help Desk can help you troubleshoot technical problems with your personal laptop, including but not limited to questions concerning:

  • ITS eStore
  • Microsoft Azure for Students
  • USF-Wireless network
  • your myUSF username and password
  • Google Workspace a.k.a. DonsApps (including USF email and Google Drive)
  • Sophos Anti-Virus
  • Canvas
  • Zoom
  • Pharos printing

VIEW ITS Help Desk hours and locations

Director of Art + Architecture Technology

The Director of A+A Technology is happy to offer advice and guidance when it comes to keeping your personal computer in good working order, backing it up, and installing the software you need. Their hours and contact information are in the contact box in the top, right portion of this webpage.