Ohio University

Student Profile: MFA Graphic Designer Ran Xu

Student Profile: MFA Graphic Designer Ran Xu

An image from the 2020 MFA Graphic Design Thesis exhibition Good Day, by student Ran Xu. Photo by Sean Yuan.

Good Day, and the 6 fantastic monsters of the College of Fine Arts.

An interview with graduating MFA designer/artist Ran Xu, about her creative work, approach to design, and experience in the School of Art + Design at Ohio University. Ran served as the Design Graduate Assistant in the College of Fine Arts, supporting the work of promotions, marketing, and communications for a plethora of events and campaigns during the 2019-2020 academic year. In this role, Ran designed a series of characters which were translated into stickers, as well as animated gifs, and social media graphics, available to share, and featured below.

Ran's thesis project, GOOD DAY, was an exhibition focused on Social Anxiety Disorder, featuring works expressing the different negative emotions of suffering from the disorder. The whole exhibition is curated in an apartment form, aiming to bring the audience back to the life fragment of a person suffering from social anxiety including works exploring language barriers, risks in social networks, and feelings of isolation. Her original opening reception was scheduled to occur just as the university responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, and did not happen exactly as planned. We're happy to share some images of this work in this interview.


Exhibition wall text
Good Day exhibition wall text, spring 2020.

When and where did art and design first become a passion for you?

It was when I was a really young kid. My father is an architecture professor, so at a young age I recognized how to use markers, pens and graphic software. Those creative tools were like unusual toys which cheered me up. I think my father hoped I would become an architect just like him, but I gradually realized I enjoyed creative graphic design that can function regardless of any physical rules.  

Can you talk a little about your Thesis work?

My thesis topic is Social Anxiety Disorder. Being a person who has suffered this issue for more than 10 years, I regarding myself as the narrator and the subject of my work.

Superficially, my work is self-expression. And functionally, it’s akin to a form of therapy.

Every time I talk to my therapist, she required me to start by talking about myself, and then she helped analyze my problem through talking. But usually, after simply talking things out, I already felt much better. I learned, from this basic model, that one first expresses, then analyzes, and finally builds a protective fence in the mind to prevent being hurt by any later similar situation. I think what I can do for myself and my viewers, some of whom might have the same issues, is to present the first step—to speak out about the discomfort. And at least tell them “I get the same feeling as you.” And, as an artist with a strong willingness to express myself, I chose to communicate with the outside world via visual language rather than ordinary conversation.

Cards stacked up with spotlight
Detail of Ran Xu's Good Day exhibition, spring 2020.

Why did you decide to attend OU for your graphic design degree, and what has been your favorite part of the experience?

I used to think of myself as a “graphic-generator,” but I wanted to raise my workflow and creative methods to a higher professional level, to be able to bring theory and methodology to my design thinking. So, I began planning to join an MFA program. The first time I visited the official website of Ohio University, I noticed a phrase, that students would be “learning how to learn.” That’s what I was looking for!

My favorite experience within my 3-years of study, besides my courses, was the variety of work the college assigned to me. I was a TA, GA, and RA. I tried teaching, researching, practicing, I loved these opportunities that made my life so rich. Especially my work as a graphic designer for the College of Fine Arts. I am satisfied with the projects I finished in this role. Being given a platform of displaying and utilizing my skills is such a cheerful thing, I am glad that OHIO and CoFA gave me this chance.

Changing the subject... what were you thinking about when you created your Fine Arts sticker designs? Do these characters represent anything to you?

The first draft I made for these stickers is actually quite a cliche, just collections of some symbolic elements. But later a stronger concept appeared in my mind. I think each school is so vivid and unique. Rather than a static and serious image, they should be represented lively and fresh. The essence of art is visual metaphor, so I thought "why not visualize them as individual characters?" I think the core of the fine arts is human imagination, and "creating something out of nothing," so it's form should not be any already existing creature, but rather, I decided to make 6 different fantastic monsters. I wanted them to have unique characteristics. You can’t tell what are they, but you know who are they and how they are representing their major. 


Colorful Stickers
Stickers created in Spring 2020 by Ran Xu for the College of Fine Arts. (virtual versions here)


Your work often incorporates illustration and unique characters. Are these elements something you’ve always been attracted to?

Yes, absolutely. I am completely a visual person. I like everything that looks pretty—and will always start by thinking about how things are designed or created. No matter as a designer or an artist, I believe building an archive of visual references in my own mind is critical. Forming one’s unique art style is also highly dependent on what we regard as an income—so my attraction to graphics and illustrations is really common for me. In my current status, I think an embryo of my personal style has already formed, now I aim at reinforcing it by researching and looking at as many other artworks as I can.


Characters on Yellow