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Five Shanghai Freshmen That Blew Timothy Goodman’s Mind

“They were the most disciplined and talented bunch I’ve ever worked with.”

Last month, NY-based graphic designer and art director Timothy Goodman was over in China, working with freshman students at the Shanghai Institute of Visual Arts (SIVA). And to borrow the parlance of pay-per-click Facebook fodder: the results blew his mind.

“They were only freshmen, but their work was really incredible,” says Goodman, who spent four days at the institution during his three-week trip to China. “I’ve given workshops all over the world from Dubai to Barcelona to Los Angeles to Mexico, and I have never been more impressed than I was with the students at SIVA, they were the most disciplined and talented bunch I’ve ever worked with. As freshmen, their formal skills rivaled my third-year students at SVA in NYC (sorry, fam!).”

The workshop asked students to consider drawing letterforms “as an identity.” According to Goodman, “they just got it.” He adds: “They seemed to really want to thrive, to be excellent, to do a good job, to meet the expectations that were set. It wasn’t a struggle. I raised the bar and they met it.”

Part of this he attributes to the intense format of the workshops, which ran for eight hours a day for three days. “There were multiple critiques, and there wasn’t much time to goof off,” and students were pushed to work fast, rather than focusing on realizing something perfect. “The first day of exercises are all very short, as I want them to understand that ideas are disposable—that you are better having 100 of them, and working under a deadline is important and can bring about surprising results,” says Goodman.

“Finally, I always say graphic design and image making is about taking clichés and flipping them. It’s taking the expected and making it unexpected. Working with associations, whether that is conceptual, expressive or artful is how we connect to audiences. I find students get hung up on typographic rules too much, so I try to get them to think about letterforms and typography as images.”

Here are five of Goodmans favorites from the bunch (let it be known though, that getting down to just five was not easy).

Poster by Fang Fei / 方菲

“I love this one more for the actual poster design than the design of the letterforms themselves. The composition, colors, and the letterforms together created a perfect storm. I’d hang this in my apartment, and that’s how I know I love it.”  

Poster by Ma Wenjing / 马汶婧

“I always like designs that are a little ‘off’ or ‘weird.’ The letterforms, the colors, the ’80s vibe. She wasn’t afraid to get weird with these and I appreciated that. She had a clear vision from the start.”

Poster by Lin Yajie / 林娅婕

“The painterly cats are just beautiful. She was one who was moving very slowly in the beginning, with only pencil sketches of some cats. I was getting worried for her—I didn’t know how this would turn out. Then suddenly, it all came together quickly at the end. I encouraged her to let coloring bring this to life.”

Poster by Xiao Yiwei / 肖伟艺

“You can’t forget these are freshmen, so I don’t expect them to be exceptional at understanding formal skills like composition, scale or identity. I pushed them hard, but I can only bring them so far. I look at this one and think, ‘I can’t do that!’ I love that feeling.” 

Poster by Wei Lanrui / 魏兰瑞

“Sunny side up eggs? Crying eyes? The Illuminati? Whatever the concept behind these, she nailed it. I encouraged her to try many compositions and color options, to exhaust all the options.”

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