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Meet Yi Mao

Today we’d like to introduce you to Yi Mao.

Yi, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
As a kid grew up in China, I was fortunate to have a childhood surrounded by art and architecture books although my parents are not artists. I think they see some potentials on me when I was quite young. I remember they intended to offer me different types of training on drawing, painting, piano, calligraphy, etc. I was too naughty to understand their willing and I skipped a lot of those after-school courses.

I have been drawing and painting since I was a kid. My high school emphasis was natural science back then. The experience of learning art and the rationality behind science drew me into the realm of architecture. I thought I was going to learning architect in Germany or Canada, but it turned out that I am being here in the States.

Spent my undergraduate studies at different institutions with learning of fine art, photography, and film productions. It was a unique progress that learning a foundation of art while trying to figure out what I want to do as a professional. Graphic design turns out to be the realm I have true passion with. After looking back, it was not an easy way to get here. But I do appreciate my photography and film production practice at UC San Diego. The experience of learning art history, fine art photography, social engagement photography, film criticism, urban planning not only help me understand what aesthetic is in general, but also allow me to learn “storytelling” in a social and macro perspective.

I failed on my graduate school application after UC San Diego and I made the decision to attend the Academy of Art University graphic design MFA program for a year, allowing me to “cool down” my desire and ego. I received a truly fundamental and solid typography training at Academy and the schedule gave me enough time to really think about what I should do for my future. In 2017, I choose to attend ArtCenter College of Design among the CalArts and California College of the Arts. The last moment gut feeling led me to where I am today.

Now, I am a visual communication designer and a MFA student with two more semesters left at ArtCenter College of Design.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Being an optimist would let me think there were not a lot struggles along the way. But I would say it was definitely not smooth. Lack of experience and formal training really got me some life detours. I was lucky to meet many instructors who are responsible for what they teach. They truly influenced and inspire me to find out what I should chase about as a professional. They are the people who let myself know what I am good at and what I should improve. I feel grateful to their generosity. More importantly, they are also the people who teach me have good habits in a daily basis such as taking notes, planning ahead, having a strong sense of time and being responsible. Those habits are part of the aspects to get me where I am today.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
As a visual communication designer, my work is mostly about branding and packaging. What I focus on branding and packaging is working with print, digital and 3d media/mediums to ultimately create unique experience for audience. Personally, I enjoy more on creating 3-dimensional forms such as books, packaging, installations even digital 3d models. Additionally, I also spend time understanding and creating content communication, which brings more aspect of intentions, meanings, topics and stories. Besides of those, what I spend some time is learning design research and strategy, potentially helping myself understand various types of relationships among designers, clients, and audience.

This summer, I am interning at COLLINS (San Francisco office) with a team of lovely and smart people. The humility and designer-ethic/principle they own while we are all living in a confusing moment of the history are just priceless and wonderful. Before this, I was a freelance designer at BUCK (Los Angeles office).

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
Truly honored to meet so many wonderful people along the way. To my undergrad professors Ed Inks, Joy Kunz, Stephanie Dotson, Stephanie Washburn, Rafael Perea de la Cabada, Brian Cross, Ruth Wallen, and Teddy Cruz who helped build my foundation. To my humble teacher John Nettleton at the Academy of Art University who helped me strengthen my typography skills. To Brian Cross and Stephen Serrato for formally introducing ArtCenter College of Design to me in 2016. To my ArtCenter instructors: Cheri Gray, Tracey Shiffman, Sean Adams, River Jukes-Hudson, Simon Johnston, Polly Geller, Jessica Deseo, Andrew Gibbs, Dan Hoy, and Gerardo Herrera who lead me to where I am today.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Photography by Charlie Sin (, Photography by Jack Strutz (, The rest credit: Yi Mao

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