Mary Yang, Assistant Professor of Art, Graphic Design, shares some thoughts on her path to design, her collaborative methodology and upcoming projects, and what it means to be immersed in the interdisciplinary aspects of CFA. Header photo credit: Evelyn Bi.
Interview by: Alex Ross (COM’22)
What inspired you to pursue graphic design? And how did that translate into you becoming a teacher?
I grew up playing music, starting with the piano and then playing viola and violin in orchestras and ensembles. It wasn’t until college when I was exposed to art and design. I discovered how much I enjoyed the process of communicating ideas into visual form, which led me to graphic design. My understanding of musical principles such as systems, time, narrative, color, dynamics, and composition translated into my design process. Graphic design also allowed me to integrate my various interests: contemporary art, music, publishing, exhibition design, architecture, and fashion. This is one reason why I also love teaching. It provides me with a space to have open dialogue and experiment alongside with students to see what is possible for them through graphic design.
Do you have a teaching philosophy you try to follow? How would you describe yourself as a teacher?
In my teaching methodology, I encourage my students to bring in their interests and experiences as starting points for their research. I think being at BU makes it particularly exciting since many of my students are double majoring or minoring in other studies. What I love about graphic design as a discipline is that it comes into conversations with different fields. During the research process, I train students to think through the process of making, which enables them to take risks and find inspiration. Through in-class discussions, I prompt students to question the relationship between design fundamentals and their conceptual ideas as well as to challenge the conventions of graphic design to extend into alternate forms and media. I’m most interested in guiding students in discovering methods for translating their own interests using the tools and methods of graphic design. I want my students to treat the studio and University as a rehearsal space to practice the work they want to be doing afterwards. It’s important to me that students find freedom in the learning process, which gives them the confidence to take ownership of their work.
Tell us more about your approach to design.
I would say my approach is very collaborative and hands-on. I always begin any project by simply having a conversation with the client or collaborator. Those conversations could take on various forms, from listening to a piece of music to walking through a building together. This process allows me to ask questions and to learn unexpected things that I wouldn’t have done so researching on my own.
What has joining CFA been like for you?
I’ve really loved working with the dedicated students and faculty. I love how the College of Fine Arts includes Music, Theatre, and Visual Arts. I’m constantly inspired by my students who bring their energy and thoughtfulness into their work and discussions in class. As I’m teaching a graphic design studio class, I hear a trumpet in another room. There’s something inspiring knowing all the artists, regardless of their discipline, at CFA are working towards a common goal.
What is your favorite aspect of the graphic design program here at CFA?
The faculty in the graphic design program are extremely intelligent, each with their own expertise and design practices. The various perspectives all contribute to a program that is also outward looking and responsive to what is happening in the field. I think the graphic design program is positioned within not just a wonderful College and University, but also a vibrant city. Students have the opportunity to learn as much from studios and classes as they can from experiences in Boston.
Tell us about your favorite design campaign or project.
A recent favorite project I worked on was with the University of Washington School of Music. With my background in music, I’ve always been interested in the relationship between music and graphic design. I worked on the identity design for Strings Attached, a concert series at the School for Music. For this project, I drew from the relationship between musical notation and typography to create a visual identity system that was applied to a calendar, posters, concert programs, totes, and digital communication. What I most enjoyed from this process was exploring the relationships between music and design. An upcoming project I am excited about is working on the exhibition design for Now What?! Advocacy, Activism & Alliances in American Architecture since 1968. I will be collaborating with another graphic design faculty member, Jessie Rubenstein, to reimage what this traveling exhibition will be for Boston. We are also working on this exhibition design with a team of undergraduate and graduate students in the Graphic Design and History of Art & Architecture. I’m excited to research, design, and produce this exhibition with my students and to explore how the form of an exhibition can be a site for teaching and learning. The exhibition will open in June 2020 at the Boston Society for Architecture.
CFA’s Faculty Feature series spotlights the exceptional faculty from across Boston University College of Fine Arts. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
The Graphic Design program at BU takes a studio-driven approach to design thinking and visual communication. With an emphasis on process and critical design thinking, the program sets itself apart as a maker-based design department set within an art school. The design faculty are leaders in the field who work closely with students to develop their technical and conceptual skills, challenging them to think creatively and strategically and placing them at the forefront of entrepreneurial thinking in the business world. Learn more about studying Graphic Design at BU!