Yiran Li (BFA '18, MA '20)
Growing up in Shaanxi, China, Yiran Li enjoyed many creative activities throughout her childhood, such as coloring designs her mother would sketch for her, yet never envisioned it might one day lead to a career. Choosing what she believed a more practical path, Yiran declared accounting as her major when entering college in China.
Although her first year of studies progressed successfully, Yiran longed to explore the world of creative arts. Because students were not permitted to take classes outside of their program requirements, nor allowed the opportunity to change majors, Yiran made the difficult decision to transfer to another university to realize her hopes.
WHY DID YOU SELECT THE UNIVERSITY OF IOWA TO CONTINUE YOUR STUDIES?
I focused my attention on liberal arts institutions in the U.S., understanding I would have the opportunity to explore a variety of courses along with my degree requirements. I was accepted to several, and made my final decision based on the school that offered both strong business and strong arts programs, which brought me to Iowa.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR UNDERGRADUATE EXPERIENCE AT THE UI?
During my first year, I took a mix of business and graphic art classes, thinking I would major in one and minor in the other. But I quickly realized which coursework I favored and changed my major to graphic arts.
Then I recall a meeting with my advisor when she encouraged me to enroll in a 3D design course, explaining these skills were very valuable to graphic designers. I took her advice and enrolled in Introduction to 3D Design, led by Professor Monica Correia.
This class was very interesting. Professor Correia is so knowledgeable and passionate about the field. She truly inspires her students. I can remember being excited to start working with my hands as opposed to creating everything on a computer. While taking the course, I realized this was what I wanted to study and I switched my major to 3D design. I graduated with a BFA in 3D design, with honors and high distinction, in 2018.
YOU’VE NOW OBTAINED YOUR MA IN 3D DESIGN FROM THE UI AND ARE CURRENTLY PURSUING YOUR MFA IN THE SAME PROGRAM. WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO CONTINUE YOUR STUDIES AT IOWA?
Yes, I’m pursuing an MFA in 3D design with a secondary major in printmaking. I researched several MA and MFA programs in the U.S. and found that many have strict coursework requirements with little option for electives. Iowa is unique as it allows students a lot of freedom to design their curriculum to match their interests. I believe that many forms of art can communicate, and learning different forms strengthens our skills.
Iowa is unique as it allows students a lot of freedom to design their curriculum to match their interests.
For example, when I’m designing a furniture piece, maybe I want to apply a screen print to the fabric or the wood. My knowledge in printmaking has taught me how to incorporate these fine details.
Another reason I continued at Iowa is that students in the 3D design program have opportunities to participate in national and international design shows to showcase their work. At the shows, students can connect with other students, artists, designers, and companies.
Some schools don’t place an emphasis on supporting student involvement in these shows. This is another reason I appreciate Professor Correia so much. She understands the value of these opportunities and always encourages students to apply for the different shows. It takes a lot of work on her part. She mentors students throughout and helps us decide the theme, the booth designs, and which student pieces will be submitted. Then she has to share all of these details and portfolios in the application process.
It’s also a lot of work for students, but it is a very valuable experience. I’ve heard from other students who have graduated that companies give preference to students who have show experience and understand the application process.
HOW MANY SHOWS HAVE YOU PARTICIPATED IN?
I feel very fortunate to have been selected to participate in a number of shows: three years at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York City, two years at the Sculpture Objects Functional Art and Design Show (SOFA) in Chicago, and two years at Ventura Furture in Milan, Italy. It’s always an amazing experience.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE DESIGNS?
Currently, one of my favorite furniture pieces is the Cubikee Chair, which was inspired by tofu. Traditionally people put tofu in a wooden mold to maintain its box shape. The chair is made of cork and plywood.
And my favorite wood is walnut due to its beautiful grain. I’ve used walnut in several of my favorite designs like the Carry Around Lamp, which was inspired by a traditional Chinese lantern.
More of Yiran’s designs can be found on her website.
I UNDERSTAND LAST YEAR’S SHOW WAS A BIT DIFFERENT DUE TO THE PANDEMIC?
Yes. Last year Professor Correia received an invitation for us to exhibit work at the world’s most prestigious international design event, the Solone del Mobile.Milano in Milan, Italy. But we were unable to participate due to the pandemic.
Professor Correia is very creative and found another way to showcase our designs. She collaborated with Figge Art Museum, in Davenport, Iowa, and curated Seating by Design, which was featured at the museum from September 2020 to January 2021. The exhibit displayed seating designs created by 23 current and former students as well of several of Professor Correia’s designs. I felt very fortunate to have two pieces displayed.
More details on Seating by Design can be found in the Exhibition Guide.
AND AFTER GRADUATION YOUR PLANS ARE TO WORK IN FURNITURE DESIGN?
Yes, my hope is to work in furniture and product design with a studio or company that allows me great creative freedom.
More information on the UI 3D design program can be found on their website.