Wang Lu is surprised that she hung on until the end of her particular Olympic trial. As one of 20 young designers at the Art Research Center for the Olympic Games (ARCOG) at the China Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA), the 25-year-old girl and her fellow CAFA graduates have been sweating over the lengthy and meticulous task of designing the graphics for the 2008Olympic Games.
The challenge began three years ago in a country that until the 1980s had no word for graphic design.
"Sticking it out is the biggest victory for me," Wang says sitting in a 20-sq-m workroom, which is a visual feast of Beijing Olympic designs.
Her two-year project of designing the Olympic Victory Diplomas, or medal certificates, was tortuous, because the alteration of a single word would necessitate changes in entire series, she says.
"We had to walk the line between East and West in the design process," Wang Min, the dean of the school of design at CAFA, explains.
"What we had to bear in mind is not to turn the Beijing Olympic Games entirely into a celebration of Chinese culture. It needed to have a global feel."
ARCOG deputy director Hang Hai echoes Wang's sentiments.
Graphic designers had to consider how to create a look that represented China, but also how to design images that would be attractive to an international audience, Hang explains.
The team designed simple but aesthetic patterns, based on jingwen, the script found on 2,000-year-old bronze carvings to represent 35 differentand 20 Paralympic sports displayed in "pictograms".
"The images are a distinct form of traditional Chinese art, revealing the concept of gangrou bingji, or coupling hardness and softness," Hang says, "It is like doing taichi, even though the movement is slow and peaceful, it requires a certain strength."
Another key project was the "core graphic", the motif of a wave pattern widely used on banners,and billboards. The pattern was inspired by traditional Chinese themes found on jade sculptures of dragons, on zodiac signs and on silk fabrics.
Unlike commercial design companies, the atmosphere at ARCOG is less high pressured and more academic. Many staff like to address their team leaders as "teacher" rather than "boss".
Hang expresses his appreciation for all the ARCOG team members. "There is no need to push hard on my students. As artists, they will throw themselves entirely into the artwork."
Some 200 CAFA undergraduate and postgraduate students signed up for Olympic-related graphic design projects, but many of them quit or a few found jobs upon graduation. For most, the design process -complicated by the inordinate attention focused on the- proved to be too tedious to bear, according to Hang. That is why there are only 20 full time designers on the team, he adds.
"It is true that the process of creation is painful," he admits, "but I also find it interesting as we keep learning things from our culture."
For Wang Lu, it would have been difficult to quit after putting in so much effort, and it would have been even more difficult to find someone else to take over her job as there were many details that could not be easily passed on.
The team has now shifted its work to the Beijing 2008 Paralympics as well as the Shenzhen 2011 Universiade.
Dean Wang hopes the Games will not only bring the spotlight to Beijing, but also to China's graphic designers. "Many Japanese graphic designers became world-famous after the 1968 Tokyo. I hope it will also happen in China in the not too distant future," he says.
The study of graphic design has risen dramatically in the country. In the past decade, the number of design schools and programs has grown to more than 1,000.