Emily Lessard

For an exhibition titled “The Seventh Side of
the Die,” Emily Lessard designed an anthology of artists’
writings printed in a newspaper format. Each headline in the paper is
surrounded by a combination of formal elements, such as lines,
x’s, and s’s, that appear to have an
expressive significance beyond their visual function. And they actually
do: Though the casual observer wouldn’t notice it, each
combination represents the number 7.

Her technique of creating
graphic systems and aesthetic experiments that have their own internal
logic is typical of Lessard: “I like figuring out all the rules,
and then figuring out where I can interject myself into those
rules.” She uses her panoply of design skills to create a
rigorously thought-out yet playful visual language. Thus, for
Socrates Sculpture Park, a catalog showcasing the artwork in an
outdoor exhibition space, her subtle design scheme relates the
atmospheric colors in the photographs to those of the pages themselves.

Lessard designed the catalog in collaboration with Barbara Glauber,
founder and creative director of the New York–based studio Heavy Meta,
where Lessard has worked since June 2005. A measure of her indefatigable
work ethic is that she started there just three weeks after graduating
from Yale’s MFA program in graphic design. Glauber taught her
during the first year of the three-year curriculum, and Lessard observes
that working post-academy with her former instructor is “really
continuing school in the best possible way—having a one-on-one
with someone who can teach you every day.”

At the studio,
Lessard has contributed to the design of 10 books—including
several art monographs and The Dog Dialed 911, an anthology of
outrageous content (obtained from The Smoking Gun website) and witty
iconography (designed by Heavy Meta). She co-designed with Glauber the
exhibition “New York Divided: Slavery and the Civil War,”
which debuted in late November at the New-York Historical Society. The
design engages the featured material within a respectful and vibrant
framework that contains, as one might expect, an underlying system. The
custom-made typefaces for the exhibition, for instance, are inspired by
19th-century newspaper typography and vernacular material, including
stencils on shipping crates.

Lessard has no qualms about tackling
controversial issues: She is a firm believer in design’s ability
to affect political consciousness. While a student at Yale, she created
and posted silk-screened broadsheets critiquing the Bush presidency.
Lessard didn’t include an authorial attribution on these posters,
because she felt that the message itself was the essential content.
“It’s not important that it’s my voice,” she
says. “There’s something about anonymous expression that I
gravitate toward.” Of designing projects that have a political
message, she notes, “I will keep reminding myself that this is an
important part of how I want to spend my time working.”