Holly Gressley

“The thing that
gets me excited is not necessarily having some sort of dream project,
but figuring out how to do a project in an interesting way,”
observes Holly Gressley, over lunch at the Times Square eatery Kodama
Sushi. “Designing anything is interesting—anything at all. A
scrap of paper is interesting. I don’t care about the form of the
project that much; I just like doing a new thing.”

Gressley has
had the talent and good fortune to work on a number of dream
projects—page layouts for The New York Times Magazine,
assignments from the design studios Flat and Number Seventeen, design
for a global-warming “survival handbook” distributed at last
year’s Live Earth concerts, internships for Ryan McGinness and
David Carson. Yet she has also demonstrated a Speck-like ethos
through which she extracts the sublime from the mundane. Proof: In a
series of self-initiated experiments she titled “A Love Affair
with Words,” Gressley cut letter shapes out of paper and then made
photograms with the resulting stencils. Gressley was drawn to the
novelty of creating letterforms with light, but she was also continuing
her investigation of design’s fundamentals. “I think type is
the most important part of graphic design,” she says. “Type
is the thing that carries all the subtle messages of what the project is

Theory provides a strong foundation for Gressley’s
design sensibility, as does her easy fluency in a wide range of
aesthetics. Her chapter openers for Craftivity, a book featuring
DIY, eco-themed crafts projects made from found materials, showcases her
knack for illustration and for translating concepts into a visual
narrative. Her identity for the boutique Barometer has a classical
grace, but is also eminently au courant; her designs for The New York
Times Magazine
riff on and enliven the content. Gressley has a
playful sense of visual humor, too, as she has shown in layouts for
The Live Earth Global Warming Survival Handbook and witty
charticles for Jane.

After graduating from Parsons with a
B.F.A. in Communication Design, Gressley worked for two years at Flat.
The studio’s principals—Tsia Carson, Doug Lloyd, and Petter
Ringbom—would select and design projects based in part on their
interest in art, architecture, and handmade crafts, which showed
Gressley the value of having a wide range of cultural knowledge and how
to dovetail design with personal interests. Of Bonnie Siegel and Emily
Oberman at Number Seventeen, where she worked briefly, she observes,
“That things are funny and entertaining—as well as
useful—is very important to them.”

independent spirit led her to leave the design milieu and New York
during the summer of 2006 to contribute to Space 1026, an artists’
collective in Philadelphia that launched a group-made installation in
January last year. Gressley explains that she went to Philly because she
“wanted to work on more of my own personal projects and figure out
what it was that I really wanted to do.” Was she successful in her
quest? “Not totally,” she says. “I think I’ve
realized that I’m probably not going to figure it out, and that
I’ll just do it as I go.”