“The thing thatgets 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 KodamaSushi. “Designing anything is interesting—anything at all. Ascrap of paper is interesting. I don’t care about the form of theproject that much; I just like doing a new thing.”
Gressley hashad the talent and good fortune to work on a number of dreamprojects—page layouts for The New York Times Magazine,assignments from the design studios Flat and Number Seventeen, designfor a global-warming “survival handbook” distributed at lastyear’s Live Earth concerts, internships for Ryan McGinness andDavid Carson. Yet she has also demonstrated a Speck-like ethosthrough which she extracts the sublime from the mundane. Proof: In aseries of self-initiated experiments she titled “A Love Affairwith Words,” Gressley cut letter shapes out of paper and then madephotograms with the resulting stencils. Gressley was drawn to thenovelty of creating letterforms with light, but she was also continuingher investigation of design’s fundamentals. “I think type isthe most important part of graphic design,” she says. “Typeis the thing that carries all the subtle messages of what the project isabout.”
Theory provides a strong foundation for Gressley’sdesign sensibility, as does her easy fluency in a wide range ofaesthetics. Her chapter openers for Craftivity, a book featuringDIY, eco-themed crafts projects made from found materials, showcases herknack for illustration and for translating concepts into a visualnarrative. Her identity for the boutique Barometer has a classicalgrace, but is also eminently au courant; her designs for The New YorkTimes Magazine riff on and enliven the content. Gressley has aplayful sense of visual humor, too, as she has shown in layouts forThe Live Earth Global Warming Survival Handbook and wittycharticles for Jane.
After graduating from Parsons with aB.F.A. in Communication Design, Gressley worked for two years at Flat.The studio’s principals—Tsia Carson, Doug Lloyd, and PetterRingbom—would select and design projects based in part on theirinterest in art, architecture, and handmade crafts, which showedGressley the value of having a wide range of cultural knowledge and howto dovetail design with personal interests. Of Bonnie Siegel and EmilyOberman at Number Seventeen, where she worked briefly, she observes,“That things are funny and entertaining—as well asuseful—is very important to them.”
Gressley’sindependent spirit led her to leave the design milieu and New Yorkduring the summer of 2006 to contribute to Space 1026, an artists’collective in Philadelphia that launched a group-made installation inJanuary last year. Gressley explains that she went to Philly because she“wanted to work on more of my own personal projects and figure outwhat it was that I really wanted to do.” Was she successful in herquest? “Not totally,” she says. “I think I’verealized that I’m probably not going to figure it out, and thatI’ll just do it as I go.”