For an exhibition titled “The Seventh Side ofthe Die,” Emily Lessard designed an anthology of artists’writings printed in a newspaper format. Each headline in the paper issurrounded by a combination of formal elements, such as lines,x’s, and s’s, that appear to have anexpressive significance beyond their visual function. And they actuallydo: Though the casual observer wouldn’t notice it, eachcombination represents the number 7.
Her technique of creatinggraphic systems and aesthetic experiments that have their own internallogic is typical of Lessard: “I like figuring out all the rules,and then figuring out where I can interject myself into thoserules.” She uses her panoply of design skills to create arigorously thought-out yet playful visual language. Thus, forSocrates Sculpture Park, a catalog showcasing the artwork in anoutdoor exhibition space, her subtle design scheme relates theatmospheric 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 indefatigablework ethic is that she started there just three weeks after graduatingfrom Yale’s MFA program in graphic design. Glauber taught herduring the first year of the three-year curriculum, and Lessard observesthat working post-academy with her former instructor is “reallycontinuing school in the best possible way—having a one-on-onewith someone who can teach you every day.”
At the studio,Lessard has contributed to the design of 10 books—includingseveral art monographs and The Dog Dialed 911, an anthology ofoutrageous content (obtained from The Smoking Gun website) and wittyiconography (designed by Heavy Meta). She co-designed with Glauber theexhibition “New York Divided: Slavery and the Civil War,”which debuted in late November at the New-York Historical Society. Thedesign engages the featured material within a respectful and vibrantframework that contains, as one might expect, an underlying system. Thecustom-made typefaces for the exhibition, for instance, are inspired by19th-century newspaper typography and vernacular material, includingstencils on shipping crates.
Lessard has no qualms about tacklingcontroversial issues: She is a firm believer in design’s abilityto affect political consciousness. While a student at Yale, she createdand 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,” shesays. “There’s something about anonymous expression that Igravitate toward.” Of designing projects that have a politicalmessage, she notes, “I will keep reminding myself that this is animportant part of how I want to spend my time working.”