Interview: Holly Gressley

Holly Gressley is a partner and one of the founders of Rumors Studio. Rumors is a graphic design studio located in Brooklyn founded in 2008 by Holly Gressley, Renda Morton, and Andy Pressman.

What are the challenges of running your own studio?

Running a studio can become a 24/7 job. There is definitely a time management element, since you’re thinking about both the business and creative aspects. You have to constantly be considering the future with each decision you make. It can be challenging to balance design time with client time, and when you work with partners or other designers that’s another collaboration to take into account. Besides that, it’s great—you get to have a say in all of the work you do. But it’s also a lot of responsibility, and there is definitely a learning curve. It’s helpful to get experience working at a least one other design studio before starting your own.

How did you all meet?

Renda and I worked together at the design firm Flat for a little while in 2005. A few years later, all of us ended up sharing studio space together in Dumbo. We started collaborating occasionally on projects and enjoyed it. Forming a studio together was a logical next step, and luckily it’s been a pretty smooth, organic process.

When starting a studio, or taking on a collaborative project, how do you decide who you should work with? What do you look for in a collaborator/partner?

The first thing to think about, especially on a more long-term project (such as starting a studio!), is whether you get along with your collaborators or partners, since you’ll be spending a lot of time together. That aside, we think about how we will work together—each other’s unique strengths, the timing of the project, and who will do which task. It’s good to think about who will manage the project, who will do the production work, who will do the visual graphic design, who will come up with ideas. It’s nice to have complimentary skill sets when collaborating on a project—some people are really good at organization while others are stronger at generating a ton of ideas. We think about everything on a case-by-case basis.

What is right/wrong with the design industry?

The design industry has changed so much as a result of the internet. It can be really inspiring to easily look at other designers’ work, but there seems to be an over-emphasis on style & ‘eye-candy‘ — the highly digestible and bloggable formal qualities of the design. This can be really fun, but also trends spread much faster. Another major change is in the publishing industry, which is big for a lot of print designers. As more content and activity shifts to online rather than printed formats, a lot of young designers (myself included!) are not fully prepared. I think this is now / will lead a lot of designers into new and uncharted territory, and we will start thinking differently about how to communicate in new ways—it’s pretty exciting. It’s also a lot easier now to publish & disseminate ideas in both printed and online formats.

How much do you feel being in New York influences your work?

I studied design in New York and lived here for most of the time I’ve worked as a designer, so it’s difficult to separate the two. I don’t really know what it would like to be a designer elsewhere. Living in New York affects the design process in a few ways. There is the constraint of physical space, and the associated costs that come with it. In general it is more expensive to live here than in a lot of other cities, so the need to do work that’s more profitable is built-in. We generally have smaller apartments and workspaces here, so that could affect the physical scale of what you work on. The real benefit to working in New York is its community—there are more publishing and cultural clients here than anywhere else in the US. Consequently there always a ton of interesting projects to do, and a ton of interesting designers who want to do them. It’s great to be able to have so many like-minded people around you, and easy access to art, music and almost any designed object you can think of. It’s easy to learn new things here, and to constantly shift your perspective.

What inspires you to design?

Art, everyday stuff I see outside, books, the internet, conversations. Everything I encounter around me, even the most random things—signage, a new concept or idea I haven’t heard of before, bands. I don’t read design blogs a lot but they can be good to look at occasionally. I like using design to engage with subject matter that I find interesting.

As a studio that does primarily print work, as well as fantastic web work, do you approach web work differently then print?

Our studio does about half print and half interactive work. We really enjoy working in diverse media, and  approach both from similar place but take into consideration the medium’s different goals and restrictions. Both editorial & web work are somewhat similar in ways of thinking about systems, fixed formats, format restrictions, and the number of people working together from a template. We enjoy thinking how systems can be flexible and scalable, whether that takes the form of a website, an identity system, a publication, or all three.

What is the one thing you know now, that you wish you knew when you started?

So many things! Impossible to pick just one! I was very focused on print design when I was starting out, and definitely wish I would have been more open to other media earlier on.

Not all jobs are worth doing, how do you choose whether to take a job or decline?

A fellow designer gave us some good advice when we were just starting out. A new job should possess at least two of the following three qualities: profitability, potential for generating future new projects, or something that you love to do or is really fun. We try to keep this in mind when determining which projects to do. It also depends what other projects we’re working on at the time. If most of the projects are fun but not profitable we try to take on a better paying one, or vice versa.

What is the strangest experience you have had as a designer?

Some of the freelance projects I did within the first year or two of graduating from college involved a combination of strange people and strange projects. I learned a lot about setting boundaries through those projects. I tend to get very excited about things I’ve never heard of or that seem incomprehensible, or classic cases of ‘it’s so crazy it just might work!’ This often leads to unusual projects. Some examples include visual treatments for never-made Off-Broadway productions of a Green Day inspired musical and a eighties game show-inspired synth pop musical, and a magazine inspired by gaming culture. There are so many more. The weirdest ones tend to be the ones I develop as personal projects.

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