Holly Kowalski

HOLLY-KOWALSKI

PRESIDENT, OWNER & CREATIVE DIRECTOR, KAY JAMES DESIGN, APPLETON WI

After several years as an in-house designer and then solo designer, Holly launched her own design studio, Kay James Design, in 2011. Last year she and her team won several AIGA design awards for print pattern development and were invited to exhibit their work at MIAD. One current initiative is to elevate the role of pattern in design. Holly and her team help clients deliver brand ownable, strategic, and on-trend print patterns that reflect the soul of the brand. She believes that pattern offers an underutilized and powerful branding opportunity. The beauty of pattern is that it doesn’t need to be translated — it’s a universal language that everyone can relate to. It sets the mood and anyone can describe a specific pattern and easily explain what it means to them.

WHERE WERE YOU BORN AND WHERE DO YOU LIVE NOW?
Midwestern roots run deep in my family. I was born in Cincinnati OH and I spent most of my childhood in the rural Northwoods of Wisconsin. I met my husband in Appleton WI and, after several moves, we decided to come back.

DID YOU GO TO DESIGN SCHOOL?
At the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh I earned a BFA in design with a minor in journalism. The highlight was playing competitive team sports and qualifying for several NCAA national championship titles. These experiences influenced my philosophy on launching and running businesses.

LEFTY OR RIGHTY?
Definitely right-handed and left-footed

MORNING PERSON OR NIGHT OWL?
As a mother of two young children, I have learned early to bed and early to rise is key for quality sleep

FICTIONAL OR HISTORICAL CHARACTER YOU IDENTIFY WITH?
Howard Roark from The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

ARE YOU MUSICAL AND/OR DO YOU PLAY AN INSTRUMENT?
My kids are learning to play the piano; my eight years of lessons are finally paying off

FAVORITE BOOK?
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho feels timely

FAVORITE MOVIE?
I’m a geek for classic ‘80s movies like Karate Kid

FAVORITE TV BINGE WATCH?
Game of Thrones

FAVORITE SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORM?
Definitely Pinterest

FAVORITE FINE ARTIST?
My list of favorites includes New York artist Lisa Hoke. I recently had the honor of joining Lisa on a curated panel discussion of how artists and designers approach pattern creation. She uses consumer packaging as her medium. Several of her pieces included packaging that my team had designed for clients. It’s was inspiring to compare our contrasting approaches and then realize we shared similar aesthetic

FAVORITE CHARITY?
We are active supporters of women’s organizations in our community and recently collaborated with a client to rebrand the Harbor House domestic abuse program and shelter

FAVORITE FREE TIME ACTIVITY?
Travel with my family

COLLECT ANYTHING?
I dislike clutter and keep only what’s meaningful

COLOR USED MOST OFTEN IN YOUR DESIGN?
While I personally love green, Pantone 367U, nearly all of our work includes blue

TYPEFACE USED MOST OFTEN IN YOUR DESIGN?
Anything handlettered is trending right now

DOES PRINT HAVE A ROLE IN YOUR DESIGNS?
You mean print and pattern, which offers a competitive advantage and meaningful branding opportunity

ADVICE TO A YOUNG DESIGNER JUST STARTING OUT?
Exchange creates wealth

IF YOU WERE NOT A DESIGNER, WHAT WOULD YOU BE?
A philosopher or curator

A MANTRA OR SAYING YOU LIVE BY?
Do great work, treat people well, and the rest follows

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