David Carson

David Carson is a graphic designer and magazine publisher, whose most prominent projects include the music magazine “Ray Gun,” and his first book “The End of Print: The Graphic Design of David Carson.”

David was born in Texas on September 8th, 1955. For much of his early adulthood David was a professional surfer, and attained a standing in the World Surfing Championships while he worked as a high school teacher in California. While his early life had very little if anything to do with graphic design, this changed drastically when he enrolled in a short commercial design class, where his first design influences occurred, stemming from his instructor: a Swiss designer named Hans-Rudolph Lutz (Sacharoq, 1996, p.8). His new found passion for the arts led him to enrol full time in design school, and shortly after he landed his first real job in the design field as a designer for a small magazine called Self and Musician.

Through this placement and his work with another small magazine called Transworld Skateboarding, David was able to grow as an artist and experiment with a multitude of design styles. He developed what is generally considered the hallmark of his work, including pages with overlapping photos and an incredible diversity of typefaces. His early work was generally well received by the visual communications community, including photographer Albert Watson, who stated “[David] uses type the way artists use paint, to create emotion [and] to express ideas.” (Carson, 2008, p. 2)

In 1989 David shifted occupations again, and became the art director for Beach Culture, another surfing magazine. Although only six issues of Beach Culture were published before its end, David’s work with the magazine earned him over 100 design awards, and is still seen in the eyes of some as a collection of his greatest work. His incredible accomplishments with Beach Culture catapulted David into the design spotlight, and into the eyes of Marvin Jarrett, the publisher of “Ray Gun:” an American alternative music publication, who hired David in 1992 as Art Director.

Ray Gun’s monumental success over the next three years is most commonly attributed to David’s incredible design strategy that was particularly appealing to the youth demographic. In the years between “92 and “95 Ray Gun subscriptions tripled. David’s new direction into design targeted at youth brought him into the eyes of corporate America. Large companies such as Nike and Levis saw an opportunity in David’s design to increase youth sales, and commissioned him to design print ads and to direct television commercials.

David left Ray Gun in 1995 to pursue the establishment of his own company: David Carson Design. The firm became instantly successful and attracted a diverse scene of corporate clientele including Microsoft, Toyota, and Giorgio Armani. David also released his first book in 1995, entitled The End of Print: The Graphic Design of David Carson, which is currently the best selling graphic design book of all time, selling in excess of 200 000 copies.(Grow, 2005, p. 732) The book was reprinted in 2000 with a slight title change, now reading “The End of Print: The Grafik Design of David Carson.”

Over the years, David has released many more compilations of his work, including the 2004 collection called Trek.

Trek’scover is incredibly chaotic and colourful, as are the defining characteristics in much of David’s work. The harsh clashing of text colour with background and the use of very cryptic typefaces makes it rather difficult to read, reminiscent of an older work, where he is quoted saying “Don’t mistake legibility for communication.” The use of layers in the cover also adds to the chaos and makes it more difficult to really understand what is being communicated; however, it does add a very unifying feel to the piece, making all the elements that seem randomly assembled correlate. It is because of his ability to do this, that is to bring together chaotic elements into an organized and stable whole, that I believe David Carson is one of the greatest designers in the world. His abstractness and harsh contrasts in textures, type and colour create designs that are truly inspiring and fun to view. The use of incorrect spelling also acts as a unifier of the strange elements of Trek’s cover and it makes the reader work at deducing the meaning of the design.

David currently works for the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston as a Creative Director in addition to his responsibilities at David Carson Design, where he is chief designer.


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