David Carson is an American graphic designer. He is best known for his innovative magazine design, and use of experimental typography. He was the art director for the magazine Ray Gun. Carson was perhaps the most influential graphic designer of the nineties. In particular, his widely-imitated aesthetic defined the so-called “grunge typography” era.
Because of his father, Carson traveled all over America, Puerto Rico, and the West Indies. These journeys affected him profoundly and the first signs of his talent were shown at a very young age; however, his first actual contact with graphic design was made in 1980 at the University of Arizona on a two week graphics course. He attended San Diego State University as well as Oregon College of Commercial Art. Later on in 1983, Carson was working towards a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology when he went to Switzerland, where he attended a three-week workshop in graphic design as part of his degree. This is where he met his first great influence, who also happened to be the teacher of this course, Hans-Rudolf Lutz.
He became renowned for his inventive graphics in the 1990s. Having worked as a sociology teacher and professional surfer in the late 1970s, he art directed various music, skateboarding, and surfing magazines through the 1980s. As art director of surfing magazines and more famously style magazine Ray Gun (1992-5), Carson came to worldwide attention. His layouts featured distortions or mixes of ‘vernacular’ typefaces and fractured imagery, rendering them almost illegible. Indeed, his maxim of the ‘end of print’ questioned the role of type in the emergent age of digital design, following on from California New Wave and coinciding with experiments at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. In the later 1990s he shifted from ‘surf subculture’ to corporate work for Nike, Levis, and Citibank.
During the period of 1982–1987, Carson worked as a teacher in Torrey Pines High School in San Diego, California. In 1983, Carson started to experiment with graphic design and found himself immersed in the artistic and bohemian culture of Southern California. By the late eighties he had developed his signature style, using “dirty” type and non-mainstream photographic techniques. He would later be dubbed the “father of grunge.”
Carson went on to become the art director of Transworld Skateboarding magazine. Among other things, he was also a professional surfer, and in 1989 Carson was qualified as the 9th best surfer in the world. Steve and Debbee Pezman, publishers of Surfer magazine (and later Surfers Journal) tapped Carson to design Beach Culture, which evolved out of a to-the-trade annual supplement; the new, quarterly publication was called Beach Culture. Though only six quarterly issues were produced, the tabloid-size venue—edited by author Neil Fineman—allowed Carson to make his first significant impact on the world of graphic design and typography—with ideas that were called innovative even by those that were not fond of his work, in which legibility often relied on readers’ strict attention (for one feature on a blind surfer, Carson opened with a two-page spread covered in black). A stint at How magazine (a trade magazine aimed at designers) followed, and soon Carson was hired by publisher Marvin Scott Jarrett to design Ray Gun, a magazine of international standards which had music and lifestyle as its subject. Not afraid to break convention, in one issue he used Dingbat as the font for what he considered a rather dull interview with Bryan Ferry. (However, the whole text was published in a legible font at the back of the same issue of RayGun, complete with a repeat of the asterisk motif). Ray Gun made Carson very well-known and attracted new admirers to his work. In this period, publications such as the New York Times (May 1994) and Newsweek (1996) featured Carson and increased his publicity greatly. In 1995, Carson founded his own studio, David Carson Design, in New York City, and started to attract major clients from all over the United States. During the next three years (1995–1998), Carson was doing work for Pepsi Cola, Ray Ban (orbs project), Nike, Microsoft, Budweiser, Giorgio Armani, NBC, American Airlines and Levi Strauss Jeans, and later worked for a variety of new clients, including AT&T, British Airways, Kodak, Lycra, Packard Bell, Sony, Suzuki, Toyota, Warner Bros., CNN, Cuervo Gold, Johnson AIDS Foundation, MTV Global, Princo, Lotus Software, Fox TV, Nissan, quiksilver, Intel, Mercedes-Benz, MGM Studios and Nine Inch Nails. He, along with Tina Meyers, designed the “crowfiti” typeface used in the film The Crow: City of Angels. He acted as the original design consultant for the tourism magazine Blue in 1997. Christa Skinner art directed and designed the magazine.
In 2000, Carson opened a new personal studio in Charleston, South Carolina. In 2004, Carson became the Creative Director of Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston and designed the special “Exploration” edition of Surfing Magazine and directed a television commercial for UMPQUA Bank in Seattle, Washington.
Carson became interested in a new school of typography that was being seen in the pages of Emigre magazine, California Institute of the Arts, and Cranbrook Academy of the Arts starting in the mid and late 1980s. His interests included photography-based graphic design similar to that which was seen in 8vo in England. Carson is credited for popularizing the style.
Carson claims he is emotionally attached to his creations. Carson’s work is considered explorative of thoughts and ideas that become “lost” in the subconscious.
Carson’s work is familiar among the generation that grew up with Ray Gun Magazine and its progeny such as huH and xceler8, and in general, the visually savvy MTV generation. He took photography and type and manipulated and twisted them together and on some level confusing the message but in reality he was drawing the eyes of the viewer deeper within the composition itself.
I chose to research Carson for his poster style. he seems very gritty even though the subject he is promoting is not. I would like to get this Kind of feel across on my posters.
I like this piece of work just because of the image on the background and the blunt message. Though we read the message first then realize what the image is, then realize what he is talking about, it works well with all the white space, which is another technique that carson is very good at. And a Technique i would also like to try and use in my posters.