David Carson

10 October 2016

His works are always very self-centred as he created, judged his own work and designed for himself – while his sense of identity changed throughout his life. Carson believes in our individuality as people with the inclusion of technology and computers, if the designs and graphics lack human input, it doesn’t communicate to us well as an audience (Carson, 2003). Identity is focused on people – and Carson always works on communicating his ideas to people. He communicates to many with his quotes – there is a different identity in different pieces he creates.

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He stresses in his talks the importance of the individual, of people in graphic design and communication. No one can draw from the same experiences as we do. Untitled Spread

From his identity as first a sociology teacher, to a professional surfer, to an art director and then to a graphic designer, Carson’s identity has changed over the years. He never had any professional training as a graphic designer; some believe that his identity is not that of a graphic designer. Carson himself however views himself as a graphic artist and that his past jobs and past identities are part of, but not encompassing everything he is today. Carson, 2003) Carson’s typography is generally very outspoken and experimental. While it does not lack purpose (a Modernistic quality) it certainly is very playful (a Post-Modernistic quality). His communicated messages are often meaningful and deep, but along with the serious side comes his unique sense of humour and play. In one of his many talks around the world, he showed a slide with a poster meant to cut down on cigarette smoking in New York. The tagline clearly and cleanly said, “Cigarettes shrink dicks. ” (Carson, 2003. ) It was crude, and politically incorrect but his poster certainly turned heads.

Another example of his playful attitude is the time he set an entire interview in Ray Gun magazine in Dingbat, claiming it to be boring and not very well written (Imagine, 2007). These examples included, he breaks many other conventions – “There’s no grid, there’s no system, there’s nothing to set up in advance. ”(Carson, 2003) This is often demonstrated in his work at Ray Gun magazine. His wild typography style is what drew attention to him – it was completely different to normal magazine spreads. Carson is however conservative of the conception of his work.

In examples in Ray Gun magazine or his book, The End of Print, there are few places where the body text is actually illegible. (Carson, 2011) Cigarettes shrink dicks [poster]. (2003). Visual language and communication is a big part of Carson’s typography as before it is something to read, it is something to view. Most communication is done non-verbally, and so the biggest message is sent first before deciphering the meaning of the text. His background of sociology and lack of design training makes him quite different from other designers, which he knows well himself.

Much of his controversial take on typography is seen as taboo by educators in design as an example, his famous quote ‘don’t mistake legibility for communication’ typography poster communicates this to viewers well (Carson, 2003). Carson, (n. d. ), Don’t Mistake Legibility for Communication. It takes a moment to decode, yet the message is clearer than the words he has used. Carson explains that just because it is legible does not mean that it can be ‘read’ and understood, and just because the words are legible does not mean that the message the author wanted to convey is communicated.

These very stand-alone opinions push him further from the norm in typography but not going overboard, and his work is often deconstructive by stripping the media used to its bare minimum. (Kirschenbaum, 2011) He often interprets quotes in typography such as his work with Marshall McLuhan’s “The Book of Probes” but turns it into a visual language. The spreads’ appearance at first is what communicates a message, before the body text can be absorbed by the viewer. The typography and feeling is everything to the image, and that is what Carson believes communicates a real message.

He emphasizes ‘feeling’ and ‘communication’ above all. The photography and style of including photos help to convey Carson’s messages. He often uses photographs in his typography as a main attraction, takes his inspiration from photos he takes, which he displays and talks about in his many presentations around the world. It includes everything from graffiti to torn down billboards, Carson always willingly accepts the ‘random’ and the ‘unintended’. (Carson, 2003) For example in his work at Ray Gun magazine, he read the articles, interpreted them, and turned them into graphics.

In his spreads there are always photos included. Photos play a large role in Post-Modernism, as it restructures the conditions of other arts. (Krauss, 1991. p. 48) The mindset of many was that when photography was to be perfected, that painting would die as an art form. When you can take an accurate photograph, why paint? Many thought that still life painting or realism would disappear. Modernism is strongly based around the artist being the ‘master’, a higher being, while Post-Modernism has the effect of humanizing artists – especially with photography.

Aspects of Post-Modernism such as the famous ‘Ready-Made’ and the idea that art can be created by anyone, photographs, rather than art, speak loudly to those that view his work. Photographs that can be taken by anyone – Carson turns into impressive and thoughtful designs – but they ground Carson’s work and allow it to communicate to us, something he is always stressing. Conceptualism is more about the ‘idea’ rather than being focused on the art itself. In the case of David Carson, his ideas are very strong in his pieces, and he is always trying to communicate them.

His style is one that creates an impression at first sight and is a spread to look at before reading. The idea is focused often in the meaning of the text, but before that a meaning is communicated before the viewer can read into it. The idea behind the graphic is very Post-Modern; it appears very random and outside the boundaries of normal printed articles. Although he has been accused of ‘not communicating’, he counters with “you cannot not communicate”, another one of his famous quotes (Kirschenbaum, 2011).

Carson’s unique ideas were the most obvious during his work at Ray Gun. His work in Ray Gun magazine brought him to the public eye with his outrageous, high-impact graphics (Carson, n. d. ). It was a rock music magazine, with the content being just as live and kinetic as Carson’s typography. Random mistakes and design elements were so similar that they were all welcomed – incorrect cropping, typos, misplacing titles and headings – and the randomness of the magazine had most spreads looking unique.

The acceptance of what was random was a very Post-Modern take on print media – entirely different from the normal, tidy end of print. To further support the Post-modernism of his style, Carson also states that there certainly have been pages in Ray Gun that have no deep meaning, that are simply fun… “I think rock and roll should be fun”. This is quite a contradiction to his intention of communicating deep ideas with his work – but supports his role as a Post-Modern designer as play is a large part of Post-Modernistic work.

The fact that contradictions occur in Carson’s actions and words makes him much more of a Post-Modern designer, as contradictions are commonplace in Post-Modernism. After consideration and research, I have found that David Carson is a vital figure in Post-Modern graphic design, with many different names bestowed upon him such as “Godfather of Grunge”, or “the master of non-communication”. His works in Ray Gun magazine have established him as a huge contributor to Post-Modernist printed media, and I believe that his presence in the world of typography has revolutionized the printed word.

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