David Carson

  • February 4, 2015

“If you want to do something nobody else can, then you pull from something the computer can’t give you. And that’s your background, your personality, your sense of humor, your parents, your whole life experience.”

Interview and text by Maria Ana Ventura

One warm summer evening in Lisbon, mingling at a surfing film festival, we noticed this guy in a dia-de-los-muertos shirt, sipping red wine. “Holy cow!” It was none other than David Carson.  Strangely enough, that’s the effect that the most Googled graphic designer has on some people. He’s the kind of star who signs autographs (foreheads and bellies included!) for two hours straight. Why? Hyperbole apart, it’s fair to say that David Carson’s effect on graphic design is comparable to the Renaissance’s influence on 15th-century art and global thinking, revolutionising the way people saw, sensed and thought about graphic design. Most fascinating of all was he did it all based on nothing more than intuition.

Break On Through
At the time, the digital era was starting to gain ground; however, magazines were still tied to grids and tired rules. And in the midst of this, there was David Carson ignoring convention, creating crazy new layouts and using vernacular typefaces the way a painter uses colors, like some raging bull in the finest china shop. This polarised opinion. Some called his work “cutting-edge” and “sublime”, others complained it was “too hard to read” or simply “hideous”. If we had to choose a word, it would be “hardcore”. But who better to describe it than DC himself? ¶ The crowd at the Lisbon film fest seem to know that Carson, in the words of Newsweek, “changed the public face of graphic design”.  They also know he’s one of their tribe (he was once a pro surfer). But do they know that the man responsible for some of the world’s most  groundbreaking magazines only studied design much later in life?

Freedom Exists
David takes us back to the 1980s and when he was teaching sociology in San Diego. He picked up a flyer for a graphic design summer workshop for senior high school kids. “And there I was, considering: ‘can one live out of this graphic design thing? ‘Cause this sounds really interesting’. I called the school where the course was to be held, told them I was a teacher but that I was willing to take it”. And that was the start a new chapter in Carson’s life. Having never formally studied design proved no obstacle; having no voices in the back of his head telling him: “You must do this! That is just absurd! YOU CAN’T POSSIBLY DO THAT”! This lack of training and pre-conceived ideas allowed David to rely solely on the most powerful creative tool there is: intuition. This led him to take chances and exploit new paths, in order to succeed in an area that had become rather grey, turning his work into something larger than life. Over the last two decades, David has lent his Midas touch to A-list magazines all over the world. Now a lecturer in universities and speaker at conferences throughout the world, he has won more than 170 awards and been responsible for the art and design of numerous campaigns, catalogues and even TV commercials for Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Armani, American Airlines and Ray Ban.

The future of printed magazines?

Strange Days
Another warm day in Portugal and David Carson looks no different from any given tourist as he strolls around the small seaside village of Ericeira in his jeans, shades and checkered shirt. Having lunch with DC can be very revealing. For instance, we’ve learned he is not much into fish and that he still retains a vivid image of how the idea of the first cover for Blue magazine came to mind. We also learned that if asked about the “dingbat gate” he will most likely roll his eyes. So we quickly change the subject to his first book, The End of Print. In 1995, when the book came out, this title sounded like one of another Carson’s mockeries. Actually, it was British designer Neville Brody (another superstar of the profession) while leafing through issues of Ray Gun who said “We’ve pushed the limits of what can be done in a magazine. There’s nothing else left to do. This is the end of print”. The book soon became a major bestseller, hinting that print still had a few years left. Not many though… Once again, these are times of drastic change, similar to the ones David faced with the advent of digital. This one is even greater. The editorial landscape as we know it seems to be slowly sinking. Every day, new online media are making inroads into a bigger and more differentiated market. Fewer people are buying magazines and newspapers, with many publications closing. Tablets sales are going through the roof. People now want to swipe pages not turn them. David believes that, very soon, printed magazines will become something of a novelty item. So the question is…Was The End [of Print] the very beginning of the real end, Mr Carson?

Talking about the end of print is still ironic or is it starting to make more sense?

Check out the work of David Carson here.

This article was published in Mente #0. Download it for free form Apple App Store here:

Mente #0


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