David Carson is an unconventional self-taught graphic designer who revolutionized the design scene in America in the 1990s. His grid-free, innovative typography and distinct layouts set him apart in the magazine world. He is known by some as the “Godfather of grunge typography” which he employed throughout his career.
His Start in Graphic Design
Carson studied Sociology at San Diego State University and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts. Shortly after he became a high-school teacher in southern Oregon at the age of twenty-six. Stumbling across a flyer in the mail (intended for high school seniors) for a graphic design summer program at the University of Arizona he decided to attend. After, Carson attended the Oregon College of Commercial Art to study more on graphic design. A few years later he enrolled in a three-week workshop in Switzerland as part of the degree. While there, his instructor Hans-Rudolf Lutz challenged him to work experimentally and push typography in unconventional ways. It wasn’t until later in his life that David set out to dedicate his passion for graphic design.
At first, he worked for the magazine ‘Self and Musician’ that covered surfers’ interests. One of his most notable endeavors in design was working as art director for Transworld Skateboarding magazine in 1984. Carson revitalized the magazine’s style and layout up until his tenure ended. During his time there he developed the signature style of grimy typography overlaid on different photographic techniques. Moving on from Transworld, David was made art director of the Beach Culture magazine in 1989, however after only six issues the magazine folded. Regardless of the situation, Carson had begun to make a name for himself. In 1992 he was offered a job at an alternative-music magazine titled Ray Gun. The publisher reached out to Carson and told him that he saw potential in his graphic design skills. Within the first year as their art director, Carson had tripled the magazine’s circulation and proved himself once again.
Defining His Style
David Carson’s work is often characterized as chaotic and at a disarray. Others have said that his layouts seem meaningless at face value, but hold on to a larger picture. Albert Watson (a Scottish fashion photographer) stated, “the disorganized use of his typography has its own purpose, such as each stroke of a painter’s brush evoke different emotion, imagery, and ideas, so does Carson’s designs possess such attributes”. While Carson’s style of visual communication attracted many, it also repelled those who considered his work misleading.
Carson has had his hands in various other mediums of design such as ad campaigns, videos, and books. However, magazines gave him the perfect platform to experiment. From 1995 to 2003, Carson directed his own studio in New York City. Working with some of the most diverse clients in the worlds of fashion, entertainment and more. Since then he has also served as creative director for Bose Corporations. In 2010 Carson began lecturing and holding workshops across Europe, South America, and the United States. He continues to travel and lecture throughout the world to this day. Since his initial magazine layout, Carson has been featured in over three hundred interviews and articles worldwide in both digital and print.
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