David Carson (graphic designer)

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David Carson
TYPO Berlin 2014 – Day Two (14178868916).jpg
Carson at the 2014 TYPO Berlin conference
Born (1954-09-08) September 8, 1954 (age 60)
Corpus Christi, Texas, United States
Nationality American
Known for Type design + Graphic Design

David Carson (born September 8, 1954) is an American graphic designer, art director and surfer. He is best known for his innovative magazine design, and use of experimental typography. He was the art director for the magazine Ray Gun, in which he employed much of the typographic and layout style for which he is known. In particular, his widely imitated aesthetic defined the so-called "grunge typography" era.[1]

Early life and career[edit]

Carson was born on September 8, 1954 in Corpus Christi, Texas.

He attended San Diego State University, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology.

Carson's first contact with graphic design was in 1980 at the University of Arizona during a two week graphics course, taught by Jackson Boelts.

From 1982 to 1987, Carson worked as a teacher in Torrey Pines High School in San Diego, California. During that time, he was also a professional surfer, and in 1989 he was ranked as the 9th best surfer in the world.[2]

In 1983, Carson started to experiment with graphic design and found himself immersed in the artistic and bohemian culture of Southern California. He attended the Oregon College of Commercial Art. That year, he went to Switzerland to attend a three-week workshop in graphic design as part of his degree. The teacher of the workshop, Hans-Rudolf Lutz, became his first great influence.

First art direction[edit]

Carson became the art director of Transworld Skateboarding magazine in 1984, and remained there until 1988, helping to give the magazine a distinctive look. By the end of his tenure there he had developed his signature style, using "dirty" type and non-mainstream photographic techniques.

He was also the art director of a spinoff magazine, Transworld Snowboarding, which began publishing in 1987.

Steve and Debbee Pezman, publishers of Surfer magazine (and later Surfers Journal) tapped Carson to design Beach Culture, a quarterly publication that evolved out of a to-the-trade annual supplement. 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 (a trade magazine aimed at designers) followed.

Ray Gun[edit]

Carson was hired by publisher Marvin Scott Jarrett to design Ray Gun, an alternative music and lifestyle magazine that debuted in 1992.

In one issue, he notoriously used Dingbat, a font containing only symbols, as the font for what he considered a rather dull interview with Bryan Ferry.[3] (However, the whole text was published in a legible font at the back of the same issue of Ray Gun, complete with a repeat of the asterisk motif).

Ray Gun made Carson well known and attracted new admirers to his work. In this period, he was featured in publications such as The New York Times (May 1994) and Newsweek (1996).

David Carson Design[edit]

In 1995, Carson left Ray Gun to found his own studio, David Carson Design, in New York City. He 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 Corporation, 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 named and designed the first issue of the adventure lifestyle magazine Blue, in 1997. David designed the first issue and the first three covers, after which his assistant Christa Skinner art directed and designed the magazine until its demise. Carson's cover design for the first issue was selected as one of the "top 40 magazine covers of all time" by the American Society of Magazine Editors.[4]

In 2000, Carson closed his New York City studio and followed his children to Charleston, South Carolina, where their mother had relocated them.

Later work[edit]

In 2004, Carson became the Creative Director of the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston. That year, he also designed the special "Exploration" edition of Surfing Magazine and directed a television commercial for UMPQUA Bank in Seattle, Washington.

In 2010 Carson worked as worldwide creative director for Bose Corporation. He also served as Design Director for the 2011 Quiksilver Pro Surfing contest in Biarritz, France, and designed the branding for the 2011 Quiksilver Pro in New York City. He designed a set of three posters for the San Sebastián International Film Festival in Spain and the covers for Huck and Little White Lies magazines. He was featured in 2011 in interviews in Vice magazine and Monster Children, as well as large features in Spain and Portugal's largest newspapers.

Carson designed the cover of the summer 2011 "Time based Art" issue and catalogue of The Portland Mercury. He was invited to judge the European Design Awards in London (DD+A) in both 2010 and 2011.

Since 2010, he has lectured, held workshops and exhibitions across Europe, South America and the United States.

Analysis and accolades[edit]

In a feature story, Newsweek magazine said he "changed the public face of graphic design".

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.

When Graphic Design USA Magazine (NYC) listed the “most influential graphic designers of the era” David was listed as one of the all time 5 most influential designers, with Milton Glaser, Paul Rand, Saul Bass and Massimo Vignelli.

Carson claims that his work is "subjective, personal and very self indulgent".

Design writer Steven Heller has said, "He significantly influenced a generation to embrace typography as an expressive medium". Design educator and historian Ellen Lupton said after the release of Carson's book Trek, "David Carson continues to be one of the world's most distinctive typographic voices—much imitated, but never matched" (ID Mag.nyc). AIGA (the American Institute of Graphic Arts) called Carson "our biggest star". The magazine Eye produced a graphic chart showing Carson to be the most 'Googled' graphic designer ever.

Carson continues to lecture extensively throughout the world.


In November 1995, Carson published his first book, End of Print. It sold over 200,000 copies in five different languages and soon became the best-selling graphic design book worldwide.[citation needed] His second book, 2nd Sight, followed in 1997. In 1998, Carson worked with Professor John Kao of the Harvard Business School on a documentary entitled The Art and Discipline of Creativity. Carson's third book was Fotografiks (1999) which earned Carson the Award of Best Use of Photography in Graphic Design. Carson’s fourth book, Trek, was released in 2000.

Carson is also featured in The History of Graphic Design by Philip Meggs and The Encyclopedia of Surfing by Matt Warshaw.

Personal life[edit]

Carson is married and has two children, Luke and Luci.


During the period of 1989–2004, David Carson has won over 170 Awards for his work in graphic design. Some of these awards include:

  • Best Overall Design, Society of Publication Designers in New York.
  • Cover of the Year, Society of Publication Designers in New York.
  • Award of Best Use of Photography in Graphic Design
  • Designer of the Year 1998, International Center of Photography
  • Designer of the Year 1999, International Center of Photography
  • Master of Typography, Graphics magazine (NY)
  • The most famous graphic designer on the planet, April 2004 – London Creative Review magazine (London)
  • One of the 30 most influential Macintosh users over the 30-year history of the computer – Apple Inc. (January 2014)[5]
  • AIGA medal – 2014[6]


  • Carson, David (1995). The End of Print: The Graphic Design of David Carson. Chronicle Books. ISBN 0-8118-1199-9. 
  • Carson, David (1997). David Carson: 2nd Sight: Grafik Design After the End of Print. Universe Publishing. ISBN 0-7893-0128-8. 
  • Meggs, Phillip B.; David Carson (1999). Fotografiks: An Equilibrium Between Photography and Design Through Graphic Expression That Evolves from Content. Laurence King. ISBN 1-85669-171-3. 
  • Stecyk, Craig; David Carson (2002). Surf Culture: The Art History of Surfing. Laguna Art Museum in association with Gingko Press. ISBN 1-58423-113-0. 
  • Mcluhan, Marshall; David Carson; Eric McLuhan; Terrance Gordon (2003). The Book of Probes. Gingko Press. ISBN 1-58423-056-8. 
  • Carson, David (2004). Trek: David Carson, Recent Werk. Gingko Press. ISBN 1-58423-046-0. 
  • Mayne, Thom; David Carson (2005). Ortlos: Architecture of the Networks. Hatje Cantz Publishers. ISBN 3-7757-1652-1. 


  1. ^ TED. "David Carson: Type designer". TED. Retrieved July 3, 2010. 
  2. ^ "davidcarsondesign.com". Retrieved November 10, 2008. 
  3. ^ Interview with David Carson, Imagine, BBC Television, Broadcast November 6, 2007
  4. ^ "ASME's Top 40 Magazine Covers of the Last 40 Years". The Association of Magazine Media. Retrieved April 27, 2012. 
  5. ^ "Thirty Years of Mac – 1992". Apple Inc. Retrieved February 1, 2014. 
  6. ^ "David Carson". AIGA. Retrieved May 2, 2014. 

External links[edit]