AG's ARTIN Design Blog


David Carson

David Carson: Type designer

David Carson is the “grunge typographer” whose magazine Ray Gun helped explode the possibilities of text on a page.

Why you should listen to him:

David Carson’s boundary-breaking typography in the 1990s, in Ray Gun magazine and other pop-cult books, ushered in a new vision of type and page design — quite simply, breaking the traditional mold of type on a page and demanding fresh eyes from the reader. Squishing, smashing, slanting and enchanting the words on a layout, Carson made the point, over and over, that letters on a page are art. You can see the repercussions of his work to this day, on a million Flash intro pages (and probably just as many skateboards and T-shirts).

His first book, with Lewis Blackwell and a foreword by David Byrne, is The End of Print, and he’s written or collaborated on several others, including the magisterial Book of Probes, an exploration of the thinking of Marshall McLuhan. His latest book is Trek, a collection of his recent work.


David Carson is considered by many to be one of the world’s most influential graphic designers. He describes himself as a “hands-on” designer and has a unique, intuition-driven way of creating everything from magazines to TV commercials. In addition to various awards and achievements for his graphic design and typography work, Carson has also written books on design, including The End of Print (with Lewis Blackwell), Trek: David Carson, Recent Werk, and the soon-to-be-released The Rules of Graphic Design.

Graphis magazine referred to Carson as a “Master of Typography.” I.D. magazine included Carson in their list of “America’s most innovative designers.” In Newsweek magazine, a feature article said of Carson: “…he changed the public face of graphic design.” Emigre, a graphic design journal that ran for 21 years up until 2005, devoted an entire issue to Carson. His long list of clients includes American Express, AT&T, Atlantic Records, Budweiser, CNN, Levi’s, MTV, Sony, Toyota, Warner Bros., and Xerox, to name just a few.
Carson travels throughout the United States and the world, speaking at seminars and conferences on topics of graphic design and typography. He also enjoys surfing and at one time was a professional surfer.



“he changed the public face of graphic design” -newsweek
“the art director of the era” creative review london
“the most important work coming out of america” american center for design
“the most influential graphic designer of our times” surfrider foundation, july ’09
“He significantly influenced a generation to embrace typography as an expressive medium”
– steven heller 2010


david, kanegardenbay march 2010

n e w s :
david has been invited to judge the D+AD awards in london this spring,’11,
celebrating the best worldwide design and advertising for ’10.
following recent lectures in nyc + phil.(PENN) next up: argentina+new zealand, vancouver. 

davids exhibition in PARIS , spring 2011

watch for dc’s new
TVcommerical,as CD,
for B.headphones

davids recently designed architecture book,
PATTERNS by p.anderson+d.salomon (Harvard, Cornell)
is now available at better book stores.

design DC.fall.2010.

dc progress) best headphones in the world.

dc designed the jan. 2011 cover of “little white lies” magazine

“Commissioning and understanding David Carson are both complex things and, in equal measures, both make him a true master of graphic design. For many young and aspiring designers, the chance to work with David Carson would be an immense honor, and for The Church of London it was no different. 

Rob Longworth.
Creative Director
The Church of London

david designed the identity and way-finding for the brand new
salvoador dali museum in st. petersburg, openning january 2011.

dc designed posters for upcoming lecture at full sail.

dc designed the cover of the feb 2011 issue of HUCK mag. also an interview.

David’s design of the first cover of blue magazine
was selected as one of the “best 40 covers over the past 40 years”

spotted in LA/nyc photo steve riess


UoPENN.print DC results 11.11/10

david has just designed the cover for the Yale University Art Gallery
Fall 2010 program.

Greetings David:
Once again, I must thank King Carson for inspiration. In the midst of a heavy design work week I found myself stuck on several conceptual layouts. I pulled, 2nd Sight, fotografiks, Trek, and finally… the bible, Probes off the shelf and soon after had my project approved for next-gen edit. I greatly… look forward to your next volume as a new personal graphic assistant. We worked together years ago on a small private publication magazine and I hope to do so again in the future. You friend and fellow soldier in the graphic design holy wars, Mark Polansky.
june 3, 2010.

Sent: Mar 29, 2010 4:12 PM
Subject: helvetica

Hi David,
the other day i was noodling through itunes and started watching the second half of Helvetica. I was drawn to your piece on type and how you didn’t know what you were doing when you started, but were trying to make an emotional connection between words and design. Something about this really ignited for me and i felt compelled to write you.

i am a monk, poet, designer, musician, believe it or not all of these “disciplines” sort of feed into each other, inform and offer respite to each other.

I also teach a group of high schoolers, precocious and semi-undisciplined, graphic arts. . .I want for them to have that sort of experience you are talking about.

I think for me it comes down to peering at something until you can see it differently, until before your very eyes it changes and reveals something unknown about itself. sometimes this requires silence, sometimes violence. I guess if i was being honest I would say, i long for this, but fear it.

I’m not really asking anything, just saying I appreciate your work. . . i suspect we may be from wildly different worlds, but I recognized and respect the veracity of what i was seeing and hearing. . .

Br. Christopher

Date: Mar 26, 2010 6:22 AM
Going over a layout and my new creative director out of the blue asks me which designer I’m most inspired by. Without hesitation, David Carson.

Haven’t thought about that question in some time, probably college. It was refreshing to revisit the feelings behind why I started doing all this in the first place. Emotion that was a bit lost in the shuffle after being undertaken with big business/corporate industry these past few years.

After that discussion I made my first visit to your website and immediately remembered why this is the industry I’m in. Pioneers like yourself are who gives us creatives around the world authority and voice. You’ve empowered us to pursue not only our professional vision but also our life vision.

The real coincidence here is my new design job brought me to Charleston and has allowed me to live on Folly Beach. A place I see you were able to draw much inspiration from as well. I hope to keep the tradition going.
Thanks for stirring all that up the again.

Hi David!
Thank you again for inviting me to your home in kane garden bay. I felt honored and was delighted with you as a person. Now, after reading about you, I am in awe and a little embaressed that I didn’t know who you were. To be invited into the home of someone as accomplished as you really makes a person feel good. You have to be one of the most laid back and humble people on the planet and I feel lucky to have met you. Whenever you are in SC and would like some company, let me know. I would love to have my family meet you. Next time there is a swell in KGB I hope to see you there!

thanks again,
Robert T

dc designed armani magazine/catalogue

dc designed bark paddleboards brochure

dc and kelly slater, summer 2010, biarritz, france.
9x world champ kelly makes a gesture soon to be true….

dc + “mr. sunset” jeff hakman, quik hdqrts, france. 2010

lettering david did for opening of new quiksilver hdqrtrs in france
may 27, 2010

DC Named to Most Influential list 

Graphic Design USA magazine(NYC) recently listed the “Most influential graphic designers of the era” David was listed as one of the top 5 most influential designers, along with Milton Glaser, Paul Rand, Saul Bass and Massimo Vignelli.

David Carson Design
Partnership for Drug Free America – TV spot
David Carson , Director
ADDY Awards :
I didn’t realize that this was David Carson’s work when we watched it the first time. The typography wasn’t the thing that caused me to enjoy it. It was just a novel way to do a very “tired” subject. It caused me to think about things in a different way and that’s what made it good. Very clever solution.
This spot had it all…killer art direction, amazing broadcast design, and most importantly, a powerful concept. It did what all those “Parents…the anti-drug” spots are trying to do, but failing miserably: Tell you exactly what you as a parent can do to help your child. And as it turns out, it’s a pretty simple thing to do. Moving, compelling, and persuasive.

david garza video, “discoball world” 

motrin pain tv spot

leap batteries


nine inch nails

An Interview with David Carson. Layers Magazine.

Layers: David, could you tell us a little about your new book?
Carson: It’s called The Rules of Graphic Design. I’m working on it now in Zurich, Switzerland, where I have a small studio, besides my one in the states. It will show a lot of the new work I’ve done over the past few years, and will, as the title suggests, finally get the official “rules” out on graphic design. It should be out early spring 2008.
My first workshop I ever attended on graphic design was in Switzerland, so the book will no doubt be affected by my being here. I started it in the states and it will be finished there.

Layers: As one of the most well-known and influential graphic designers in the world, how do you balance work and play? Do you still get to surf often?
Carson: I’ve always felt I make my living from my hobby, so I’m lucky in that respect. As Marshall McLuhan said, if you’re totally involved in something, it is no longer work, it’s “play or leisure.”
I surf in the Caribbean every winter. There’s a perfect point break in my front yard. I watch the Internet surf reports, and when a swell is coming, I head down to the British West Indies. It’s a very special place and helps me recharge.

Layers: When creating a design such as a magazine cover, article, or website, what are a few of the most important things a designer should consider?
Carson: Who is the audience, what is that audience’s visual language, what type of things are they seeing? How can you communicate and reinforce visually what is written or spoken, and how can you stand out from the competition in that particular field?

Layers: You redesigned Surfer Magazine in 1991 and founded Ray Gun as well. How does redesigning a medium, whether it’s a magazine or advertising campaign, differ from creating something from scratch?
Carson: In some ways they are very similar. You have to determine who the audience is, and what is the message you want to portray through the design. A new design gives you a bit more freedom, as you can help define the language. I think Ray Gun helped establish a certain visual language for alternative music. But redesigning, or inventing something new, both have their challenges and rewards, and I enjoy both. As long as you look for the solution in the particular thing you are working on, and not some predetermined formula or system, you will never run out of ideas.

Layers: I remember attending a seminar when you spoke at a local school here in Central Florida years ago, and you told us a story about where you had the text in a magazine article covered up or unreadable, but the layout was spectacular. Do you have any other humorous or quirky stories of editors getting mad that your layout caused the article to be unreadable?
Carson: You might be referring to the article I set in the font Dingbat, largely because I found the article very boring. To start designing, I have to read the article, or brief it or listen to the music, to see where it takes me visually and emotionally. It was [a] bit funny, maybe, that at Ray Gun some of the writers complained early that their articles were hard to read. But then by the 30th issue, the same writers would complain if they thought their articles were too easy to read! The layout came to signal something worthwhile to read, so the writers came to look forward to see how their words were interpreted.

Layers: Some have said that you are heavily influenced by the ocean. Is that true, and where do you find other sources of inspiration when creating a design?
Carson: My environment always influences me. I’m always taking photos and I believe things I see and experience influence the work. Not directly, but indirectly in some shape or color or something that registers. The ocean has always played a big part in my life, but it’s hard to say exactly what that influence is in regards to the work. But I’m always scanning the environment I’m in, and I’m sure it ends up in the work.
I think it’s really important that designers put themselves into the work. No one else has your background, upbringing, life experiences, and if you can put a bit of that into your work, two things will happen: you’ll enjoy the work more, and you’ll do your best work. Otherwise, we don’t really need designers—anyone can buy the same programs and learn to do “reasonable, safe” design.

Layers: You have branched out into directing television and video commercials. What aspects of print design do you also use when directing video? Do you often focus on typography as a major part of it?
Carson: I’m often asked to direct commercials where the type plays an important role, and sometimes I add type to other peoples’ work. My approach is very similar to print: who is the audience, what is the emotion of the spot, or the feeling we want the viewer to get from watching, and how visually can we make that happen?

Layers: Could you give an example of a video project that you enjoyed directing? What software do you or your associates use when creating these, and do they include Adobe After Effects?
Carson: After Effects is hugely important in the commercials I work on. It’s hard to imagine how we did them before. Well, actually I know—we did them in very expensive suites in post-editing houses in Los Angeles and New York! I just did some work for Saturn cars, and it was almost all done with After Effects. It’s clearly the best tool for motion graphics.

I directed an in-flight commercial for American Airlines—a 90-second spot—that I enjoyed very much, from casting the actors to selecting footage to having some fun with the type. I also made a commercial for the band Nine Inch Nails for the MTV music awards, and the launching of Lucent Technologies, which were type-only spots. In general, I’m drawn more toward moving images and type, but I’ll always do print, even though “print has ended.”

Layers: Finally, what advice would you have for other graphic designers just starting out?
Carson: Do what you love, trust your gut, your instincts, and intuition. And remember the definition of a good job: If you could afford to, if money wasn’t an issue, would you do the same work? If you would, you’ve got a great job! If you wouldn’t, what’s the point? You’re going to be dead a long time. So find that thing, whatever it is, that you love doing, and enjoy going to work for, and not watch the clock or wait for weekends and holidays.

For more information on David Carson, visit

more of  David Carson’s work



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