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Recognized for breaking the rules, nearly untethering legibility from communication and inspiring a generation of young designers with his bold understanding of cultural style.
Typography spun into a whirling end-of-century gyre in the 1990s, and David Carson was at its center. The incendiary pages of Ray Gun magazine
inflamed the eyes and minds of countless young designers who sought to tap into the freedoms unlocked by his bold new style. Carson shaped everything in
his path for his own purposes, endlessly contorting type, layout and grid into new configurations and abandoning design’s established truths of order and
legibility. He represented a new breed of visual author.
In 1980, Carson was a 26-year-old high school teacher in southern Oregon. He received a flyer in the mail—intended for high school seniors—for a summer
program in graphic design at the University of Arizona in Tucson and decided to attend. The workshop was run by Jackson Boelts, who became a mentor and
lifelong friend. A few years later Carson enrolled in a summer workshop in Rapperswil, Switzerland, where instructor Hans-Rudolf Lutz challenged him to
work experimentally and to find reasons for shaping form in particular ways.
By the early 1990s, digital tools were colliding with Modernism’s exploded vocabulary. Designers could now make and manipulate form through direct action
in real time. QuarkXPress and PageMaker were Carson’s primary medium of visual authorship, compelling him to work faster and to try
more things in a shorter time. The new tools enabled the iterations and accidents that are crucial to experimental work, but they were not magic pills for
instant talent. Carson explains, “It’s the basic decisions—images, cropping and appropriate font and design choices—that make design work, not having the
ability to overlap or play with opacity.”
In 1995, Carson published a monograph called The End of Print. The title came from a comment made by British designer Neville Brody during a joint
interview in London. Brody had said that Ray Gun represented “the end of print”; everything with type and design had been tried, so it was time to
move on to a different medium. Print was spent. At the time, Carson didn’t fully agree with Brody’s comment, feeling that another magazine would soon
ignite the collective passions of designers and readers. Looking back in 2014, Carson feels that those seething conversations about form and function in
the 1990s never did rekindle, especially not in the medium of magazines. He explains, “Graphic design seems a bit stagnant now, and a lot of people and
ideas have gone to other areas of expression.”
Although Carson has produced everything from books and ad campaigns to videos, magazines were the crucible of his style. The big, cheap pages and
open-ended seriality of the magazine offered an ideal arena for experimentation over time. His first gig as an art director was for Transworld Skateboarding (1984–1987), followed by Transworld Snowboarding and the surfing magazine, Beach Culture. When
publisher Marvin Scott Jarrett launched Ray Gun in 1992, he invited Carson to be the founding art director—the magazine became more famous as a
platform for Carson’s visual voice than for its music content.
From 1995 to 2003, Carson ran his own studio in New York City, working with diverse clients in the worlds of fashion, entertainment and beyond, including
Nike, Toyota, Quiksilver and MTV. Since then, he has served in a variety of positions, including creative director for the Bose Corporation. His legendary
disregard for readerly conventions has made him a hero to some and an agent of ugliness to others.
Carson forged graphic design into a cultural force and a medium with its own shape and direction. Although design swims in the stream of commerce, it lives
there, in Carson’s work, as its own strange animal.
David Carson will be presented with the AIGA Medal at The AIGA Centennial Gala on April 25, 2014, in New York City.
The distinguished AIGA Medal is awarded to individuals in recognition of their exceptional achievements in the field of design.
Section: Inspiration -
AIGA’s design community gathered in New York City for “The AIGA Centennial Gala,” a celebration honoring the 2014 AIGA Medalists and supporting national design initiatives.
One of the perks of being the managing editor at AIGA is spending my
mornings reading design stories and calling it “work.” But not everyone
(or wants to) peruse RSS feeds like it’s their job. Consider
this a hit list (as well as a few things you may have missed) of the
things I’ve and seen, read and watched this week.
Section: Inspiration -
Education, graphic design, packaging
It is with great sorrow that we announce that William Drenttel, AIGA president 1994–1996, died on December 21, 2013, after a year-and-a-half struggle with brain cancer. He was 60 years old.
Section: About AIGA -
AIGA Medal, AIGA Insight, AIGA news
I have been documenting typographic tattoos for more than ten years. So much can be expressed typographically—intimate messages etched in flesh. This
slideshow offers a sneak peek at some of my new images.
Earth Insights is an innovative collaboration between HP and Conservation International that applies big-data-processing technology to monitor biodiversity loss across the world’s tropical forests.
Section: Why Design -
data visualization, digital media, Competition, eco issues, technology
Summary: The week’s best design stories (and general musings) to see you through the weekend.
Section: Inspiration -
communication design, data visualization, product design
Museum of Modern Art Identity
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