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Opposites Attract

One of my favorite books is The End of Print: The Graphic Design of David Carson.

The now-famous 1995 publication achieved its rarified status for two reasons: Carson’s emergence in the 90s as graphic design’s bad boy – doing groundbreaking work that defied every mainstream design convention – and the fact that it’s the best-selling graphic design book of all time. Its title is in part a response to a 1993 interview with Neville Brody, another graphic designer of note, who suggested that Carson’s work represented the “end of print.” Carson took it as a challenge.

Among his notable work is a three-year stint as art director (1992-95) for Ray Gun magazine. Note the full-page ad for subscribing – another dig at Brody:

I remember going to my local grocery store and thumbing through issues whose provocative pages were artfully illustrative and alluring. I discovered – much to my surprise – that if you’re interested in the content, you don’t mind working a little harder to read the text. (It’s a magazine, not a book.)

Carson’s surfer lifestyle and lack of formal training definitely informed his chaotic design solutions. Is it art or graphic design? Is it beautiful or just plain ugly? Is it communication or decoration? The answer to all of these is both – all at the same time. It’s like reading a puzzle or interpreting hieroglyphics. It sometimes takes a little longer to connect the dots, but it’s well worth the time.

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of Carson’s approach is that there are actually clients who continue to appreciate it – though his design sensibilities are about as far away from my own aesthetic as you can get. As he said himself, he would never be caught dead using Helvetica.

Today, David Carson continues to influence and shape the design landscape. His client list, industry accolades (including a 2014 AIGA Gold Medal), and constant demand on the global lecture circuit are all signs that both print and Carson are alive and well. And while he has his detractors, he’s pretty much considered the coolest graphic designer ever.



05.15.2019, 9:29pm
by Lorri Johnston
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Couldn’t agree more, CK. His work always puzzled me, too. Disturbed me, really. I don’t envision myself ever straying that far off the grid, yet I always admired his carefree abandon.

Thanks for the trip down memory lane.


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