David Carson: one of the biggest names in graphic design

When a world-renowned and award winning graphic designer visits the UK to promote his latest work and long successful career in the creative industries, you HAVE to go. Production designer Hazel Stabler went along to get some inspiration.

‘The first thing you need to know,’ said David Carson, flicking through the first couple of presentation slides on a Tuesday morning in Bury St Edmunds, ‘is that you shouldn’t be controlled by grids and guides.’

This is very much the mantra to David’s work, as each cover, article collage or logo he showed tended to emulate an abandonment of structure. Words overlapped, columns of text rubbed against each other, and headlines were covered almost entirely by images. Carson, a laid-back American graphic designer originally from Texas, didn’t seem to mind when an article was close to unreadable. He told the room that ‘the people who care about this will try to read it', and moved on without further justification.

This style of sporadic, overlapping fluidity seemed to be the way David lived his life, both on and off the pasteboard. Design wasn’t a prominent part Carson’s career until 1980 when he attended a two-week graphics course at the University of Arizona. Until then, he spent his time teaching sociology, surfing the waves in California, and skateboarding. Now, he’s one of the biggest names in graphic design, paving the way for untameable design that seems to climb out of the page and violates the rules of layout and typography.

David was very vocal about his early life throughout the presentation, regularly showing images and videos of himself riding the waves in California. This was usually followed by a disingenuous ‘oops, how did that get in there?’ as he ploughed on through the slides. At one point, Carson slipped in a photo of his bloodied toe, and told us that ‘if you take anything away from this… remember to wear sensible shoes when walking along rocks on the beach’. Thanks for the advice, David.

The lecture was attended by an audience of budding design students, old-school pronounced designers who still remember the days of QuarkXPress, and a couple of CPL staff members excited to apply David’s teachings to our own work.

His style is infamous for breaking rules, and this was present in the slides he showed. Some projects never saw the light of day, while others were award-winning successes. But this didn’t seem to deter Carson, who said he was always searching for a new style from which to work.

The takeaways, if you needed to pick any, were that grids don’t always need to be switched on, and guides shouldn’t control the impact of impressive design. Your eye is the greatest tool you have, and therefore you should use it.

Thanks to the University of Suffolk and Coastline Graphics for hosting the event.

Hazel Stabler
is production designer
at CPL

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