by Travis N. Tom

This is a commentary on my visit back to my almamater and meeting David Carson. I will discuss further in the article about his message to designers to experiment with type on the page, to explore self-expression and evoke an emotional tie with the use of type in layout. I will also mention other inspirations I got out of his presentation. I have invited David Carson to be a feature on the Creative Postcard Club in hopes of inspiring other graphic designers.

By the way, my name is Travis Tom and I am the founder of the CPC. The University of Georgia Lamar Dodd School of Art--Visiting Artist/Scholar Program brings 6 artists throughout the year to campus to lecture and present their work in their respective fields. David Carson was invited to speak this year on graphic design. Carson arrived a few days earlier to interact with some of the design classes. Alumni Day for the graphic design department was scheduled that weekend with David Carson lecturing on April 6, 2001 at the Georgia Museum of Art.

Upon arriving in Athens, I was planning to go directly to the graphic design building where classes are taught hoping to sit in on a class. Milling around the hall area and viewing some work, I ran into my senior portfolio professor Ken Williams--I was invited to lunch with them and David Carson. Whoa! Number one--a very intimidating situation--half of the faculty and David Carson. And number two--I was not very familiar with most of Carson's work. I was hoping he would show a breadth of work in his presentation that evening. Needless to say I was not very talkative during lunch. I ended up talking shop with Alex Murawski, illustration professor, about finding a rep as an illustrator versus being on your own and self-marketing.

I had the opportunity to sit in on a beginning typography class taught by Ronald Arnholm (renowned type designer of ITC Legacy, Aquarius and several other fonts--he also studied under Paul Rand at Yale--Do you remember the Silver Bullet logo for Coors beer?--his font). Some of the students' work was critiqued by Carson. During the critique, Carson used the word "horsey" to describe some type. My former creative director and I used this term for type all the time when it appeared larger than it should be. I thought it was funny when the type class and Mr. Arnholm were left in silence and Arnholm responded, "Nooo. We don't use that word for type," in a serious manner. The feeling was as if Carson was spouting blasphemy on the sacred rules of type. I was in the back with a broad grin...it was just too funny (you had to be there I guess). Carson just raised his eyebrows a little in disbelief as if he stepped out of bounds a little and continued his critique of the student work.

At the lecture Carson did show a lot of work (a good thing) and I will try and describe in my words what I got out of his presentation. He began by showing some of his earlier work for Skateboarding and Beach-Culture Magazines. If you are slightly familiar with Carson's work then you know that his work may seem on the illegible side when it comes to typography. Text on text on text. And sometimes whole lines of text completely covered. His use of type as art and texture were appropriate for this genre--chaotic and intentional perhaps. Publications targeted at young adolescent males. Were the readers really paying attention to clean type and worried about reading the articles? As long as it looked cool. Right? Carson is best known for his layout work on Ray Gun Magazine (or at least this is what I associated him with most along with some Pepsi ads I had seen later). Using grunge fonts and new fonts from the Emigre collection--again his textured style is fitting for it's platform and audience of rock culture.

Carson is known for his experimental type treatments in compositions which have made him one of the most influential designers of the last decade. His work is sought by the likes of Nike, MicroSoft, MGM, MTV, Jaguar, Ray-Ban and Sony and he has been profiled in Newsweek and The New York Times. The International Center for Photography in New York awarded Carson "the best use of design with photography." One of the factors that may have been to Carsons advantage was when he said, "He had no formal training in design layout therefore not knowing the grid system used in formal design." This may have allowed him to play all over the page without having the subconscious guilt that other trained designers might have felt. Type was running in the gutters, bleeding off the page and overlapping--in other words used in a non-traditional way. He told us, "One time he even typeset a whole article in Zaph Dingbats"--getting a reaction from the packed audience as an outburst of laughter. One thing that Carson directed to designers was to try and experiment with type by treating the page on an emotional level. Somehow the type making sense with the photographs and the copy in a choreographed yet chaotic way. In a way he was telling us to go play and experiment more. His message was to push self-expression into one's work and to have fun. For example the spread for a community pool full of kids--the type is floating and placed on the page in a fun way to surprise the viewer.

I also appreciated Carson's showing of personal photographic works. He takes shots that are inspiring to him whether it be an odd juxtoposition of a series of multi-colored painted manhole lids on a sidewalk, from garage doors side by side with painted messages on them saying no parking to odd road signage in foreign countries. This shows that inspiration is to be had in our everyday society. Forms, structures and objects in society that wouldn't ordinarily be considered art can suddenly be processed in a new light as an artform. Shape, color and form are all around us. We need to find and explore what inspires us. Needless to say Carson's imagery made me want to get a camera and go shoot things around me--I don't even own a camera. I think his design reflects this also--an exploration, a search and finding an attachment to the created work on a personal level.

Carson is now becoming involved with television media. Heavy use of animated type with sound and motion. He presented a glimpse of his new work in a new medium art directed in an expressive manner with rich textures and type. Similar to print work but on a totally interactive level. A piece that really stood out was for the Bank of Montreal. There are some close ups of type on a screen with names and occupations. It flashes quickly through the type then pans away from the screen and you see that it is a thumb print pattern--the client's identity. There were a series of 3 ads like this. If you live in Toronto then you may have seen these commercials.

In closing, Carson quoted a country song, "You've got to sing like you dont need the money, love like you'll never get hurt, you've got to dance like nobody's watching, its got to come from the heart if you want it to work.....," --the title of the song is "Comes from the Heart"--author unknown.

Just so you don't think I was the only one inspired I asked a friend of mine to share a brief overview of her thoughts on David Carson's presentation. Ashley Miller of After Midnight Design in Atlanta and an alumni of the graphic design program at the University of Georgia, contributes her take stating, "David views his world with a level of humor and freedom that I am envious of. He does not let anything hinder his exploration of design. He takes everyday images, shoots them out of focus, flips them, distorts them, and turns them into amazing pieces of art. He inspired me to let go and trust my instincts and stop looking to others for affirmation. For those artists looking to design outside of the expected, David's work will inspire you too."

Some of the students and alumni I spoke with agreed that the presentation was inspiring. A little nervous, I asked David at a gathering if he would be interested in being featured on the Creative Postcard Club. I contacted him a few weeks later resulting in this collaborative piece.

Is that a typo? No. Type--Oh! As in remarkable and astonishing type.


The upcoming book of Marshall McLuhan quotes called "The Book of Probes" Ginkgo Press, out this Fall. Features 600 + pages of David Carson's interpretations of McLuhan's words.

Visit www.davidcarsondesign.com due for a full release Summer 2001.
More of David's work can be viewed in the Temp link.

Ashley Miller
After Midnight Design
83 Walton Street
Atlanta, GA 30303
tel: 404-230-9556 | fax: 404-230-9599

Travis N. Tom | www.tntomdesign.com | tel: 706-495-8667