David Carson / Raygun

ruthmetro's picture

Hi,
I am currently researching for my dissertation which is about how David Carson has influenced publishing since the 1990’s with Raygun.
I just wondered if anyone would be kind enough to answer a few questions for me...

Question 1.
Have you been influenced by Carson? Are there any elements of his work that you have been inspired by?

Question 2.
What did you think of Raygun at the time? (if applicable)

Question 3.
What do you think of the many amateur designers that try to copy his work?

Question 4.
How do you think publishing in general has changed/been influenced since Raygun?

Thank you

Duckworth's picture

Q1> I have - Carson's work 'got me into' graphic design... I got addicted to the End of Print, it was THE book when I started college. I was definately inspired by his work, but in a different way to a lot of people, I think - I liked the little quirky touches he applied to things. The one example that immediately comes to mind is the design he did for Speak magazine. Interesting concepts such as having the contents page on the centre spread and having plus and minus page numbering, pages preceding the centre were negative numbers; also, having an article which stopped abruptly in the magzine - the rest of it appeared online. It's easy to dismiss things like that as gimmicky, but it kept really well with the tone of the magazine and I still like the lateral thought behind them!

Q2> I got into RG just after Carson left : ( but in the UK we had BlahBlahBlah magazine which kind of took off where he left off.

Q3> It's inevitable that his deconstructivist approach would be emulated because I remember it stood out so much at the time - people pick up on that.

Q4> I mentioned BlahBlahBlah above, I remember that had a direct link with RG. I think there was a real backlash against the deconstructive style around '98 onwards.

Sorry it's difficult to write too much at the moment because I haven't got much time, but I hope this helps you a little bit.

It's worth checking out TypeRadio, there's a recent interview with DC.

pattyfab's picture

Q1: I think Carson's influence on design has been huge and I credit him for that. He busted it wide open. However, I am NOT a fan either of his work or of the direction he has moved design in. Call me an old fogy but I like to actually read type and don't consider it just another design element. I design in a way that is pretty diametrically opposite to his aesthetic. I'm much more of a minimalist - I believe good design says more with less.

Q2: As for Raygun specifically I really didn't do much more than glance through it. I truly hated his book Cyclops, both for the photography (the awful Albert Watson) and the egregious type design.

Q3&4: I have much railed and lamented at the way all of a sudden book designers thought it was cool to have the type all squashed together and bleeding off the page and impossible to decipher. Or the above-mentioned TOC in the middle of the book. I think it's calming down now.

So to me he's the design equivalent of rap music - generally kinda hate it, do my best to ignore it, but occasionally there's something that makes me go WOW and I have to grudgingly acknowledge his spot in the pantheon. He is certainly a valid subject for a dissertation.

jupiterboy's picture

Raygun followed any formal education I had. Carson's freedom in breaking rules reflected trends that had been part of fine art for a whle. I had seen these trends and remember being happy in a way to see print explode the way it did.

Being a bit older now, I see the key being that we focus on the craft and the information. If the writer takes a deconstructed approach the design might follow. But, if the writer is formally trying to communicate I feel the design should respect and enhance the effort.

aluminum's picture

To sort of echo what jupitorboy said, when in school, he was all the rage, and we all saw him as an amazing designer.

Later, looking back, I see him more as an amazing stylist. Subtle difference, perhaps.

ben_archer's picture

Hi Ruth

Where I come from, Carson is a dirty word. Here's why. The seventh form school program in NZ asks students to research a famous designer as an 'artist model' – and design their work according to the aesthetic of that designer. Many of them pick David Carson. The school leavers then apply for places on the graphics undergraduate programs that I teach on. Every year I am confronted with hundreds of pieces of 'rip-off' Carson-esque work produced by impressionable young people who think it's great without ever questioning why it exists in the first place...

To answer your questions

Question 1.
Have you been influenced by Carson? Are there any elements of his work that you have been inspired by?

In terms of style and understanding, Carson's influence on me has been as polarising and negative as his own Swiss School experience was on him. Like James above, I completed my formal training before the advent of 'The End of Print'. The caption that the book contains under two identical pictures run side by side "...this picture was so great we had to run it twice" is inspiring in it's idiocy; I use it to illustrate to my students what not finishing your studies in visual literacy will do to you.

By the same token, Jessica Helfand's foreword is the only thing worth taking seriously about 'The End of Print'.

Question 2.
What did you think of Raygun at the time? (if applicable)

Unreadable and ugly-looking hyperbole. Which makes me sound just like Massimo Vignelli talking about Emigre. The difference was, Emigre had a point – so it's possible to see their editorial design as a function of their agenda. With Carson's agenda of 'how can I make this a frustrating (or, with the Bryan Ferry spread, an irrelevant) experience for the viewer?' that output is not so much design as fine art posturing pretending to be something else.

There is a back story, detailed by Rudy VanderLans in Emigre No. 69 'The End', about the critical difference between Carson's earlier Beach Culture and Emigre, which might be worth reading.

It's worth noting that the review pages and the adverts in the back section of RG (i.e. those parts that the publication derived revenue from) were as conventionally-designed as any other magazine of the time.

Question 3.
What do you think of the many amateur designers that try to copy his work?

See above. In that Carson never matriculated, what's the actual distinction between him and the amateurs? If you look at the big-ticket work post RG, such as the Pepsi campaign, you'll see how amateurish he could be.

Question 4.
How do you think publishing in general has changed/been influenced since Raygun?

If this is really a question about 'publishing in general' don't talk to the (hired) hand – ask the publishers. If you mean it as a question about changes in magazine editorial design since Raygun, then arguably the design (like the English language in general), has gotten a lot more self-conscious, but actually less precise in its ability to communicate, and it's correspondingly perceived as being more disposable by its consumers.

Good luck with your dissertation.

pattyfab's picture

Thanks, Ben, for saying what I feel in a much more eloquent manner than I could.

Duckworth's picture

---…‘The End of Print’. The caption that the book contains under two identical pictures run side by side “…this picture was so great we had to run it twice” is inspiring in it’s idiocy; I use it to illustrate to my students what not finishing your studies in visual literacy will do to you.---

I can see that, but aren't many design-books-for-designers full of that kind of thing? It's really no different from other offerings in principle, such as Attik's 'Noise' series, or Tomato's 'Bareback'. It's experimentation, playing about and self-indulgent - but it's certainly not limited to a single designer.

No one has mentioned that David Carson's work was (and to an extent) still is, exciting. I think graphic design would have been poorer if he hadn't appeared on the design scene and done what he did. It got me (and I'm sure countless others) into design and injected some excitement and enthusiasm into design at the same time.

I actually think that he opened the door to a lot of people in what can be a very pretentious industry, by the very fact that he didn't get into design through the perceived 'proper' route.

Although it might sound otherwise, I'm not particularly into his way of doing things (especially the questionable legibility issue, I could never swallow the 'if you have to dechipher it, it'll sink in better' line); ultimately the fact that this question was raised shows that he's left an indelible mark on graphic design (especially mid 90s design). Things have moved on, the backlash happened (and continues), but above all I remember being blown away by the designs at the time.

Miss Tiffany's picture

I think one point that needs to be made is that David Carson's goal was never legibility. Ever. He was being provocative and challenging the status quo.

pattyfab's picture

Yes, and for that I give him credit. But the original post asked for comments both on his influence on design and publishing in general and also on our personal opinions and reactions to this influence. In the right context Carson has done some amazing groundbreaking work (whether or not I like it) however his approach has unfortunately been applied somewhat indiscriminately to poor effect. There were some really hideous Type Directors Club Annuals back in the day. But that's the problem with trends in general, they can't avoid getting diluted and kitschy after awhile. When your client starts asking for a "David Carson" kind of look you know it's probably time to try something new.

Miss Tiffany's picture

Right, that is true and I still need to anser the questions. I was an impressionable design student at the time RayGun hit and try as I might I never could quite "do" grunge.

I just thought this talk of legibility really has not place as it is already understood.

.00's picture

I remember seeing a magazine ad Carson did for "The End of Print".

All of the copy was set in Zapf Dingbats. All except the price and the address where to send the check. When the groundbreakers meet the customer, they all want the check.

pattyfab's picture

I couldn't do grunge either (leave that to the kids) but it's important for a designer to recognize your personal design aesthetic (and thus perhaps your limitations) - and embrace and promote it! Not that we shouldn't push ourselves in new directions... I get annoyed when a potential client doesn't hire me because they don't see exactly what they are looking for already in my portfolio. But I don't like being asked to imitate another designer, especially one whose style runs so completely counter to my own.

William Berkson's picture

>the price and the address

And when they wanted to communicate, instead of show off, they were legible.

I find this kind of design annoying; ignoring the needs of the reader to me seems self-indulgent and supercilious. Maybe Carson and others are not that way personally, but to me the designs exude that attitude.

edit: this is a reaction to the imitations of Carson. I don't actually know his work.

pattyfab's picture

It's like a lot of contemporary architecture (or haute couture for that matter) - it's important to push the boundaries of the discipline and keep the dialogue fresh but you'd never want to live in it.

dezcom's picture

Magazines like Raygun have a very different audience than the more well known ones. The surferzine types probably didn't really buy the mag for reading text. It was a cool in-thing to have on your surfboard tabletop. David Carson was actually a collage artist (and good at it) not a publication designer. He made tone-poems with type and photo fragments. The level of communication was all about visual tactile senses, not about conveying any specific information. His work was outrageous enough to get noticed for both good and bad reasons. He was good at making typographic paintings but nowhere near as good at it as April Greiman and she also could communicate intended messages clearly.
Has he been an influence on me in my design work? No, not really--to me he is an artist, not a graphic designer.

Raygun is a collection of Carson's printmaking art and served to make the Basel school Weingart emulators look mainstream instead of avante garde.

Wanabbes have always been and always will be. Eventually the talented kids grow up and become themselves. The untalented kids just find someone else to emulate fearing their own ability.

Publishing has not changed because of Carson. It has changed because of the technology.

ChrisL

PS: I am an old fart so I was too old to be impressed by Raygun. When I was young, I was impressed by Gerbauchgrafik (sp?).

Miss Tiffany's picture

Question 1.
Have you been influenced by Carson? Are there any elements of his work that you have been inspired by?

When I was a student I was influenced by him. However, just like oil and water, his aesthetic and mine never mixed.

Question 2.
What did you think of Raygun at the time? (if applicable)

I thought it fit the mood of the music and scene it was covering. Rolling Stone at the time was really struggling, IMHO, with design and content. I think Raygun filled a needed niche. I bought Raygun for quite a while. I actually wish I still had the first year or at least the first issue.

Question 3.
What do you think of the many amateur designers that try to copy his work?

It is just like anyone else trying to emulate someone they admire. Sometimes it is successful and sometimes it is just appropriated.

Question 4.
How do you think publishing in general has changed/been influenced since Raygun?

Design for the music world absorbed the style and occasionally resuscitates it when needed. I wouldn't say it had a long-felt influence though.

ben_archer's picture

At this point, it might be fair to let the work (seeing as William doesn't know it) speak for itself; here's a comparison of two book covers produced 24 years apart.

On the left, the original design by Quentin Fiore, 1967 © Bantam Books. On the right, the redesign by David Carson, 2001 © Jerome Agel. (BTW, I should point out that Carson was only hired to redo the cover, not the internal pages, which were a straight reprint of the original).

Feel free to critique them both, perhaps starting with the question about the economy of means...

Nick Shinn's picture

Question 1.
Have you been influenced by Carson?
No, I'm not influenced by other designers.

Are there any elements of his work that you have been inspired by?
It's nice to know that there are designers pushing the limits, doing their own thing.
What impressed me most about Raygun and Emigre was that they used experimental indie-foundry fonts. That was an influence I suppose, to make experimental fonts, although my experiments weren't the kind that DC would be likely to use.

Question 2.
What did you think of Raygun at the time? (if applicable)
Brilliant!

Question 3.
What do you think of the many amateur designers that try to copy his work?
I think you'd have to look at a piece individually, and give it a thorough analysis, to know just what the designer is trying to do -- unless they're doing a complete rip-off of something in particular. But working in the manner or style associated with DC, the work must be judged on its own merits. Also, bear in mind that there were many other folk in the early 90s doing similar stuff.

Question 4.
How do you think publishing in general has changed/been influenced since Raygun?
There are a lot of "post-literate" publications now, and experiments with what kind of form a periodical can take. But again, you can't pin it all on DC.

pattyfab's picture

Carson can't be blamed for the fact that it's absurd to redesign the cover of that book - the original cover is of a piece with the design of the entire book and IMHO should have been preserved as such. It may look a little dated but it fits. I love that book.

Carson's redesign... I dunno - hyphenating Inventory is just a bit too cute for me. I guess Din is today's Helvetica. I'm also not a fan of the inconsistent use of caps in the authors names - to me that doesn't comment on the content of the book in a meaningful way. It tries too hard. But like I said, there's probably no way to update the original appropriately.

Nick Shinn's picture

Right on Patty.
I hate facsimiles that aren't, irrespective of the "design quality" of the new bits.
But for purists the 1967 original can easily be purchased for $10 (plus shipping).

I guess Din is today’s Helvetica.

Somewhat ironic, as DIN pre-dates Helvetica, and Helvetica is today's best-selling font :-)

pattyfab's picture

I have the original, as well as "I Seem to Be a Verb", by Bucky Fuller, from 1970, also designed by Quentin Fiore - which had two covers. It's about the coolest book ever altho the binding does not hold up well. I buy it for all my friends and can't believe nobody has brought it back in print.

I'm a book designer - and specialize in illustrated books, in which the cover is an indispensable part of the whole package so it pains me to see this sort of disconnect.

I didn't know Din predated Helvetica. Fancy that. But since Helvetica is packaged into every computer, it's not fair to compare.

Nick Shinn's picture

Yes, DIN was designed in Germany in the 1930s, and used for the signage of the autobahn system.

http://www.linotype.com/306/din1451-family.html

However, the Pool version is smoother, so I suppose the relationship is --

DIN 1451 : FF DIN = Akzidenz Grotesk : Helvetica

rs_donsata's picture

That cover by Carson looks like a collection of amateurish mistakes... lack of contrast, misplaced emphasis, inconsistent use of caps, weird hypentation... I can't see a purpose on it. It hardly makes me want to know about the contents... altough Carson was actually out of shape by 2001 wasn't him?

I really liked Chri's reflextion on Carson.

Héctor

TBiddy's picture

I find this topic to be ironic. Why? Because I know of some despicable things David Carson has done— oddly enough, to students. Long story short, he was paid a plane ticket to speak at a graduation— cancelled at the last minute, and never returned the money. That's my idea of a role model.

I would recommend switching subjects if its not too late, because for a man who is so respected— to blatantly disrespect students and education— if I can be so bold— does not deserve admiration. I find the man to have exhibited self-importance on a grand scale. There are far too many other great designers out there who respect education, and other human beings in general. Please end the Carson worship.

No, I’m not influenced by other designers.
Nick, I love ya...But that is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard.

pattyfab's picture

Not to impugn the dead but I had a similar experience with Susan Sontag when I was a student - we invited her to speak and then to dinner and she just crapped on all of us. Her behavior was insulting and dismissive. I thought - why treat students that way? And thereafter never read another word she wrote. Probably to my own detriment LOL.

dezcom's picture

Delusions of grandier are sometimes invited by the egos of the famous--even if they only get 15 minutes of it.

ChrisL

Nick Shinn's picture

the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard.

Well, OK, I was influenced in that statement by Emory Douglas, former Minister of Culture of the Black Panthers, who was asked at TypeCon 2004 in San Francisco who his design influences were, and he said none, the main thing is to get the message out.

And I had the privilege of working for Raymond Lee for a year in 1980, who I consider my mentor as a designer, and I still occasionally find myself thinking "How would Ray do this?" or "Ray wouldn't like that!"

But the question here is all about blood-sucking and hero-worship, so what I mean is I don't try to model my work on somebody else's, but go out of my way to try to do something different. So maybe that's like DC after all!

aluminum's picture

"I find this topic to be ironic. Why? Because I know of some despicable things David Carson has done— oddly enough, to students. Long story short, he was paid a plane ticket to speak at a graduation— cancelled at the last minute, and never returned the money. That’s my idea of a role model."

We invited him to speak at our school too. While we got him on the plane, there were other aspects of the weekend that were...uh...'interesting'.

He was definitely playing the trash-the-hotel-room rock-star persona during that time.

A good (designer) friend of mine shares his name. He gets some rather interesting emails at times addressed to the 'other' one. ;o)

TBiddy's picture

We invited him to speak at our school too. While we got him on the plane, there were other aspects of the weekend that were…uh…’interesting’.

He leaves a legacy of this. I've heard other similar stories. I just get so tired of hearing about this guy because designers like to talk about him like he's Jesus Christ himself. He's just a dude, and an a$$hole at that.

I've had the pleasure of meeting some other design legends and people I have admired who were nothing but gracious, kind, and generous with their time— which is why the idolization of this guy ticks me off so much. The good work he may have done is tainted by his less than exemplary antics.

And I had the privilege of working for Raymond Lee for a year in 1980, who I consider my mentor as a designer
Thanks for coming clean, Nick. ;)

LoveType's picture

Forget About Carson please.

Question 1.
Have you been influenced by Carson? Are there any elements of his work that you have been inspired by?

NEVER
I am trying not to look Carson's work.

Question 2.
What did you think of Raygun at the time? (if applicable)
Unreadable.
Design without function is dull
by Willi Kunz

Question 3.
What do you think of the many amateur designers that try to copy his work?
Many amateur designer think that he is good and try to do what he does. The result is very awfull. Remember grid is important into design.

Question 4.
How do you think publishing in general has changed/been influenced since Raygun?

its still the same. Publishing try to make their magazine readable and legible.

Good luck

ben_archer's picture

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some other design legends and people I have admired who were nothing but gracious, kind, and generous with their time – now that's where it's really at. Good point Terry.

swiss dots's picture

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some other design legends and people I have admired who were nothing but gracious, kind, and generous with their time

I can't comment on any of his alleged past actions, but I just spent the day with Carson last week, and I found him gracious, kind, and generous with his time.

ben_archer's picture

I'm still impressed by Gebrauchgraphik. Altho I haven't seen many around lately. But Chris, when you say 'He made tone-poems with type and photo fragments' shouldn't that be '...tone poems with photos and type fragments'?

And Nick, 'What impressed me most about Raygun and Emigre was that they used experimental indie-foundry fonts.'

As far as I'm aware, Emigré, like the other indie foundries, had an open-door policy that encouraged and sponsored beginners like Barry Deck and many others. I think DC commissioned Miles Newlyn to make the RG fonts, rather than do them himself, but I don't believe that the man who once claimed 'No Emigré fonts used in this issue!' was really keen on supporting other players in the indie foundry scene.

dezcom's picture

"tone poems with photos and type fragments’"

Ben,
You could certainly say that. His work always seemed like he picked up left-over slices of printed paper from below the paper cutter and made a collage of them. I think their might have been a proportion of his readership who were in chemically altered states and were not tuned in to actually reading the words very often :-)

ChrisL

Solipsism's picture

I probably found Design Writing Research, Studio Dumbar, and Martin Venezky more enjoyable when I was in school (and I was trying to do my own version of the Cranbrook system)... but I would be lying if I didn't find Carson compelling.

I found some of the accidental haphazard mishaps that he called layouts intriguing and they still are to some extent interesting. It's just that I quickly realized that I simply didn't work that way naturally.

As for the horror stories, some of them are true. He abandoned a yearly course after just three weeks. The students, foaming at the mouth with rage, tried demanding their money back. He's also notorious for not returning illustrators' works.

As a guy, he's actually quite amiable, mild, and smart.

TBiddy's picture

I can’t comment on any of his alleged past actions, but I just spent the day with Carson last week, and I found him gracious, kind, and generous with his time.

Gary, I can't wait to see your film and rather enjoyed your Wilco documentary...but you're featuring him in a movie. I wouldn't doubt that had a lot to do with your experience. ;)

Nick Shinn's picture

quite amiable, mild, and smart.

Yeah, that's what Borat said about all the people who are now suing him :-)

pattyfab's picture

That's what the neighbors always say about serial killers too...

William Berkson's picture

On the sample book cover that was posted: I do think it is excellent as an abstract design, but poor as typography. I think this was Chris' point much earlier. If this generally true of Carson's designs, it would explain the polarized reactions--enthusiasm and dismissal.

The supercilliousness that I could feel exuding from this kind of design does seem to borne out by the stories.

Solipsism's picture

'Yeah, that’s what Borat said about all the people who are now suing him.'

'That’s what the neighbors always say about serial killers too…'

Hah. My interactions with him were brief, so I can't say anymore.

I used to bump into him in the Art Directors Club, NY bathroom at event openings. Haven't seen him since I stopped participating in these organizations, and that's a while ago.

--------------------------------------

Anyway, as pointed out his typography is generally bad. The Albert Watson book and the ads he did for Armani watches (if I recall correctly) were atrocious.

He also worked on the Lucent Technology commercials, where the guy is typing his thoughts out onscreen. Can't recall the typeface he used...

dezcom's picture

I saw him once give a presentation on his work at our local AIGA chapter. He seemed a bit bored and distracted. I took it as just being travel-weary and having to give the same speech yet one more time. I do recall that a very attractive and provacative looking women came up to him as he was about to leave the stage. She handed him her card in that oh, so, transparent way. Carson just gave her card back without hesitation--along with a cold, dismissive look.
He didn't stick around for drinks and munchies.

ChrisL

Eric_West's picture

Wait wait... Design without function is...wait for it...wait for it...

ART

Solipsism's picture

I believe it was Otl AIcher who said design was more difficult than art because at the end of the day, not only did one have to answer to oneself, but to a damn client as well.

Chris Dean's picture

1. I have been influenced, but certainly not inspired. It re-affirmed my faith in Swiss/minimilast design. It showed me how silly over-design can be.

2. It was crap. But I'm a hyper functionalist.

3. Designers who simply copy designers arent really designers at all. They simply lack originality.

4. As much as I hate deconstructivist work, he was a powerfull force at the time and did a lot for solidifying a certain style.

aluminum's picture

"Wait wait… Design without function is…wait for it…wait for it…"

carsonesque?

dezcom's picture

Carsonogenic :>-)

ChrisL

Eric_West's picture

Perfect Chris. Just PERFECT. CARSONOGENIC to describe all unpleasant type and/or design/designer.

Nick Cooke's picture

I didn't groan at that one Chris.

Brilliant!

Nick Cooke

William Berkson's picture

Yeah, puns are supposed to be BAD. You're slipping Chris :)

dezcom's picture

That is why I used my "Holding-your-nose" smiley above :-P

ChrisL

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