Who is the best designer of the 90s?

joeking_tp's picture

I think David Carson maybe be the most influential designer of the 90s.
But is he the best designer of the 90s?
Who was the best designer of the 90s?

ill sans's picture

Stefan Sagmeister?

blank's picture

I’m a big dog person, so I’ll say it was whoever came up with those “Yo Quiero Taco Bell” advertisements featuring the talking chihuahua ;b

This thread is going to get nuts...

dezcom's picture

Toyota.

ChrisL

Paul Cutler's picture

Me.

The best designers work in obscurity.

peace

ill sans's picture

You don't fool me anymore, Paul, you're a musician in a designer disguise. I'm the real thing, a designer in a DTP-suit ;-p

Paul Cutler's picture

The disguise isn't very good although my beret fits just so… :)

peace

ill sans's picture

Then you're disqualified whatsoever!

dezcom's picture

Come on, neither of you guys are wearing black suits so you miss the cut :-)

ChrisL

Paul Cutler's picture

Good Lord - I didn't realize I had my webcam turned on. How embarassing…

But since we're on the subject - how do you like my Dali 'stache? ~(•_•)~

peace

dezcom's picture

You need more wax in it man!

ChrisL

ChuckGroth's picture

designer? paula scher. type designer? i dunno-- matthew carter?

norrie's picture

I remember loving Vaughan Oliver in the 90s.

-----
Graphic Design Sydney :: Chorus Design

thetophus's picture

So, I'm a long time lurker first time poster. You know how that goes.

David Carson was the most influential designer of the 90's because he was the best designer of the 90's. Why was he the best? He turned things upside down. He threw up his middle finger at the establishment. He pissed off everyone. He was the epitome of 90's culture. And like it or not, his influence still lives on. His innovative use of type is still all over the place. Especially grunge, which he may not have invented but he sure did perfect.

I'm pretty much the biggest David Carson fan on the face of the earth so I am just a little more than biased. His work inspired me to start designing, though, so I owe him a huge debt. He may not be as relevant today as he was 10 or 15 years ago, but he left a mark.

hrant's picture

Carson couldn't have been the best designer of the
90s because he's not a designer, he's an artist.

hhp

malbright's picture

hrant,
I was unaware that being an artist and a designer are mutually exclusive. In your mind, what's the difference?

Bert Vanderveen's picture

A designer analyses a problem and defines its solution.

Thats my take on Gerrit Noordzij's definition. But you can see where a designer is not the same as an artist, because an artist doesn't do solutions, right?

(And David Carson is not a designer because he doesn't care about the reader, imho)

William Berkson's picture

Artist and designer are not mutually exclusive, but they are also not the same thing. In Carson's case, he is an excellent artist and a crap designer. He is extravagantly admired by students and others who appreciate art, and not design.

[Edit: for more views of Carson see this thread.]

>an artist doesn't do solutions, right?

Artists also do challenging and difficult problem-solving, but the primary goal is self-expression or communication of a personal vision. Designers serve other useful purposes as well, and the designer's desire for self-expression is subordinate to those other purposes--such as communication of the meaning of a text.

Personally, I love art, but I also fascinated with how other problems can be solved in a beautiful way--design. Art is something we take time from our lives to experience, whereas design is part of the warp and woof of everyday life.

hrant's picture

My view on this is very close to William's.

hhp

ChuckGroth's picture

just remember: jpad called it.

but i'll weigh in on this subject--
mutually exclusive? no. but then, i don't think plumber/artist, train conductor/artist are mutually exclusive.

BlueStreak's picture

I guess I'm thankful that I missed out on the whole David Carson mania during the ’90s. The type designer that turned me on the most during that decade was Jim Parkinson.

dezcom's picture

"He turned things upside down. He threw up his middle finger at the establishment"

I would hardly call the "Surfer dudes" who were his audience, the establishment. His work was for a very select vertical market whose culture was counterculture. If he wanted to thumb his nose at the establishment of his audience, he would have made "Raygun" look like "Ladies Home Journal". There were plenty of folks out there who either did or could have done way-out stuff but were never "found" by the popular media. Carson might have gone on in obscurity as well, just like the others, but he was "discovered" by mainstream folks who decided it would be sheek to pay homage to him. He got lucky and caught a big wave—he hung 10 and rode that puppy until his 15 minutes of fame ended. I am not saying he is either a bad designer, a bad person, or an opportunist. He is a bright guy, an artist, and just followed the current that opportunity sailed him in. He was not a designer though. He was a painter of pages with whimsy and joy, not a communication problem solver. I wish him well and a happy life. Most of us will never get a chance to peer through the curl he did and come out smiling. “Lay on McCarson!”

ChrisL

pattyfab's picture

The essential difference as I see it is that design is client-driven. In art, you are your own boss. Which is not to say that good design doesn't qualify as art. And some art is done on commission, hence client driven as well. So of course there is overlap.

I do both design and fine art (and love both), so the difference in terms of my own life is very clear.

Not gonna join the Carson clamor except to say I'm with Bert. "Best" is a subjective term. But if he weren't "important" there wouldn't be 2 threads dedicated to him on this forum in the last few months.

kosal's picture

If you ask Time, the designer of the decade honor goes to...........YOU.

hrant's picture

:->

BTW Patricia, "important" and "designer" aren't the same thing.

hhp

dezcom's picture

"If you ask Time, the designer of the decade honor goes to………..YOU."

I don't get it koleslaw. Was there a Time article on design? That would be a big surprise.

ChrisL

hrant's picture

The pinnacle of Western individualism idiocy.
It's all downhill from here.

hhp

Choz Cunningham's picture

I would hardly call the “Surfer dudes” who were his audience, the establishment.

They weren't, but they are becoming so. They are the edgy, crazy hipsters that decided that TNR beats Courier for gov't docs.

Si_Daniels's picture

>I’m a long time lurker

>I’m pretty much the biggest David Carson fan on the face of the earth

Coincidence? ;-)

dezcom's picture

"hey are the edgy, crazy hipsters that decided that TNR beats Courier for gov’t docs."

Yup, I will have to admit, that is pretty edgy stuff :-)

ChrisL

thetophus's picture

More on Carson...

It's true that he's more of a graphic artist as opposed to a designer, but this means his design work had an artistic bent to it.

As far as his audience, sure it started out with the surfers and the alt community who read Raygun. It went on past that, though. What I meant by flipping the bird at the establishment was that at some point he said "I'm not going to do this like other designers. I'm going to make this an art, not an industry". And it worked for him because after those first years everyone wanted him to be the art director for whatever project it was they were working on.

He was one of a few designers who made design art, not just something that made a page look good.

thetophus's picture

So I guess what I'm saying is he broke down the barrier between art and design in sort of the same way Andy Warhol did.

William Berkson's picture

>Why was he the best? He turned things upside down. He threw up his middle finger at the establishment. He pissed off everyone.

Sometimes there are a good reasons to do something that angers and offends others, and it should be done *in spite of* angering and offending.

But angering and offending has no merit in itself. It is a lot easier to anger and offend in foolish ways that typically hurt the person himself or herself most of all, as well as others.

There is a big market for artistic expression of a typically adolecent self-centered 'chip on the shoulder' attitude. But that it can make money doesn't make it good or wise.

hrant's picture

> angering and offending has no merit in itself.

That's your religion.

hhp

pbaber's picture

> He turned things upside down.

Weingart did this, but he did it constructively, out of a desire to push things forward. For me Carson was throwing his finger up simply because he could. He was reactionary without a goal and his work was ultimately self-destructive. Where could things go from there? I think it is Kinross who talked about the nightmarish vision of a never ending cycle of post-modernisms.

William Berkson's picture

>your religion

Not only in my religion. I don't know of any religion in which angering and offending has merit in itself. Or for that matter any secular wisdom tradition.

Certainly not in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism, Greek Stoicism. While there are some exceptional circumstances where anger is regarded as acceptable in some of these traditions, in all it I believe it is regarded as an extremely dangerous emotion, generally sowing personal pain and interpersonal conflict.

Incidentally, my own view is that anger can be functional as a warning signal of danger. However it--like other negative emotions--is in great danger of being stuck in the 'on' position, leading to actions that are irrationally harmful to the self and others. Unnecessarily offending others is an example of such generally self-defeating actions.

In our society people can sometimes make a living out of insulting others, though. Don Imus comes to mind, among others.

hrant's picture

> I don’t know of any religion in which ...

You're looking in the wrong direction.
Which is the same reason you will never see notan.

hhp

William Berkson's picture

>You’re looking in the wrong direction.

Yes, I tend to think that if all the world's religions and wisdom traditions agree on something over thousands of years, then maybe there is something in it. Also contemporary research in psychology concurs. So current secular wisdom agrees as well.

You don't. Fine, so please refer me to those thinkers who say that anger and insult have merit in themselves, and are not dangerous and are not to be guarded against. I would like to read them.

Choz Cunningham's picture

In some viewpoints, secular or otherwise, anger has merit where there would otherwise be only apathy. Can't remember who would best to cite on that.

* * *

I think we are a long way from the breakdown of art|design. Since postmodernism is now "so 5 minutes ago", it might be a long time before it comes back in style. Of course, whats a long time these days? 15 minutes?

William Berkson's picture

>anger has merit where there would otherwise be only apathy

Why would there otherwise be apathy? Once you are aware of a danger or need, you can be concerned and take action without being constantly angry.

As I said above, I acknowledge that anger is functional as a warning signal; also as motivation that something needs doing. That is a merit, but not in itself. It is also functional in blocking compassion and giving you energy when it's a kill or be killed situation, such as in battle.

Anger in itself, without serving one of these functions is dangerous and destructive. And anger is in fact very often dysfunctional. Anger easily becomes a habit and leads to the distorted, self-defeating thinking that has been documented by cognitive psychologists: thinking in black and white, us-and-them, limiting the scope of searched options, over personalizing, 'catastrophizing', oscilating between grandiosity and self abasement, etc., etc.

And insult creates lasting resentments and stokes the fires of conflict.

hrant's picture

> maybe there is something in it.

Yeah, like why we're heading straight for the gutter.

My thinkers are your miscreants.

hhp

William Berkson's picture

Who exactly do you think are my "miscreants"?

Linda Cunningham's picture

Look, why don't you boys take this crap somewhere else?

Testosterone and p*ssing in the bushes is just really so 1980s.

Notan deals with darkness and light, neither of which have anything (or everything, depending on your perspective) to do with "religion."

I, for one, am invoking The Silence Brigade on both of you: a pox on both your houses!

Move freaking on, eh?

William Berkson's picture

Linda, how does insulting both of us help anything?

I am actually quite interested in the way anger is treated in the media and society, including design. I think it is quite an important issue. If there are theorists out there analyzing or defending this stuff--and there is a lot of it, particularly on radio--I would like to know who they are and look at their writings.

ebensorkin's picture

I wonder if the best designer of the 90's wasn't a type designer because type played an absolutely outsize role in 90's design compared to design in any other period. Of course I am assuming you mean graphic design here. Maybe the person who designed the sealable spout on the milk should win...

Where could things go from there? I think it is Kinross who talked about the nightmarish vision of a never ending cycle of post-modernisms.

I can't see things in that kind of cyclical way anymore particularly now that fashion of all kinds is less & less unitary and more and more simply co-exists at once. I am also feeling a bit itchy while reading the definitions of design in this thread. It's not that they are wrong from my point of view - maybe just too rigid.

I think Carson's main virtue was that he had an eye for composition. He decided to treat the page like a canvas and not let conventions, including typographic ones, get in the way of his compositions. I don't think composition is the be-all in design - but it is important. So in that sense I think he was 'designing'.

blank's picture

I have to agree with Chris; nothing Carson did was anti-establishment. His design was not really breaking rules because, not being a trained designer, he really neither new nor cared about traditional rules of typography. When he was designing Raygun he was just a cog in the wheel of phony counterculture dreamed up by record company execs who realized that they could replace hair metal with newer bands playing the same power ballads in a lower octave a slower tempos. And as much as people like to say Carson was hugely influential, I’m not so sure that’s true, aside from distressed type little of what Carson is known for is used much anymore because it simply looks dated now.

And as for anger and religion...I said this thread was going to get nuts.

thetophus's picture

I see Carson's influence all over the place. I'll agree that the most influential thing was the distressed type, but his eye for composition and ability to use the page to it's fullest extent is being followed by a ton of younger designers. I see a lot of collage stuff that immediately makes me think Carson. And I think a lot of younger graphic designers got into the industry for the same reason I did... I was inspired by people like Carson and Warhol and even Weingart. So maybe he wasn't the best, but he sure did make graphic design known outside of the design world and he sure was influential.

thetophus's picture

William... with all due respect, this is a thread about something different than what you two are discussing. Perhaps starting a specific thread would benefit your position.

William Berkson's picture

Christopher, with all due respect, it is not different, but exactly on point. You have proposed that Carson is great because

"He threw up his middle finger at the establishment. He pissed off everyone. He was the epitome of 90’s culture. And like it or not, his influence still lives on."

Your later explanation that he didn't let the demands of design interfere with his art may be accurate, but I think your first comment better captures why so many students admire him. It is not just his ability as an artist, but his attitude of contempt which you and others are excited by. And I actually have come around to see that you are indeed right: he is characteristic of a period, just recently ended.

The admiration of 'attitude' is what I pointed out indeed has been popular, though I think it is misguided. Rappers have ridden anger and contempt for women to riches, and Don Imus had a successful show for years regularly insulting everybody as 'humor'. The 'hate radio' of Rush Limbaugh has also been hugely successful.

David Carson is not a cultural critic but someone riding a wave of popularity of a contemptuous attitude as 'hip' and 'cool'.

I am the one being a counter-cultural--art school culture--critic, and here you are being the culture police and ruling me out of order. But I am now in fact seconding what you said, that Carson is important. --I just think the popularity was for the wrong reasons.

Specifically, it is not 'advanced' and a breakthrough to push forward your own art to the detriment of a design purpose. It is self-indulgent and contemptuous of the client and reader. --and by the way Hrant and I I think agree about this. And as you can see, we don't agree about a lot!

As a contrary example, I would cite the recent wonderful work of Marian Bantjes. Her recent work would fall in the category of 'graphic art', as you have put Carson's. However, she is respectful of the client and the audience. Her art has a freedom, adventurousness and joy that reminds me of the Beatles in their prime. And not coincidentally, she knows the difference between art and design--as Patty above explained.

At a talk at the TDC in New York, she told the story of how she decided she was fed up with design, and quit and devoted herself to the graphic art that her conservative clients didn't want. After a very lean year she started her first sales of her graphic art. Now, widely admired in only a few years, only accepts projects where she has "carte blanche". "And that's not really design," she said. She gets it.

Maybe the worm has turned and the recently fashionable contempt has turned back to a spirit of freedom, adventure and joy. By me, that would be great.

blank's picture

Maybe the worm has turned and the recently fashionable contempt has turned back to a spirit of freedom, adventure and joy. By me, that would be great.

I think we are getting there but will not know for sure until late November of 2009. So much of the bitterness that has spread into our culture comes from the political fallout of the 1990s Clinton vs. the Republican Revolution mess. When our leaders decided it was fine to spew bile and vitriol at one another the mordant slime trickled down into every aspect of American culture. I am hopeful that things are starting to swing the other way; the implosion of McCain on the right and the rise of Obama on the left, coupled with growing friendly trends in music and design (I can’t figure out where “fine art” is going so I won’t touch that one) lead me to believe that Americans are sick of the bitterness and are ready to start getting along again.

But it sure would be easy for it all to get even worse if things go the wrong way and the us VS them mindset continues.

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