David Carson

David Carson joined the graphic design scene relatively late in life. Though born on September 8, 1955, Carson didn’t make a wave in the design world until the 1990s. 

Carson went on to study sociology at San Diego State University. There, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree and eventually took up a teaching job at a California high school. Despite having multiple talents, such as competitive surfing, which he was actually ranked eighth in the world for, Carson decided to go after his design dream. 

When he was 26, Carson enrolled in a two-week design course at the University of Arizona in 1980. Following that, he also attended Oregon College of Commercial Art where he studied graphic design. This is when he decided that he wanted to take his design passion to the next level.

Carson, having a passion for surfing, was easily drawn to similar outlets. During the beginning of his design career, Carson took up a job as a designer for the magazine, Self and Musician, where he covered the topic of surfers’ interests. Also earlier on in his career, Carson began working for a magazine called Transworld Skateboarding, which actually ended up being a huge turning point for his design career. He ended up working for transworld skateboarding from 1984 to 1988. It was here that Carson became the art director for the magazine and truly began experimenting with his design approach. While working for Transworld, Carson developed his signature design type, which mostly consisted of a ‘dirty’ style of photographic techniques that were quite unconventional.

In addition to working for Transworld Skateboarding, he was also the art director for a spinoff magazine under the name Transworld Snowboarding, which began publishing in 1987.

Carson’s designs were very interesting and appealing to the eye. Having no formal training, Carson describes his own work as experimental and intuitive. His work is mostly characterized by somewhat messy collages of overlapping photos and word cutouts. Though the actual photos and words were seemingly meaningless from the surface, Carson was able to evoke many emotions and ideas. Though many found his art thought-provoking and appealing, there were also a good amount of people who found it appalling. However, Carson was able to get past this and continue to make his mark on the design world. 

Carson eventually ended up with a job for Beach Culture magazine, but unfortunately, the magazine didn’t make it past six issues before publication ended. Despite this, Carson’s unconventional design style still made a lasting impression on the public. His unique style ended up earning around 150 awards, all during his time at Beach Culture. 

Due to his success while working for Beach Culture, Carson caught the attention of the publisher for a popular music magazine Ray Gun. Carson was hired as the director of the magazine in 1992 and from there, the magazine boomed. Carson notoriously used a font called “dingbat” in one issue of “Ray Gun”, a font only consisting of symbols, to make an interview more lively and eye-catching. 

It is important to note that Carson’s work generally appealed to a younger audience, which aided in the growing circulation of the magazine. Carson’s impact on the youth also caught the eye of famous companies such as Levi Strauss Co. and even Nike. Both companies asked Carson to take part in designing print ads and he even began directing television commercials.

Carson ended up leaving Ray Gun in 1995 and founded his own studio, David Carson Design. Situated in New York City, Carson began to attract major clients from all over the United States.  From around 1995 to 1998 Carson was doing work for major companies, some of which include Pepsi Cola, Ray-Ban, Microsoft, American Airlines, Budweiser, and even Giorgio Armani. 

Carson claims that a lot of his inspiration came from growing up in Southern California. Though he was born in Corpus Christi, Texas, he found that the open-mindedness and liberal influence of California fueled his design drive. What truly made his work stand out was his unique ability to transform the given norms for magazine publications by experimenting with different mediums. His grunge typology and a specific font that goes by the name “dingbat”, definitely caught eyes and influenced further design work. 

Some may say that Carson’s philosophy revolved around rule-breaking. He was constantly changing the publics’ view on commercial art and graphic design. The public even referred to him as somewhat of an “anarchist” when it came to his design style. Carson claimed that before beginning a design, he would go into a deep analysis of the product or subject matter, and from there he would visualize a piece of art that would evoke an accurate emotional response.

Carson’s work had a huge influence on the design world. His work largely influenced the dirty-grunge movement in design trends of the 90s as well as fellow artists. Known or his type-design, Carson tended to break all forms of typographic rules, thus enabling other artists to take this as inspiration to try more inventive styles. 

In 1995, Carson published a monograph titled The End of Print, in which he disputed the claims of British designer Neville Brody. Brody stated that he believed that Ray Gun represented ‘the end of print; everything revolving typography had been attempted, so it was about time to move on to another medium. Carson disagreed with these claims; he believed that Ray Gun was just the beginning of type design and graphic design would soon flourish.

Now, David Carson resides in Europe, Tortola, and California. He spends most of his time lecturing around the world, sharing his thoughts on creativity and design. There is no denying that David Carson’s work had a huge impact on the world of graphic design. His distinctive style of “grunge typography” is still the inspiration to many current designs. With its own shape and direction, Carson’s aesthetic continues to live on and he will continue to be an inspiration to artists for decades to come. 



“David Carson: Biography, Designs and Facts.” Famous Graphic Designers, www.famousgraphicdesigners.org/david-carson.


“Interview with Graphic Designer David Carson.” Designboom, 24 Sept. 2014, www.designboom.com/design/interview-with-graphic-designer-david-carson-09-22-2013/.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “David Carson.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 4 Sept. 2019, www.britannica.com/biography/David-Carson.