archive: review-branding:

From my hotel room in Frankfurt.

Right side remainds me of Rothko a bit (1999). Digital print from 35mm photograph on archival paper by David Carson
Branding Carson.What do you do next when you’re one of the world’s most famous graphic designers? Teal Triggs looks at David Carson’s transformation from designer to digital artist.
from”Graphics International” Issue 88, 2001
The name of David Carson became synonymous with what was considered to be cutting-edge graphic design in the early1990s. His unmistakable ‘experimental’ editorial design work for lifestyle and music magazines such as Surfer, Transworld Skateboarding, Beach Culture, Blue and Ray Gun gained him worldwide acclaim, as did his television commercials for global corporations such as Nike, Pepsi and Microsoft. At the pinnacle of his popularity, Carson’s trademarks became a cold bottle of beer, a long queue of adoring fans (male and female) and a felt-tip marker, which heused for autographing anything from T-shirts to books. This was the graphic-designer-as-rock-star, living an itinerant life of wall-to-wall airport lounges, luxury hotel rooms and limousines-before Carson, only British designer Neville Brody had come close to occupying such a rarefied position. When Brody met Carson in 1994 for Creative Review’s now famous Face to Face interview and remarked that for him, Carson’s work represented the ‘end of print’, the challenge was set. As the 1990s played out, Carson took ‘the end of print’ as his mantra, using it as the title for one of the most successful design books of all time and, in its wake, becoming the focus of numerous heated typo/graphic debates. But what else could be expected from someone whose work teeters precariously between the usually well-defined bound-aries of art and graphic design?
Some six years after The End of Print was first published, David Carson is still managing to maintain his controversial position.While he is no stranger to exhibiting in museums abroad, appearing as part of a group show held in a commercially led fine-art gallery is somewhat different. The venue is the Marlborough Fine Art Gallery, located in one of London’s more expensive shopping districts. The show is titled “CD:1,Contemporary Dialogue: 1″, and features the work of six recent fine-art graduates from the RCA and Goldsmith’s. These are painters and sculptors who, the gallery proclaims, “eschew the current trend towards video and installation.” Equally, the gallery sees David Carson’s inclusion in this show as breaking from the norm, as he is neither British norart-college trained. However, he does represent the gallery’s continued interest in promoting graphic art-a tradition that began in the 1950s. At the same time, despite being a household name in graphic design, David Carson is virtually unknown withhim the contemporary British art world.
Nicola Togneri, who represents Marlborough Fine Art, comments that showing the work of graphic designers in an art gallery has recently become much more acceptable. She explains: “The subject matter of much of David’s work appeals to a younger audience. He is really very much about the ‘now’” Although he still commands a tremendous amount of respect from his fellow designers, it is debatable whether Carson’s work would be considered by them to be anything remotely resembling ‘cutting-edge’. By including him among these up-and-coming British artists, the gallery hopes to introduce Carson to a new audience of art aficionados. In so doing, it hopes to prompt some sort of dialogue about exactly what is happening “now”-be it in the discipline of fine art or graphic design.
In either case, the work on show suggests that Carson is far from rejecting the roots of his early experimental design work. Here, in a series of letter press prints, overprited posters, press proofs and photographic prints, Carson’s interest in the process of making and collecting are still very much in evidence. Visually, this work is not so very different from the early image-making he did for Ray Gun-the collages constructed out of elements of found paper, printed graphic ephemera or blurred photographs that highlight the graphic minutiae of the street. Immaculee Conception (2001), for example, is both a found poster as well as an experimental surface for Carson’s overprinting of red-inked typographic forms. One of the more interesting pieces in the show, the screenprint plays upon what might be read as a provocative juxtaposition of David Carson’s name with an engraving of a French mid-19th century Madonna, enshrined by plump cherubs.
The majority of the work on show is not really new, either in terms or its content or direction. For example, some of the photographs have already been published in Carson’s book Fotografiks, including From my Hotel, Frankfult. Right Side reminds me of Rothko, a bit. (1999), Lights (1999) and New York Subway. On the Way to Coney Island (1999). The subject of the letterpress work is also familiar. Forming a sort of typographic variation on a theme, David Carson’s name appears repeatedly as a visual element on psters advertising workshops such as those held at the Ecole Cantonaled’Art de Lausanne, Switzerland. Likewise, the recycling of letterforms continues in his more recent experimental letterpress work. Carson suggests that this was a matter of convenience: “The type just happened to be around.” Although the text was familiar, the design process involved in these overprinted pieces on found paper was not. Carson explains: “I spent time in Barcelona doing lithographic work on these big stone pieces, where you literally got up there, put the paint on and did the whole thing. I’ve come late to this process, but I found it fascinating. I wouldn’t say this is the new work. The new work is the old work, in a sense. It’s discovering a new technique, and it’s moving into fine art.”
What is missing, in this ‘new’ old work, however, is the crucial context of the printed page. While a well-established commercial gallery space does offer a new place for it to be viewed, Carson’s narrative structure is subsequently reduced to a selection of single, framed, limited-edition images. Now they appear as isolated moments that say more about Carson and his process of working (and his travels) than they do about the substance of his experience. This may be no bad thing, especially as the formality of the images’ composition and their colour still resonate. But is this enough to warrant placing them on a gallery wall? What has always been successful about Carson’s work as a graphic designer is his ability to integrate image and text in an interesting, if not questionable, fashion. Philip Meggs writes in Fotografiks: “Designers see the page, not the photograph, as the locus of their creative enterprise David Carson formed attitudes about this visual/verbal interface and its potential for expression.” In many ways, for Carson to remove the photograph from its basic context further problematises the work.
Which brings us back to the designer as artist, or in this case the artist as designer. Intuition still forms the basis for much of Carson’s image-making. Upon reflection, Carson notes: “The early magazine work was very subjective, reacting to something I had just read, music I listened to, or people I met. Now I am just interpreting that and hopefully reinforcing it’s Ideally, someone would buy my work because it ‘spoke’ to them in some way.” However, Carson is quick to point out that unlike graphic designers, fine artists are not continually asked to justify their work: “People complain that ‘there is no real concept’ or say that ‘it just falls together’. In certain places maybe that is okay, but I think this is where fine artists can pull it off.”
In keeping with the conventions of fine-art practice, every print and photograph in the gallery is signed. And, in combination with the repeated use of his name in the works themselves, there is little doubt that this is a branding exercise. Togneri admits: “We are working with a brand identity here. It is high quality, but it is a new brand.” Well, for the art world, maybe. In the age of Naomi Klein’s No Logo, and an ever-increasing publicscepticism towards brands, Carson is a risky prospect. He knows he hasn’t made it quite yet as an ‘artist’ and is finding the lack of feedback disturbing. This was evident on the night of the Gallery’s private view, where Carson remarked: “It is strange to be so anonymous.”
So it is no surprise, then, when Carson eventually returns to the subject of his commercial work. His latest project is The Book of Probes, which is a collection of aphorisms and excerpts from of aphorisms and excerpts from Marshall Mcluhan’s own illustrious, albeit controversial career. Carson is the art director and designer on the project and shares a cover credit. He describes the opening sequence: “The book starts out with a big long section of nothing but photographs I’ve taken of cactuses in the desert.” Is this ‘the book as art gallery’?
Carson is clearly a Mcluhan fan and is keen to promote this 672-page achievement, which skilfully combines his love of the photographic image and penchant for typographic experimentation. Carson points out that Probes is about introducing McLuhan to a whole new generation of readers in an accessible way. “The book will give some intriguing quotes that look interesting visually For fans who have had some difficulty in reading McLuhan from cover to cover, we’ve created a primer, a teaser of some different thoughts.” The sources of the quotations are listed at the back for those who want to find out more. The book is classic Carson: the dialogue moves seamlessly between designer, author and reader.
Exactly what the Marlborough Fine Art Gallery intends the ‘contemporary dialogue’ with Carson to be, is up for grabs. Those who read the design press won’t easily forget the David Carson who has been at the centre of numerous graphic authorship debates. Is Carson attempting to legitimise his seemingly art-based design practice by moving into a gallery context? Or is this merely the next logical step in his brilliant career?
He has already been part of a group of radical designers who unwittingly began to define a visual landscape for the consumer-based youth culture in the 1990s. Is he trying to do the same in the art world of the 21st century?

Spreads from The Book of Probes

first things first

archive: review-first things first: first things first:
the men in the mirror, recent thoughts on some old ideas
by david carson, usa
note: this piece was orginally submitted as requested to adbusters magazine.they refused to publish it saying:
“The point of the manifesto was not to hold up 33 shining examples to the design world, but to stimulate much-needed debate,……”
go figure-dc
” First Things First” is a reasonable, common sense approach to looking at the work graphic designers do. it offers some good advice for young designers: Don’t sell your soul to the devil; listen to your conscience; Find ways to help make the world a better place. Don’t waste your talents helping sell people things they don’t need. And while the original document rallied against the evils of doing design for “toothpaste” and “after shave lotion”, I would today add such categories as racism, domestic violence, cigarette smoking, and guns as worthy examples of areas to avoid promoting.
Any document signed by Irma Boom is worthy of serious consideration. She embodies the heart and soul of the MANIFESTO. Some of the other signers are more suspect. And there are a surprising number of non-designers who have attached themselves to the ‘new’ document. with so many of the signees having made their living thru various forms of advertising, the overriding message of the new MANIFESTO seems to be one of hypocrisy.
Interestingly the list of defectors continues to grow. one prominent head of a design school recently told me she “wished i had never signed that thing”, and said had she read it more carefully, she would not have signed. I was told the same thing from an educator/lecturer in england just this month.
Th new MANIFESTO was spearheaded by a designer who reportedly made millions of dollars “doing advertising”. the list also includes a designer of a glossy women’s fashion magazine, as well as a museum curator whose colleagues told me was able to build himself a new house from “all the money he made from advertising”.
Rudy Vanderlans comes closer than most to actually living and representing the ideas expressed in the Second First Things First. He’s also one of the few designers who excels both at writing AND designing. The value to the world, however, in selling typefaces and sending unsolicited graphic design magazines thru the mail, is unclear.
freelance writer Rick Poyner was brought in to help “redraft the original” manifesto. Poyner has been described as a “design connoisseur” by fellow British writer william owens, as well as “the ultimate design groupie” by Neville Brody. Either way, Poyner is a clever and skilled writer, and as good a choice as any to help to rewrite any original document. It is troubling that Poyner uses his considerable writing talents only to address a multitude of ‘graphic design’ issues, including letting us know about typography now, and interviewing famous graphic designers. Why not take the message of the original MANIFESTO to heart and write about “the things that really matter”. perhaps addressing some of England’s numerous social problems could be a good place to start. Poyner continues to point out how much press his ftf gets, while seemingly generating the majority of it himself.
Historian Steven Heller, though not as talented a writer as Poyner, is nonetheless the most prolific. Heller chooses to write books about “Newsletters Now”, and “What the Best Dressed Books and Magazine Covers are Wearing”. The original MANIFESTO rallies against work that “contributes little or nothing to our national prosperity”. With Heller’s love of the written word, and his many connections in the publishing field, perhaps more important topics could be addressed in future books. hellar did attempt this with his recent ‘swasticka’ book, but it was critically panned. the highly respected british magazine things, in a lengthy review said “Heller is part of a group trying selectively to retain one view of how the worlds morals should shape up…”
If writers are going to call on designers to aspire to loftier goals, is it too much to ask the same of writers? Design solves design problems, and if it must be judged, should be judged accordingly. There are organizations, institutes, clubs, etc., already set up to deal with a multitude of important social, economic and political issues. True change comes from the bottom up. Sometimes designers can help. Sometimes not. But the idea of an elite, select few, chosen under questionable guidelines, telling the ‘masses’ what they ‘should’ be doing, never rings true or instigates fundamental change.
Students or professionals considering the MANIFESTO would be well advised to look closely at the people who signed up for the second go ’round. Spend some time with Max Brusima. Really listen to Erik Speakerman. Sit through a two hour advertising portfolio presentation by Jonathan Barnbrook (like the one he recently gave in Bremen, Germany). if these folks, or any of the others, represent what graphic design is to YOU, then, by all means, jump on board.
A majority of the original signers of the First Things First, have had little or no lasting impact on graphic design. Or in making the world a better place. Surprisingly few of the names from the 1964 list are recognizable to design professionals, students or professors today. And while the list contains some outstanding individuals, with few exceptions, they were not people who made a difference. Sometimes history has a funny way of repeating itself.

nin, All That Could Have Been


still cd: order online(only) at: a special-edition companion cd to nin .live includes new deconstructed performances of select nin favorite and unreleased new tracks

you should SONG TITLE menu-”ON” design, photo and DVD navigation system for NIN

problem solvers

archive: review-problem solvers: Problem solvers, priests and pests
Impressions from David Carson, famed designer of letters tattered, toppled and tumbled
“Don’t mistake legibility for communication” “You can’t not communicate.” If you’re familiar with these observations, you’ll know of David Carson, and you’ll know his work-for the magazines Ray Gun, Surfer and Beach Culture; for Armani and Quiksilver fashions; for Fox television. In Canada, Carson had a hand in the Bank of Montreal’s Fingerprint and the Leap Batteries campaigns.
If you’ve never encountered the man, pity. He’s got a laid-back sense of humour about what he does, and the graphic design profession generally, which goes a long way to defuse irritation that conservative type practitioners may feel towards Carson’s sometimes grating graphics. Anyway, he recently had and audience at the Design Exchange in Toronto laughing through most of his presentation.
Some of the hilarity was triggered by slides of graffiti and inadvertently humorous random graphics that Carson apparently tracks down and records in search of inspiration. This, he suggests, is what designers should observe, rather than our over each other’s work in design magazines and annuals.
Particularly intriguing were several shots of torn posters revealing odd details of imagery from previous postings beneath. Accidental though such effects are, they nevertheless encourage viewers to find some meaning in them. David Carson is not the only one who seems thus “life-focused,” but maybe he is exploiting it more astutely than others.
If one were to put graphic designers into categories, there might be three: problem solvers, priests and pests.
Problem solvers make up the majority. Whether conservative or cool in their work, they quietly do their stuff for countless corporations’ causes. They’re the unsung heroes behind messages competently fashioned in a spirit once defined by Herb Lubalin, well-known NewYork type-whizin his day, as: The best typography never gets noticed.
Priests, then, are a select few individuals who a combination of circumstances has elevated to professional luminosity. Priests generally become what they are through irreverent work which many problem solvers wished they’d done, but didn’t have the nerve to generate and sell; and of course, through unabashed self-promotion. David Carson, like Britain’s Neville Brody and Canada’s Bruce Mau, is a member of that group, which seems to unfailingly inspire some while aggravating others.
Pests, finally, are hordes of desktop meddlers whose software prowess is surpassed only by their soft grasp of type and design basics-common sense rules that problem solvers follow conscientiously, and that priests like to break with cheerful vigor. Pests make up a murky mass, best ignored-if it weren’t for the dread prospect that pests may unwittingly take us one step closer to virtual design and Mclayouts.
Why do designers choose to not only bend, but break traditions? Are they shooting themselves in the foot? Or are they doing both for their clients and their clients’ audiences a valuable service?
Consider here Carson’s first-quoted statement: don’t mistake legibility for communication. Most problem solvers’ communication efforts are decidedly driven by legibility objectives-make brand names and product benefits clearer, bigger, bolder. Show and tell everything. That’s fine in theory and by itself. But what if all competitors, and a zillion other sellers do the same? Any chance that viewers may get bored out of their skulls by endless overkill? look around and you may notice a nation of scanners, who flip-flip-flip through pages or channels. For those living in a hurry, is legibility really a hot commodity?
Communication implies engagement. Marketing gurus endlessly acclaim emotional involvement as the road to consumers’ minds, hearts and wallets. What if it’s no longer possible to seriously engage with overplayed, tried-and-trusted formats? David Carson seems to suggest that you now have to be very different to be noticed and to penetrate viewers’ consciousness. That observation, at least, clearly has merit.
Carson’s second-quoted statement-you can’t not communicate-is equally provocative. At first glance, it seems to merely state the obvious. But what if it refers to what you don’t show or tell? What if absence of daring visuals signals lack of spirit; what if the obvious, no matter how well-designed in its own right, sends a message of conformity?
What wants to be read at length obviously should at least be fairly legible. Even Carson’s own Web site bio (at is straight lower case sans serif type without font mixes (though the lines are pretty long and packed close); but then the bulk of graphic deisgn communication, both in print or video, operates more and more in sight-and soundbite fashion, anyway. Here David Carson’s ground-breaking kaleidoscopic, visually pulsating imagery presents, if not a standard, then at least a reference that may well inspire others to search for new ways to put messages across.
HANS KLEEFELD is a creative director at Watt International in Toronto.