David Carson – How He Impacted Graphic Design

David Carson By Olly Ward


In this essay I will be researching David Carson, a well-known graphic designer who has changed the industry.


David Carson is a very well known graphic designer who was born in Texas, United States in 1955. Carson’s work has varied over his years of becoming a designed but he is probably best known for his magazine design, which is very unique and innovative. Carson had previously studied a degree in sociology before starting to experiment with graphic design and from there; he gained a bit more education within the industry.

Carson began when he became an art director of a magazine company called “Transworld Skateboarding”(Davidcarsondesign.com, 2016). A company that Carson then found his specialism in, he completely changed the company, giving them an edge to other magazines due to the style of his cover. The cover had quite an edgy, non-perfect design, which was distinct and eye-catching to the audience. This then became “Carson’s signature style”(Famous Graphic Designers, 2016), that he then became very recognised for having.


In 1992, Carson was hired to design “Ray Gun”(Davidcarsondesign.com, 2016) with publisher Marvin Scott Jarrett. The “Ray Gun magazine was a life style and music magazine”(En.wikipedia.org, 2016) that was first released in 1992. It had a very unique representation with Carson’s diverse cover designs and people brought the magazine not only for the content but also brought it because of Carson’s cover designs as well. Carson designed the first 30 issues of “Ray Gun”(Davidcarsondesign.com, 2016). His type and layout made him stand out as a figure in the graphic design industry. His style was unlike anyone had seen before, so this lead to Carson’s increase of popularity, with his unique design method.


In 1995, Carson departed from “Ray Gun”(Davidcarsondesign.com, 2016) magazines to then make his own studio, which is based in New York City. With his rapid popularity from his diverse design, David gained quite a few clients such as Levi Strauss, NBC, American Airlines, Nike, Pepsi and more. While in his own studio, David named and designed a tourism magazine called “Blue in 1997”(En.wikipedia.org, 2016), for the magazine he designed the very first issue and from there he did the first 3 covers that it had. The first issue cover design is in the Top 40 magazine covers of all time list, which is made by the “American Society of Magazine Editors”(designboom | architecture & design magazine, 2016).


Carson still to this day is an influential designer in his own right; he still is active on social media showing his pieces of work. He revolutionised graphic design and showed how being different matters. He solely created and got over his own individual style, which people still use today in their work. His style and take on the art industry as a whole is a huge influence for myself; it’s just so inspirational the way he took the design world as a whole. He conveyed a message through his own design work and completely changed graphic design for the future.


He changed it in such a way that it sparked a new revolution in the design industry. Design at the time was seen to be very professional and sleek looking which “was high demanded”(En.wikipedia.org, 2016), so when Carson stepped in, “he broke the rules”(designboom | architecture & design magazine, 2016) in a way, which got the design industry to look at his work in a different way, making him such an influential designer. Carson’s designs stepped over the edge to what was popular at the time, he infused art with design and brought that edginess to design that was only ever seen in art before that time. He played by his own rules and showed the industry that difference is good, and this could of lead to the amount of different design techniques we have to this day.


He broke the rules in the design industry, by proving that change is good. The professional look that companies originally wanted was on high demand especially at that sort of time, where design sort of took over the world. His “unique take on art”(En.wikipedia.org, 2016) changed the work of many other people. While everyone was offering this professional look that everyone wanted at the time, Carson offered a different more unique design, where he would incorporate artwork. Carson’s influential work first came along when he was working for “Transworld skateboarding”(Davidcarsondesign.com, 2016), where he stepped up his artwork on the magazine to display a much more edgy looking piece. I think Carson is even part responsible for giving the skate industry its own individual look, because if you look at any skate magazine to this day, it always has an innovative, unique design, that sets it off by itself. You can almost tell what is to do with skating and what is not just by looking at the design that is used.


Carson completely changed the industry in such a way that it enforced a new design perspective and made it more eye-catching for a bigger audience. In my opinion, he changed the design industry completely for the better, with his edgy unique style if definitely captivated a different audience. People weren’t bored of the professional element a lot of the designers had at that time, but they needed change to attract different customers, which was when Carson came in. Not only would it have made the industry demand for that work but also it made a lot of people want to become designers. With the professional look being in high demand at that time, it was obviously a very specific thing people had to produce and a few people were not very good at that. When Carson came along and introduced that style of art, it opened a lot of doors for artists who wanted to be designers but couldn’t do the professional look in their work. David’s passion for the industry drove a lot of people to share that passion with him and popularise the art process, rather than professional side to design.


The normal design at the time was professional, companies were in high demand of a professional look to make their business/work place stand out and look professional to compete with other industries. The sleek design brought many clients because all big companies at that time had a very professional look about them; everything they had was professionally done. Everything to do with the branding, the logo, letterheads, leaflets, posters, pretty much everything a company had, had to “look professional to gain clients”(designboom | architecture & design magazine, 2016). When Carson came along it completely changed industry design, and companies requested work more like Carson’s because it stood out more compared to the professional look people had previously been requesting. With Carson’s work, such as the work he did for “Ray Gun”(Davidcarsondesign.com, 2016), it brought out a bigger audience for being different and caught the eye of every client. This success rate then brought very big clients Carson’s work like I previously noted. With bigger companies using Carson’s work, it helped to popularise that style even more, and everybody wanted it. This is why it revolutionised the industry in such a big way, because of the high demand, making “Carson an iconic figure in graphic design”(Famous Graphic Designers, 2016) today.


His style “majorly conflicted”(Famous Graphic Designers, 2016) with standards at that time. The standard at that time was very sleek and professional like I mentioned earlier, everything was done to perfection. Every industry pined for a professional look to obtain a wider audience, they believed that with a professional look, they could sell something for a better price because the company looks professional, which I do believe my self, but at the same time, Carson’s style for me makes a company stand out more in a unique way. You still see a lot of professional companies with professional looking graphics such as logos, store graphics etc. But Carson’s style has impacted industries in a big way and loads of company’s worldwide use his style. The main line of business that uses Carson’s style is the skate industry. When he did his magazine, Carson sparked that sort of style in Skateboarding and it is still used today in magazines, on skateboards and on skate clothing.


Carson’s work relates to modernism, which is an art or movement that aims to change from the traditional forms. Carson’s work is a huge example of this as he completely broke the rules to achieve his standard of work. He modernised our industry and sparked a new era of design that engaged an even bigger audience towards it.


Here are some examples of Carson’s best and most iconic work, which changed our industry.


This is “Transworld Skateboarding”(Davidcarsondesign.com, 2016) where Carson became an art director. As you can see the cover has a very grunge, “dirty”(Famous Graphic Designers, 2016) feel to it compared to others. The text ‘skateboarding’ at the top is bold and in a bright colour, it is the emphasis of this cover. The issue title has a text that makes it look like handwriting, Carson’s style was very edgy and the fact that the cover didn’t look professional shows it. The cover is topped with an image of a guy doing an Ollie down a gap. The image is quite dark and it looks like it has motion behind it as the lights in the background aren’t clear.


This is also a cover for “Transworld Skateboarding magazine”(Davidcarsondesign.com, 2016). This is a very unique cover and probably my favourite out of all of the covers he did for “Transworld”(Davidcarsondesign.com, 2016) Magazine. The cover represents shadow. Again, like the last cover, the emphasis is the word skateboarding, which on this cover is also a different colour but is in the exact same place. The cover features a skateboarder in black and white filter, with a black shadow underneath him, the cover then splits off into 2 sections with a black strip running up the right side of the page. The “Transworld”(Davidcarsondesign.com, 2016) is separated into 2 colours, with the black on white and the white on black, which I think is really clever and eye-catching.


This cover is for “Raygun magazine”(Davidcarsondesign.com, 2016), who he was hired to design magazines for in 1992. It’s within this company that Carson’s work really took off and he started to get noticed as a artist with a different style, which was very unique. This cover of “Raygun”(Davidcarsondesign.com, 2016) features a guy stood in a shadow with sunglasses on. At the top of the magazine is the title of the magazine in bold lettering, which Carson used to always do with “Transworld skateboarding magazine”(Davidcarsondesign.com, 2016). The contents of the magazine are kind of spread in a unique style, kind of like a code or something. I like this magazine cover because it is very eye-catching and unlike anything you would usually see on any other magazine. Another thing to note is that the cover is eye-catching and Carson didn’t even have to use any colour on the front of it.


This last cover is also done for “Raygun”(Davidcarsondesign.com, 2016). “Every title of Raygun magazine was designed differently”(designboom | architecture & design magazine, 2016). This one featured a very bright photo of people. Carson designed this cover with the colour scheme blue and orange, as you can see on the people and in the writing/background. This is a very complicated design, which is what I like about it. There’s a lot going on at once and this is what made Carson’s work take off.


Visually, Carson’s work compared to what was normal at the time is very unique. At that time with the professional standard, everyone tried to become a designer and only use professional techniques, Carson pushed that boundary and showed that you can use any style you want, you are still capable of making a piece that is eye-catching to an audience, hence the reason he drew such a big mix of clients with the likes of Levi’s, Pepsi and Nike.


David Carson took graphic design into a complete new revolution when he released designs like these. It’s a very unique design and I hold it as a big inspiration to my work. He changed the industry for the better by introducing a new style, which proved that any style is a good style, and there are many more fields of design to respect and love, instead of a professional sleek design all the time. As a graphic design student myself, I see his work as an inspiration to me, and his success through the industry.



– Davidcarsondesign.com. (2016). david carson design. [online] Available at: http://www.davidcarsondesign.com/ [Accessed 30 Nov. 2016].


– En.wikipedia.org. (2016). David Carson (graphic designer). [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Carson_(graphic_designer) [Accessed 30 Nov. 2016].


– Davidcarsondesign.com. (2014). magazine | david carson design. [online] Available at: http://www.davidcarsondesign.com/t/work/magazine/ [Accessed 30 Nov. 2016].


– Carson, D. (2016). Design and discovery. [online] Ted.com. Available at: https://www.ted.com/talks/david_carson_on_design [Accessed 30 Nov. 2016].


– designboom | architecture & design magazine. (2014). interview with graphic designer david carson. [online] Available at: http://www.designboom.com/design/interview-with-graphic-designer-david-carson-09-22-2013/ [Accessed 30 Nov. 2016].


– Flask, D. (2016). David Carson : Design Is History. [online] Designishistory.com. Available at: http://www.designishistory.com/1980/david-carson/ [Accessed 30 Nov. 2016].


– Famous Graphic Designers. (2016). David Carson | Biography, Designs and Facts. [online] Available at: http://www.famousgraphicdesigners.org/david-carson [Accessed 30 Nov. 2016].



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s