David Carson

Digital Applications Change Editorial Design
  • With the full arrival of the "Information Age," the magazine that gave voice to the "digital generation"


  • During the 1990s accelerating progress in computers, software, and output devices allowed editorial designers to apply computer experimenation to their pages.

  • David Carson not only changed the look of youth oriented magazines, but he provided opportunities for talent new designers and illustrators to express their style.

  • Post-Modernism in the nineties evolved into a mannerism that reveled in the complex integration of type and image.


  • Costly special effects became commonplace, space became irrational, and experimental ruled the day.


  • Inspired by Émigré, Fuse, and grunge, this hybrid called Controlled Chaos allowed for the assimilation of the most advanced technology to the least sophisticated vernacular.

Beach Culture

In 1989, Carson became art director of Beach Culture magazine, where he won
over 150 design awards, including “Best Overall Design” and
“Cover of the Year” from the Society of Publication Designers in New York.

"Beach Culture" only lasted for six issues,
but its influence and reputation far exceeds its limited print
and distribution cause of fab art-director David Carson.

(1989- 91)
Art Director: David Carson


Carson went further than any of his generation
in exploiting the Mac's programmatic tics...

He broke the rules in every way.

.... including negative leading, overlapping, layering,
and creating absurd compositional layouts, such as backwards text settings and columns of texts that bled off the page or aligned or overlapped eachother.


Yet he still abides by the principles of design.
(Focal point, eye flow, hierarchy etc.)
Even using negative space to compliment the chaotic elements.



Ray Gun

Appointed art director of Ray Gun magazine in 1992.
(which caused their circulation to triple.)

Ray Gun was an anti-glossy, anti-establishment manifesto
that became a synonym of rock & roll, rebellion and
alternative spirit.

His do-it-yourself, colorful retro and collage inspired covers
were a shock to everyone in the 90’
and Carson himself found them surprising.

David Carson opened the door to a new way of working in the editorial world.
Since the end of Ray Gun, Carson’s style has often been imitated, but never improved.

Carson's illegibility was decried and denounced but designers discovered many readers were more resilient than assumed and messages were read.



Inside Ray Gun

He explored reverse leading, extreme forced justification, text columns jammed together, and minimal contrast between the text and the background color.
Ray Gun was an alternative music magazine,
so instead of designing by a grid
or with any specific structure,
Carson created spreads based on
how the music spoke to him.
Parts of letters were sliced away asking the
reader to decipher the message.

Page numbers might be set in large display type,
article titles were letter spaced erratically across images or arranged in expressive rather than normative sequences.


Carson designed a spread on musician Bryan Ferry,
but when he read the content he found it
boring and not worth reading.
As a solution, he set the article in the Zapf Dingbats
typeface, which is made up of symbols rather than letters.

He also treated photographs and images in unconventional manners.


Carson constantly stresses,
“Don’t mistake legibility for communication.”

In a documentary on Helvetica, Carson criticizes the lack of expression
in certain words written in Helvetica, such as “caffeinated,” and “explosion,”
because of their bland appearance. He said,

“There’s a very fine line between simple and clean and powerful,
and simple and clean and boring.”