Een interview door onze alumni Chloé Kempeners


David Carson is a graphic designer, art director and surfer. He’s especially known in America. His work for the magazines beach culture and Ray Gun in the 1990s brought a new approach to type and page design breaking with traditional layout systems. He continues to explore the limits of graphic design, particularly typography as a form of expression across print. Next to that, he explores his love for making collages. Chloé Kempeners had the pleasure to speak to David about his work and his personal view of the graphic industry.

David Carson

Q: Was there a specific reason why you started working analogue?

A: When I started there was only analogue, there was no choice to make. There was no computer, no screen. And now 90% of my work is done digitally on my screen. We had to start analogue because there was no other option. And now, like everybody, most of my work is done on the computer.


Q: Last week you actually showed us you ripped off pieces of posters in the streets. Is that something you do often?

A: Usually when I travel, if I see something interesting, I take it off the wall, ‘steal’ it or tear it off. Sometimes I make collages out of it. Or use it in a project if I find the need to. 


Q: When did you notice you have a talent for public speaking and giving lectures? 

A: There wasn’t any point I realized “Wow I’m good at this”. Most people didn’t like public speaking, but I have been doing it for over 20 years now. It’s kind of easy to focus on work and it’s different than just giving a speech. You can concentrate on what they’re looking at. It comes natural to me. 


Q: And when did you decided to continue to give lectures?

A: There is no actual schedule or program when I’m giving lectures. Sometimes I just get emails of people who ask if I want to give a lecture and if I get a free trip somewhere then that’s cool. It’s a little side thing, it’s not merely what I do. They’re fun, I get to see the world. 


Q: How do you call your own work?

A: Graphic Design. It’s only in the last years I decided playing with collages, it’s fun.


Q: What do you think about using grids? Because you are well known about not using grids.

A: You have to work with whatever works for you. If it works for you to use a grid, that’s fine. If it works for you to not use a grid, than that’s fine as well. They just don’t work for me, I think it’s kind of a cheat. I never learned them, and when I did, I didn’t see a reason to use them. But I do think it’s kind of cheating in a way; if you think a grid is going to give you a good design. If you can’t feel it and if you need a grid to do good work, then you’re probably in the wrong field. You’re probably going to get bored of it. Because anybody can throw in a grid, fill it and correct position and that’s going to get boring.


Q: You were talking about a ‘good design’. What is a good design in your eyes?

A: It’s hard to say, it has to feel right depending on what it’s trying to say and to the audiences. It has to feel right and then I consider it a good design. There is no formula. It’s a combination of how it feels, what it’s trying to say and the connection with the audience.


Q: Do you think it’s time to re-invent yourself?

A: No, I think I’m still growing in doing what I do. I don’t have to force myself to re-invent myself. I’m still busy, I still enjoy what I do and I think it’s progressing. I don’t feel the need, like some designers to try to figure out a way to re-invent themselves. I’m getting more requests to speak and to make work. It’s the best as ever, maybe more. 


Q: You never officially studied Design. Do you think it’s sensible?

A: It’s not a field where people care really where you went to school or what grades you got. They just want to see your work. No one is going to hire you just because you went to this school or you got that grade. I’m not anti-school but if that’s all you’re doing then it’s probably going to get though for you. But it’s a combination; you have to go to conferences, lectures, and you have to be drawn to the field naturally. You can’t force yourself to study it. You have to not be able to walk past a bookstore and want to check out covers or a record store and look at the new album covers. 

Q: How do you keep challenging yourself?

A: The nice thing is that I don’t have to challenge myself. I’m drawn to what I do, I’m just curious. I don’t have to force it. I make my living from my hobby. I see inspiration in everything and then I just make pictures of it and I might use some of them in my collages.

Werk van David Carson


Q: What are your thoughts about the current state of magazine design? Are you still drawn to it?


A: I check them out, I go by stores and scan the covers see if anything catches my eye. But I think they got a bit boring, the last ten years or so. They play it pretty safe design wise, so it’s a little disappointing. If I would ever do magazines again than it has to be a right combination of somebody who has a good topic and totally freedom.


Q: What is your opinion about big companies and their logo’s? The ‘modern’ design.

A: Their logo’s have gone from interesting to all caps, bold and something in Helvetica. It’s all the same. What people don’t get is, you can do that in a second and you think it’s okay. But what it actually says is ‘don’t read me’, ‘don’t click’, ‘this is not important, ‘not worth your time’. 


Q: What do you think about Graphic Design in The Netherlands?

A: Fun thing about Holland is that almost everyone speaks in English, but 99% of the posters are all in Dutch. I’m always like ‘Oh that looks interesting, I wonder what it is and what it says’. You do get a lot of local people here, but it’s a little frustrating sometimes. There’s this wall of posters in my hotel that changes every Monday and it’s all in Dutch. Sometimes I do recognize the venue and then I look it up. But 99% of the people that are staying in a hotel don’t live here and they don’t understand. It’s definitely something I wonder if agencies are aware of that.


Q: You never struggle from creative blocks, why is that?

A: If you have to search for inspiration online then it’s not for you. I don’t know how people get creative blocks. Look at the material, brief, photo’s, who your client is. How can you not have any thoughts from that? How can anyone get all of that information and just be blank. I take all that in and that’s where I start. I can understand a writers block, but I can’t understand a designers block.


Q: What is your advice to people who want to start working in graphic design?

A: Don’t get to hung up about working analogue or not analogue. If you want to be a designer you have to have that eye. Find out what works for you and make it happen. If you don’t have the eye, no one will give it to you. And if you don’t, find something you do have an eye for. 


Q: What advice would you have for other graphic designers just starting out?

A: You really have to do the work. You can be the best person out there, but if nobody sees your work than it doesn’t matter. You have to get promoted, you have to get your work out there. It can be competitions, award shows. I don’t think just posting your work on Instagram is enough anymore. It doesn’t hurt but you got to let people know you’re out there. You and zillions out there. They have to get that other source than only Instagram. You have to actively get the work out there. If you’re just sitting and waiting; good luck but then it’s not going to happen. 

David’s opinion about my approach and the interview;

I’m impressed you got up here and you did it. Lots of people have failed. Some people are too shy. I don’t think I would’ve done it and come up. They don’t usually get that far. It’s merely just an email and a bunch of questions. You just asked to meet up and if I said no than it’s fine as well. But you asked and that’s at least half of your message. You never know if you don’t ask. It speaks well of you. It shows you got drive and are passionate about what you’re doing, it’s not something you can force. 


Cheers, Chloé Kempeners