Super Natural: David Carson
To say that David Carson‘s presentation A Design Surf on the second day of TYPO Berlin 2010 stirred the audience is an understatement. But honestly whoever sits in on a presentation by David Carson should know what to expect, … and not whine afterwards. His book The End of Print published fifteen years ago has sold 200,000 copies, was translated into five languages, and is by far the most successful graphic design book in the world. The man is not a blank slate. Even those who do not know his œuvre in detail, are at least aware of the basic foundations of his work – his very subjective view on graphic design, which questions and rejects rules, and leads to radical, unforeseeable results. If you can’t stomach this, you are bound to be disappointed by a David Carson presentation, as it proceeds in an equally unpredictable manner.
I’m not really a fan of David Carson’s attitude, yet am firmly on my way to become one. I would like to cite from the first results of the TYPO 2010 online questionnaire that have reached us: “Please do not pay him his fee for his embarrassing presentation”, “As a student I already have problems paying € 200 … and don’t want to be screwed over by people like David Carson”, “… an icon of graphic design … fair enough, but then I expect more than just boobs and surfing. I can have those at home, and much cheaper”, “Why does David Carson even get invited anymore?”. And from a blog comment: “… incredible what David Carson can get away with. My expectations for TYPO were considerable, because David Carson was one of the outstanding figures in graphic design of the last decade … however I felt very much let down.”
Without a doubt – whoever expected anything different from what Carson presented for 60 minutes may be disappointed. That person is also bound to say: “Not for me anymore”. But what brings people to want to “protect” others from David Carson (“… don’t invite him anymore”)? Why would they want to see the speaker “punished” (“… no fee”)? Even compensations were asked … just because a designer has achieved with his presentation exactly what has made him so successful for the past twenty years: to provoke.
Is it possible that the Carson Method doesn’t fit these times anymore, that it is a relic of the past? This should not prevent us from appreciating it for its own merits, just like we do movements like Art Nouveau, Bauhaus, or Post-Modernism. With respect. That particularly students are interested in recent design history and want to experience Carson live is a commendable attitude. They have the right to form their own personal opinion without the snide remarks of the (usually older) Carson detractors.
Our reason for inviting David Carson is very simple – it so happens that in our post-conference questionnaires he is the most requested speaker for future editions of TYPO. As programming director it is my duty to respect the wishes of the audience. This is why this year David Carson was again present in Berlin, after 1995 (FUSE), 1998 (Type is Money) and 2006 (Play). TYPO Hall was completely packed and had to be closed off for security reasons shortly after the presentation began. Between 200 and 300 attendees left TYPO Hall in the following minutes … which means that still 800 people stayed until the end. A member from the audience wrote as the conclusion to a torrent of abuse: “I was sitting in the middle of a row and didn’t dare to get up and leave …” Hello!? Can David Carson help that?
Although many experience TYPO as being as cosy and homey as their own living room, there simply is no remote control to shut off any undesirable presentations. However the conference presents a unique opportunity to engage in a healthy debate with our design heroes. This opportunity is also offered to their harshest critics. If Carson’s presentation was so unbearable, why not ask him about it at the subsequent Q&A session on TYPO Stage in the Haus der Kulturen de Welt foyer? I consider this a more constructive exercise in personality, which ultimately could prove more fruitful than the preceding 60 minute lecture. There are hardly any speakers so willing to mingle with the audience than Carson, inviting dialogue, being charming, open, and frankly “super natural”. Thank you very much for this, David.
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