Super Natural: David Carson

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News | Jürgen Siebert | May 27, 2010

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.

David Carson at TYPO Berlin 2010 "Passion"
David Carson at TYPO Berlin 2010 “Passion”. © Gerard Kassner
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.

David Carson’s chaotic desktop. © Nina Stössinger
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&#8202…” Hello!? Can David Carson help that?

David Carson Q&A session with Donald Beekman. © Alexander Blumhoff

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.

At Alexanderplatz subway station with David Carson. © Frank Grießhammer
Header image: Interview with David Carson. © Alexander Blumhoff

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  1. bullshit. all bullshit

    Posted by pablo on May. 27, 2010
  2. Hi Pablo, I’d appreciate it if you were a bit more articulate. If you have a different opinion please offer arguments. This hardly is a basis for a discussion.

    Posted by Yves Peters on May. 27, 2010
  3. At least he had the decency to show up. All too often he is invited to speak, and then cancels the same day. This happend to at an event I had been looking forward to for a long time. So regardless of his actual presentation his flagrant disregard for his audience makes him a persona non grata in my book.

    Posted by Jonathan on May. 27, 2010
  4. @Jonathan. After 15 TYPO conferences with 4 performances of David Carson I can assure that it is solely the organizer’s responsibility if David will appear or not – believe me. And it is by far no question of money. He just needs a little bit respect: warm and constant communication weeks before, a good position in the program, professional assistance … that’s all. Some conferences are proud to sell tickets with his name but treat him badly.

    Posted by Jürgen Siebert on May. 27, 2010
  5. I’m sorry, but what’s provoking about tits, surfboards and blurred images of his house in the caribbean? I thought it was plain boring… I went to hear him speak because I never have before… and never will again, believe me… BORING!

    Posted by Matthias on May. 27, 2010
  6. You didnt really explain what was so embarrassing about his presentation-any video?

    Posted by Josh on May. 27, 2010
  7. People from the audience accused it of being aimless and without content. Carson’s slideshow was a seemingly random succession of images which – though beautiful – didn’t really tell anything, and also included him surfing, his kids, and several blurry shots of his girlfriend’s naked boobs.

    Posted by Yves Peters on May. 27, 2010
  8. David showed similar images but was very funny in this TED talk from 2003. I get the feeling his presentations are like musical performances, subject to the same thrills and pitfalls. Sometimes you just have an off night or maybe the material from the new album just isn’t as good as the last.

    Posted by Stephen Coles on May. 28, 2010
  9. probably, Carson is misunderstood because he is more (or less) the an usual typographer. he is just an ARTIST with an subjective and free point of view. I think it is important to respect professionals as different persons as they are. the world would be really boring with only standard concepts of the matters. orthodoxy is so important as breaking rules is.

    when young I came into the designer field following his ideas and now, more than 10 years later, I’m not too enthusiastic with his style but respect it, anyway. people should respect the differences and try not to subjugate them. when he shows his blurry images and naked boobs he is provoking (the holy design community) and of course inviting us for understand his life and how that influenced his works.

    I understand that the lecture could have been disappointing for some, but everything depends on as you look the point.

    Posted by leandro on May. 28, 2010
  10. David is David. I have been working with him on his documentary for over 2 years now and I have seen that he dances to the beat of his own drummer. He is not afraid to take chances and explore what is possible once you get ‘the rules’ out of your vernacular. Something we all could learn from.

    David Carson is the David Byrne of design.

    Posted by Charlie T on May. 28, 2010
  11. Now you have me intrigued. If somebody doesn’t want me to have the chance to see him speak, then I want to see it.

    Posted by ngassmann on May. 28, 2010
  12. Careful, Charlie. Legitimate defense until the end. Only David Byrne is the David Byrne of design.

    Posted by Stephen Coles on May. 28, 2010
  13. Now you have me intrigued. If somebody doesn’t want me to have the chance to see him speak, then I want to see it.

    Hey, the man is an icon. I simply had to see him at least once in my lifetime, although I started to regret it two-thirds in. Both him and Studio Dumbar are competing for the top spot in this year’s “Least Favourite Presentation” category, with twice as many votes as the third one in the list.

    Posted by Yves Peters on May. 28, 2010
  14. I think David Carson is at a loss for what rules to break, as he has now done away with them all (and thankfully I was a student during that time, trying to escape the teachings of a rigid and well-known design professor/historian, and eating up everything David had to say and/or produce) during his years as a designer. Now maybe he fights to find a way to stay as relevant as he was 15 years ago. Fading glory is no easy thing to take – ask any former sports star. But too many designers now don’t realize what it was like 15, 20 years ago before designers like him and Rudy Vanderlans, Zuzanna Licko, and Neville Brody started questioning the rules. We should still be thankful for his inquisitive mind, and maybe help him find direction again as he explores other media.
    And as much as I respect David Carson, he is NOT the David Byrne of design! Have you seen what David Byrne can do with PowerPoint, man? Simply amazing. Conceptually and visually.

    Posted by angie jernejcic on May. 29, 2010
  15. i mean nothing but respect for mr. carson by those remarks. some of them may have came out the wrong way, but respect is the intent.

    Posted by angie jernejcic on Jun. 3, 2010

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