Graphic designer, illustrator and animator Erik Carter is constantly shifting into new territories and techniques. Experimental is perhaps too strong a word to describe his work, since it implies an unfamiliar aesthetic, but there’s definitely a sense of exploration. As a product of the first generation to be raised on the internet at a large scale, Erik’s work is a mixture of video game culture, early digital culture and critical design work. “It’s difficult for me to describe my practice as it’s intentionally in flux. If I find I’m stuck on a single style or material, I actively start working on a new one so I can learn new skills,” Erik tells It’s Nice That. “Graphic designers tend to stay in the medium they’re comfortable with, which is often predetermined by the constraints defined by Adobe products.”
“My career started under Paul Sahre doing illustration and book cover design work and his philosophy and means of working are still with me. I have spent time under Richard Turley at MTV, a few stints as an art director, all while maintaining an independent design practice whether I had a day job or not,” Erik says. “A couple of years ago, I moved to Oakland to work at a large search engine corporation art directing AR experiences. My team was ‘re-organised’ quickly after we all realised that the corporation had no interest in meaningfully investing in the type of art we were making,” he continues.
Today, Erik is still making a large variety of work, from book cover designs to regular illustrations for likes of The New York Times, MIT Technology Review, The New Yorker and Pitchfork. “I often get hired to make work about big tech because I live and work in the Bay Area and have witnessed how the industry has changed this community first hand.” But to avoid falling into the trap of software familiarisation, he looks to use new programmes, plugins and textile materials to keep his practice fresh.
“The self-referential graphic design work, especially my Twitter account, mostly stems from the frustration of a lack of critical discourse in our profession. Graphic designers are often afraid to speak their minds for fear of losing clients or hurting their online identity,” Erik explains. “I try to speak up against that ideology because it has stunted the profession and absolved it of the social damage it’s done through the proliferation of capitalism,” he continues.
From this, the projects that he’s most excited about come from outside of his commercial work, concerning themselves with academic research or community building. He cites his essay Do You Want Typography or Do You Want The Truth? for the Walker Art Centre in Minneapolis as an example of this. Another example is his fruitful teaching role at the California College of the Arts where he sees students surpassing his own skills and showing him new tools regularly.
Looking to the near future, Erik is planning a return to his “spiritual cynical home” on the east coast of the States. “I’d like to do more writing and teaching and finding ways to uplift and connect with my community," he says, finally going on to say: “I also want to make a video game, I just don’t know how – yet.”