How To Design Your Way Out Of Mediocrity
With C-skins and David Carson.
I don’t envy the marketing department at any company that makes wetsuits. They’re all within a millisecond of each other when it comes to performance and durability—which can only be judged in hindsight, unless you’re one of those second tier pros that go on annual “Wetsuit Bible” testing operations and try them all in succession.
The everyman wants black, navy at a push, minimal logos for the tasteful, so how the hell do you get your black rubber suits in the hands of the masses? Well in the case of UK rubber-makers C-Skins it’s simple. You just pay the world’s most famous (living) graphic designer to give your brand a complete overhaul and create a thing of beauty.
If design’s your thing then David Carson needs little in the way of drum beating from me, but if you’re not here’s the man in a short paragraph. Carson’s primarily famous for his editorial design, which mainly involves beautiful looking magazine spreads that you can barely read. Ever found yourself searching for a missing paragraph? Trying to read something with graphics plastered all over it? Well you’ve got Carson to thank, either directly or indirectly, for that.
He actually started off, vaguely, in the surfing world before going on to become a design megastar, designing a publication called Beach Culture, for the publisher of Surfer Magazine. It was with Ray Gun however, the iconic music and pop culture mag of the 90s, that Carson really let his frontier vision bloom. Any designer with even a vague interest in printed matter has got the horn for Carson’s Ray Gun work.
“Don’t confuse legibility with communication,” one of Carson’s famous lines on the subject, sums it up pretty well. Post-realising that the flailing publishing world wasn’t going to take him where he wanted to go, Carson set up his NYC studio, David Carson Design, and cashed in. Nike, Microsoft, Bud, you name it, Carson’s done it. These days he lectures a lot and cherry picks jobs he’s interested in/have plenty noughts at the end. Carson’s also a lifelong surfer proper whose first property purchase twenty years ago was a Caribbean beach shack on a mysto righthander. The man gets it.
Which leads us to the C-skins collab. I grew up surfing in the UK, and I remember C-skins going to market. Up until that point, wetsuits made either in the UK, or by UK brands, just weren’t as good as the imports. They were stiff and heavy—the last thing you need when battling frigid temperatures and slopey waves. Enter C-Skins, emerging from the shell of the heritage UK wetsuit brand GUL.
They looked like the imports, sponsored vogue UK pros (yep) like Alan Stokes. I wore one and it was as good as the Xcel that was my—and plenty other UK surfers’—wetsuit choice at the time. I hadn’t thought about C-skins for years until I saw that they were trying to launch in Australia a while back. Good luck, was my typically pessimistic response. Not because of the quality or price point of the suits, simply because it’s a highly-saturated market, surfers are narrow-minded and set in their ways, and convincing Australians that there’s a surf scene in the UK is hard enough, let alone that we know anything about making wetsuits. Then came a hat-in-mouth scenario courtesy this beautiful branding exercise by Sir Carson.
Normally I can’t stand logos on limbs. It feels like a desperate attempt by the Marketing Director to squeeze one more in there in the name of brand awareness. The periodic table, Breaking Bad-style graphics that Carson’s designed for C-Skins however, just makes the suits look, brazen. Sophisticated.
In an interview C-Skins founder Carey Brown gave with Board Sport Source, a Euro “surf/skate/snow business” site, whatever that means, he explained the re-brand came as a result of him being “fed up” with hearing that all wetsuits, including his, looked the same. While I can’t say that it’s been an exercise in flawless PR—I stumbled on the news on a lap around Carson’s IG—the UK brand’s sure done a hell of a job of making something so uniform stand out. I like thoughtful design and I like things that most people don’t have. If I was in the habit of paying for wetsuits, would I buy one? 100%.
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