Friday Fives: Erik Carter

November 13, 2020

Every Friday we give #highfives to a different designer from our extended family of PNCA students, faculty, alumni, and guest lecturers. 🙌🏾🙌🏻🙌🏽 We ask them five questions, and post five images.

This week we got to talk with Erik Carter, a graphic designer, art director, and educator running an independent practice based in New York City.

Erik has previously worked as an art director at Google and The New York Times, and animated for MTV. He has taught motion graphics at The California College of Arts, and is known for his writing on typography, book, and cover design, along with his animations. Much of his work incorporates video game culture and social commentary.


Erik is joining us on 11/18/20 as part of our Design Panel Series, a student-powered conversation with visiting guests, current PNCA Design students, faculty, and friends, presented in collaboration with FISK Projects. Join us for the talk by registering on EventBrite.

Graphic Design department head Kristin Rogers Brown spoke with Erik in November, 2020, with questions from students Jakob Dawahare '21, Adam Boin '22, Camryn Kaufmann '22, and Oskar Radon '20.

"Can one site change what a porn star is supposed to look like?" Illustration for The Guardian (art director: Jehan Jillani).

Q: How do you want to shape design?

A: I don’t want to assume I can shape the field of design, but I always try to find ways to impact my surroundings and community positively. Most of my work isn’t inherently permanent since it’s tied to journalism, a field that is a reaction to the present. To counteract that, I try to make work that isn’t selling another person’s or corporation’s ideas or product but instead creating things that exist as far away from capitalism as I can allow. My favorite work isn’t what people pay me to do; It is the work that has a direct impact on my community that I find the most fulfilling. These methods haven’t reached that perfect ideal, but proposing emojis, writing essays, designing AR filters, and teaching are all spaces I carve out for people to hopefully create empathetic, joyful, and inclusive realities.

Above, 1: Jello Cube & Color Cube, AR filters for Instagram that let you become a color. Above, 2: Look Softer & Laugh Harder, AR filters for Instagram that heighten your emotions..

Seeing so many people activated and caring about our society is inspirational, but so much of that energy from the design community feels misguided; praising performative typographic messaging instead of working with activists who know how to better steer our future.

Book cover designs for Verso's Verso Futures series, published by Verso (art director: Andy Pressman).

Q: What feels vital to the future of design, to you?

A: Especially with the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2020 election, and the Movement for Black Lives, I think it is vital for designers to understand their role as less significant than the individualist commercial society has tricked us to believe. Seeing so many people activated and caring about our society is inspirational, but so much of that energy from the design community feels misguided; praising performative typographic messaging instead of working with activists who know how to better steer our future. Seeing designers spend their energy on generic “Vote” Instagram posts without also using proven methods of phone banking, letter writing, or canvassing has been disheartening. We live in precarious times, and I think we have to be honest with our profession’s role in society. You can’t fix everything with a cool font. We need to listen to those who know how to sustain our communities and work with them instead of relying on the same tools that have promoted capitalism’s destruction of our planet.

"How Instagram became a destination for the protest movement,” illustration for NBC News (art director: Kara Haupt, '15).

Q: What is one thing you want to learn right now?

A: During lockdown I’ve been teaching myself how to develop video games. It’s a new medium for me and making interactive playables without a background in programming has been a fun challenge. I’m drawn to the medium because it allows me to create worlds that aren’t promoting anything except stories that hopefully touch people just by drawing them into a new reality. I’m hoping to release a few of the projects I’m working on in the next couple of years.

"Video games are dividing South Korea," illustration for The MIT Technology Review (art director: Emily Luong).

Q: What do you feel is your role as a designer in the midst of the current hardships within our country?

A: I haven’t really considered my role as a designer during these current hardships other than using the skills I’m fortunately able to monetize. Seeing my friends—working in design or otherwise—laid off and on unemployment without the government providing more meaningful assistance is a visceral experience that has challenged graphic design’s role in my life and made it feel insignificant. So many of us are trying to get by, and what little energy I have outside of work I use to take care of myself with new hobbies or to use design to activate people to make phone calls or donate to causes that are bigger than a font or layout. My role as a designer is much less important than my role as a human and finding ways to support my community and support my own sanity has been a challenge far greater than setting type.

Rhomby the Rhombus, Comic for Talk Magazine (art director: Harry Gassel; writing: Mike Devine; typeface: Christina Janus).

Q: What are you listening to/what are you reading/what are you watching right now? (Pick one or all three!)

A: Here are five mixes from the dark corners of the internet made in quarantine by zoomers that have helped me get through the past year:

  1. dj interior semiotics live @ limp pumpo 4/20 rave
  2. Bug Bus Piano - 10 min. Mix for Limp Pumpo 24hr Quarantine Rave
  3. sienna sleep - それは皆からの秘密です ( second life 24 quarantine limp pumpo rave mix
  4. osquinn - the set that crashed discord (td420 set)
  5. VAGUE002 - UVC vampalooza 2 mix (5.24.20)

Album and single artwork for GoldLink's Diaspora (Creative Direction: Offline Projects Joke Ting and Iffy FM; 3D: Daniel Mangosing Vampire; Logo: Rob Engvall).

Q: What question do you WISH you had been asked here? (We will ask the next person! And you can answer it too!)

A(Q): What do you gain from your work that isn’t money?

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See more from Erik at, or follow him on instagram @eriktheinternet.

Hear more from Erik in conversation with students and faculty by registering for our Design Panel Series with Erik Carter on 11/18/20 at 12:30pm PST. Co-hosted by PNCA Graphic Design and FISK. Poster courtesy of FISK.

Follow along with our #fridayfives on instagram @pncadesign.