Stephan Walter

Gazing too long at
Stephan Walter’s illustrations could leave you reeling. Their
focal points are hard to pin down; they might be best viewed by distant
birds with madly telescopic night vision. These are designs that knock
you over with a tight, singularly brilliant idea that keeps unfolding,
often surprisingly, with every minuscule crease.

As Radionacional,
Walter creates these effects by pursuing a remarkably simple
goal—in his words, “to dissolve the borders between image
and text.” He continues, “I can’t stand those posters
where you’ve got a photo up top and a few lines of text
underneath. I like it when a design comes together
compactly…where image and typography can’t be separated and
the design emerges as a single entity.” This isn’t the only
way he echoes Marshall McLuhan’s theory “The medium is the
message.” The name Radionacional suggests graphic design work
being beamed into a banana republic. “I make propaganda,” he
says unabashedly. “I attempt to influence people with my images,
to touch their hearts. It’s the way a true ‘radio
nacional’ blankets the people with untruths and illusions.”
Simultaneously, this provocative name reminds him of the responsibility
designers wield, subtly shaping the information they present. “In
the computer age…doing anything with just a click makes us lazy
with our time. We forget to use our brains,” he says. In his work,
Walter tries to slow down perception, to snag the viewer’s
attention back into wakefulness.

Walter studied business at the
Minerva Institute in Zurich, Switzerland, until he acknowledged the
tell-tale signs of a born designer: “I was drawing non-stop when I
should have been concentrating in class,” he says. He soon
switched to the F+F School of Art and Media Design and started devouring
design applications (both 2-D and 3-D) and books like a starving man.
Work came his way first from F+F, who hired him upon graduation to
design promotional materials, then in a stream of band posters, theater
collateral, and illustrations for sports-bag manufacturer Freitag. But
his biggest break came while vacationing in New York, where he agonized
about approaching design legend Stefan Sagmeister. In the end, he left a
note and copy of his thesis project with Sagmeister’s doorman. To
Walter’s surprise, Sagmeister invited him to intern at Sagmeister
Inc. the following summer. His work there on a mailer for fashion
designer Anni Kuan earned him a New York Type Directors Club award and
an illustration in Sagmeister’s book Things I Have Learned in
My Life So Far
, later repurposed for Art Basel Miami. Describing
Walter’s work, Sagmeister says, “I have never quite seen
such a seamless integration of 3-D typography with objects and buildings
anywhere else.”

Walter sees a future teeming with possibilities,
not least in his old passion, 3-D design. “I can imagine print
graphics having the same destiny as music,” he speculates.
“People will mostly consume things digitally”—and
those future images will take full advantage of movement. Walter
enumerates his fantasies with characteristic wit: “One, I’ll
have a studio in New York and be the best designer in the world. Two,
I’ll have enough of design and pure facade. Three, I’ll be a
kinky advertiser in London with a cool car, two women, and a chic
loft.”

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About Jude Stewart

Jude Stewart is a PRINT contributing editor. She has written on design and culture for Slate, Fast Company, The Believer, I.D., Metropolis, and Design Observer, among many others. Her first book ROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color is available for pre-order from Bloomsbury. Follow her tweets on color at twitter.com/joodstew.

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