Gazing too long atStephan Walter’s illustrations could leave you reeling. Theirfocal points are hard to pin down; they might be best viewed by distantbirds with madly telescopic night vision. These are designs that knockyou 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 simplegoal—in his words, “to dissolve the borders between imageand text.” He continues, “I can’t stand those posterswhere you’ve got a photo up top and a few lines of textunderneath. I like it when a design comes togethercompactly…where image and typography can’t be separated andthe design emerges as a single entity.” This isn’t the onlyway he echoes Marshall McLuhan’s theory “The medium is themessage.” The name Radionacional suggests graphic design workbeing beamed into a banana republic. “I make propaganda,” hesays unabashedly. “I attempt to influence people with my images,to touch their hearts. It’s the way a true ‘radionacional’ blankets the people with untruths and illusions.”Simultaneously, this provocative name reminds him of the responsibilitydesigners wield, subtly shaping the information they present. “Inthe computer age…doing anything with just a click makes us lazywith our time. We forget to use our brains,” he says. In his work,Walter tries to slow down perception, to snag the viewer’sattention back into wakefulness.
Walter studied business at theMinerva Institute in Zurich, Switzerland, until he acknowledged thetell-tale signs of a born designer: “I was drawing non-stop when Ishould have been concentrating in class,” he says. He soonswitched to the F+F School of Art and Media Design and started devouringdesign 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 todesign promotional materials, then in a stream of band posters, theatercollateral, and illustrations for sports-bag manufacturer Freitag. Buthis biggest break came while vacationing in New York, where he agonizedabout approaching design legend Stefan Sagmeister. In the end, he left anote and copy of his thesis project with Sagmeister’s doorman. ToWalter’s surprise, Sagmeister invited him to intern at SagmeisterInc. the following summer. His work there on a mailer for fashiondesigner Anni Kuan earned him a New York Type Directors Club award andan illustration in Sagmeister’s book Things I Have Learned inMy Life So Far, later repurposed for Art Basel Miami. DescribingWalter’s work, Sagmeister says, “I have never quite seensuch a seamless integration of 3-D typography with objects and buildingsanywhere else.”
Walter sees a future teeming with possibilities,not least in his old passion, 3-D design. “I can imagine printgraphics having the same destiny as music,” he speculates.“People will mostly consume things digitally”—andthose future images will take full advantage of movement. Walterenumerates his fantasies with characteristic wit: “One, I’llhave 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 akinky advertiser in London with a cool car, two women, and a chicloft.”