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.”