It’s an oft-told truth that the most interesting people are the interested people. And I’d wager that the most interesting designs are born of designers that are obsessed not just with grids, kerning, and Adobe suite shortcuts, but anything and everything else in the world around them.
That’s the joy in speaking to Ukrainian-born, Hannover-based designer Yevgeniy Anfalov—I’ve learned more in 40 minutes about 20th century German electronic music than I have in years of considering myself interested in such things. He’s a designer who’s passionately curious about pretty much everything, and that passion imbues all of his portfolio, be that his work creating typefaces, editorial layouts, books, posters, or websites.
Anfalov has just graduated from ECAL, having studied his BA in Hannover, Germany, moving there from his birthplace in Kiev at 16. “In Germany I learned very pragmatic things about graphic design, especially the technical side of the process,” he says. This then informed a new-found passion when reaching BA level for history, and he began to put the pieces together from his Ukrainian background and the sorts of visual culture that now piqued his interest. “I come from a country which was separated from the rest of the world for a long time, so [design] was sort of brewing in itself, and that influenced the way I look at things in the Western world,” he says.
“The control of the state over creative processes and the limitations in production have influenced me—I learned a lot about how people still managed to be creative in limited conditions and a very hostile environment.”
In a nod to his roots, Anfalov is currently researching lesser-known Constructivist artists: “Those who aren’t known are such good role models for me a designer. It’s much more about the attitude that I’m interested in: how people lived in those times, and how I can implement that historical context into my practice.
“It’s much more about their attitudes, rather than style. They had a much more difficult time than I have, and they were still creating work.”
This almost sociological interrogation of creative histories that underpins Anfalov’s work is brought to life beautifully in Rotary: Studio für elektronische Musik WDR Köln 1951–1981, a gorgeous book telling the story of the first electronic music studio of its kind in the world, in the era of Cold War Modernism. Founded in 1951 by Herbert Eimert, the WDR studio was used by a raft of fascinating and groundbreaking avant-garde composers; most famously Karlheinz Stockhausen, who took over the management in 1963. The music produced there is profoundly excellent, but not exactly easy listening, and it was this challenge that drew Anfalov to the material in the first place. “I’m a big music aficionado and I’ve been collecting music for a very long time,” he says, “but this sort of music felt very hard to understand.”
The designer had hit on the idea for the book when working on his Master’s thesis, about Swiss designer Karl Gertsner and his studio, GGK. “By the 1980s the studio was quite a commercial advertising agency, but in the mid-‘50s it was an experimental, very cutting edge place,” Anfalov explains. “What’s interesting is that their goal was to serve big clients, and they were influenced by New York agency-style advertising methods and marketing, but combined with Swiss graphic design—so using very limited typefaces, and programmatic designing systems.
“I realized that the music that was happening at the same time was like GGK’s approach: it was about designing systems. GGK and so-called serialist music were happening in the same time, the Cold War time. GGK was about designing systems and I was interested in music that was also rule-based, and programmed.”
In his research, Anfalov then learned that these links were even more pronounced than he’d initially realized: it turned out one of the founding partners of GGK, Paul Gredinger, was working with Gerstner but also with Stockhausen. And so WDR suddenly seemed the perfect focus for a print-based union of difficult electronic music and minimal-leaning graphic design.
The book’s layout is divided into two parts that run horizontally—one on top of the other in the “reader” section of the publication—and vertically in the archive part, which presents photographic material from the studio’s ex-technician Werner Scholz and the Stockhausen Archive that “depict the preserved world of music machines,” as the designer puts it. “This separation comes from the idea of having a cross-reading situation: the history of the studio is set into broader political, technological, and cultural contexts,” says Anfalov.
The beautiful cover design uses a scanned image of a tape reel, an image chosen to denote the archival nature of the contents while steering clear of nostalgia. “One of the purposes I set with the book was how to translate the visual legacy of the machines they had,” says Anfalov. “I wanted to create something systematic and rule-based. There’s a rich visual archive of pictures, so I had the idea of using a big timeline. The third big question was the audience I wanted to speak to: this topic is usually more for specialists, so I decided to try and make it more accessible.”
Book design is where Anfalov’s passion lies–he enjoys heavy research, the relatively slow pace, and the curation aspects of such projects, as well as the “aspect of engagement with materials so that it evolves into something deeper,” he says. “I’m into history and research and mapping interrelationships that pop up during that research.”
He has built up an impressive portfolio of typeface design, too, thanks to his time at ECAL, and relishes creating entirely new character sets for a particular commission. His fascination with letterforms and how to manipulate them stems from the less formal educational environment of the streets of Kiev, where as a younger, more carefree chap he learned graffiti writing. “That’s totally disconnected to what I do now in a way, as being a graffiti writer has a very different dynamic—it was very direct, and happening in the streets,” says Anfalov.
“You have to be more creative, as it’s a difficult environment. But even though working at a computer or workspace means you approach sketching or designing in a more restricted way, you’re still working with the same questions about proportion, rhythm and color.”