Yahoo! Big Idea Chair: Simply Simon

Poke's Simon Waterfall rode the first wave of digital at the Deep Group. He talks about inspiration and interactivity in the Yahoo! Big Idea Chair.

On starting out

I'm 35 and I'm doing the same job today as I did when I was 16. I had an agency with offices and nine staff when I was at school. We worked in computer games between double geography and had meetings in our school uniform. Later, I studied product design. Both my grandfathers were engineers. I grew up in their workshops.

On Deepend

Someone approached me when I had finished my first degree and I was about to go to the Royal College of Art. He wanted exactly what I had designed - a ski pass tag - so I bullshitted and said my design agency would love to help him. My friend and I borrowed £200 to buy a fax machine - that and a big wall clock constituted the office. The name came from sitting around one Saturday afternoon at Richmond Lido with a sketchbook - towel, sky, crafty wank, deepend ... fine. We did small company, big company with nine offices and 350 people, number one digital agency in the world ... and then we did bankruptcy. In the second half of 2001, as the dot.conomy crashed, everyone was going under or shedding staff, but we were going through due diligence with a big group - then September 11 happened. A week later, the company was gone.

On becoming a digital specialist

All three people who started Deepend were product designers; none of us was trained in digital media. We had computer skills and we stole bits from our old degrees and languages and applied them to build sites for clients. For the first five years, it was all about education but without much planning. You could not plan and there was freedom to fail because we were literally inventing a medium.

On the communications groups. Do they get digital?

Ten years ago, no. Today, not always. The internet phenomenon was started by people like myself who were borrowing other processes - from product design, graphic design, type. Nobody knows the answers yet - it's still forming, you're still allowed to make mistakes.

On Poke

We don't work in the same way as Deepend, we don't have the same philosophy or use the same case studies. That's where the name comes from. We said at the outset that if we catch any of the six founders here reverting to web 1.0 references, we would poke a finger at each other. Poke is a statement that says don't fucking do it again. We bridge advertising and design, like huge, massive tectonic plates they are getting closer together.

On Mother

We are sitting in a building above a company that by hook or by crook has managed to break the mould. They emerged in a time when you took a system, removed the keystone and tried to make it work - so you had Egg, a bank with no branches; Dyson, a cleaner with no bag; Mother, an agency with no account handlers. The clients that "get" Mother - let's say it's 10 per cent of the whole - give them such freedom and such trust, and from that they get "dance" and "blackout" (recent Orange ads) and two yellow Pencils at D&AD. I'd say 10 per cent of our work is shared with Mother.

On what gets me excited

What excites me is my ability to tell stories from a different angle and in a new way. We don't have paid work and vanity projects here, we treat it all the same. I'm a product designer and I have my fashion label Social Suicide that is sold in Harvey Nichols. I get to comment on what it means to be a male in this society.

On wearing tiaras and dresses to meet clients

I wore skirts for ten years. First time I was at my degree show, I was 20 years old, and I didn't want to be like the rest of the students. Deepend started in a skirt and I didn't take it off for ten years. The day it went under was the day I stopped. I remember one agency head met me in a pink tutu with nine crinoline layers, and once I'd proved I was the brightest person in the room he apologised for his previous prejudices.


The first ever digital gold Pencil was awarded by D&AD recently.Digital doesn't normally get the big awards. And what was it for? Leo Burnett for its Canadian office, an advertising agency website. The irony of it is not lost on me, but I'll take that gold for the whole digital industry, and be proud of it.

On the next ten years

In digital, we have dog years, so one year is seven normal years, and every year there's a massive shift. In the last year, we've seen the rise of communities such as MySpace, we've seen corporate social responsibility extend to banning soft drinks from schools - these are major things. The next ten years will be about speaking to people like me to understand how to speak to these new communities.

On the big idea

The big idea is about understanding communities and providing space to talk to them in a normal manner. You don't need money to do it. In fact, if you have money, it can sometimes go against you.

On a big idea in digital advertising

Sony Bravia. First, it was a viral with millions of downloads then, three months later, an ad. You find the beauty of it first and afterwards comes the message. That shows somebody understanding digital and advertising and how to merge the two. That's a big idea.

On a big idea for the future in any field

We need to have fun at work, to get fun back into the workplace. To do that, I think everybody should go through a massive collapse, failure, bankruptcy, the lot. In America, unless you've failed two or three times, they don't take you seriously. You might understand success, but the better lesson is failure.

- The Yahoo! Big Idea Chair shines a spotlight on people and companies whose creative work is truly remarkable. See for more details.


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