Online All Stars: The Magician

Simon Waterfall/Illustration: Molly Crabapple

Simon Waterfall Cofounder & Creative Director, Poke

A charge (his word) often leveled at Simon Waterfall is that he is a renaissance man, but he shrugs that off. The word creative may suit him best, no matter what sphere we are talking about; from his work at Poke, the agency he cofounded (and recently announced he would be leaving), to Social Suicide, the fashion line the dapper Waterfall designs with Matthew Grey.

It's difficult leaving your best mates," Waterfall says of his decision to move on from Poke, "But I need to step up and start to challenge myself." Waterfall has accomplished much over his career, which began in the very earliest days of digital when advertising with the blocky pixels Waterfall programmed at the age of 16 for Commodore 64 games was little more than an idea.

With a background in product design, Waterfall went on to found Deepend, an agency that emerged from the nascent field of online advertising in the late 1990s, and nearly weathered the dot-com crash, but didn't quite make it ("I think it was the last to go," Waterfall says). From out of the ashes of the bubble-burst, Waterfall, along with Iain Tait, Nicolas Roope, Peter Beech, Nick Farnhill and Tom Hostler, founded Poke, partnering with Mother, hoping to challenge the conception of what an agency could be.

When they were starting Poke, Waterfall told the others, "If any of us catches ourselves doing the same work, working in the same way, using the same philosophy, working with the same people: Poke a finger at him and say, 'Don't fucking do it.' " As soon as he'd uttered the sentence, Waterfall says Tait said, "Right there, that's our name."

Work by rote was never in the cards. "All of us who work in digital hate the brief that says I want a viral project," Waterfall says. "It's impossible. It's the result of doing good work."

It may surprise many, but Waterfall says the thing that gets him most excited occurs at the stage when he meets with a brand's legal team, "I see a sudden glimpse of acknowledgement or recognition, and then I know, you can take them to different places that they wouldn't have been able to either understand or sign off on in the past," he says. "And that's when you can do some breakthrough work."

The challenges he currently faces are a bit closer to home -- his girlfriend recently moved into his flat. "My sofa's too hard, and my tv's too big," he says. "And it's quite an easy thing to sit on the floor and sit further away from the telly. These kinds of things don't go over very well with her."

In terms of what he wants to do with his life, or where he wants to go, "I have no idea," says Waterfall. "I do want to sweat a bit more ... I'd like a big challenge." Still, he first has to overcome the test of cohabitation.
On a broader note though, he says, "It feels like I haven't started yet."

Though, in the relatively young world of digital, he says, "I feel like Yoda. This old wrinkly fucker."
Last year Waterfall was awarded the rdi (Royal Designers for Industry), "Commonly called the Queen's 100," he elaborates. "There's 100 of these people alive and when one dies they get another one. It's awarded for your lifetime's achievement. All of your life's work. In the list I'm one above Vivienne Westwood. I'm 38. For fuck's sake! It's ridiculous."

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