Waters International

By Tk Published on .

John Waters, creative director of design firm Waters International in New York, recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of his company. Which is to say, he's lived and worked through the transition to the all-digital era and, unlike some, has prospered sufficiently to tell about it. "When I started my business in 1977, all that was required was a T-square, a telephone and a little creative effort," Waters says. "Today, all that is required is a text editor, access to a web server and a little more creative effort." Waters' creative efforts, in fact, have been systematized into a design philosophy, called, in the Zen manner, the Waters Way, and described on the website (Watersi.com) as "a proprietary methodology that balances innovative thinking with process discipline." Sounds impressively high tech - just like everything else that happened in the business over the last 15 years, which has resulted in Waters' estimation that a whopping 75 percent of his business is now devoted to web development and interactive design.

Waters notes "profound changes" in several design areas, including connectivity, time and complexity. Of the first: "The world has gotten both smaller and larger. I grew up in a small town in North Carolina, and moving to New York to be a designer was a giant step - a decision my parents could never completely understand. 'It's so far away!' they said. Now I work with clients and suppliers in Italy, Switzerland Japan and India, almost as if they were next door neighbors. But as the world has shrunk, the markets for our design services have grown." On the subject of time, "it has both collapsed and expanded," Waters believes. "Today we move messages around the world with barely more lag time than the difference between seeing lightning and hearing thunder, and 9 to 5 has become 24x7x365. At the same time, the five seconds we wait for an image to download are unbearably long." Similarly, "designing a 60- page annual report for a Fortune 500 company in the mid-'80s seemed like a complex process. Looking back, it was simple compared to the activities required to design and produce a transaction-oriented website with thousands of pages, multiple databases and numerous online administrative tools. Today, we design complex websites with greater ease, and in less time, than the annual reports we designed in the '80s." Waters' web business includes work for IBM, The Wall Street Journal, Columbia University and the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the latter one of his favorite recent projects "because of its complexity and the inherent beauty of many of the elements we had to work with."

Though such artsy accounts may be rare, Waters is still raring to go. "After 25 years, I should probably be looking forward to sipping pi¤a coladas on the beach," he muses. "But what I really want is another 25 years of design."

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