ST mourns loss of its art editor, who played key role in newspaper's redesign

Mr Peter Williams, who became The Straits Times' art editor in 2014, leaves behind a legacy that includes the design of this newspaper as well as other publications in the Singapore Press Holdings stable. ST FILE PHOTO
Mr Peter Williams, who became The Straits Times' art editor in 2014, leaves behind a legacy that includes the design of this newspaper as well as other publications in the Singapore Press Holdings stable. ST FILE PHOTO

Mr Peter Williams, The Straits Times' art editor, died yesterday, leaving behind a legacy that includes the design of this newspaper as well as other publications in the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) stable.

The 48-year-old Irish journalist, a permanent resident, died of gastrointestinal complications at Singapore General Hospital.

He leaves his wife, Mrs Arti Mulchand-Williams, 44, an editorial consultant, and their four-month-old son Zayne.

Mr Williams was a graphic designer and teacher of graphic design in Ireland before he moved to Singapore in 2001 to join The Straits Times as a designer.

He rose to become ST art editor in 2014, and in 2017 also took on the role of overseeing the art, photo and video departments of other publications in SPH's English/Malay/Tamil Media Group.

He had been heavily involved in the redesign of The Straits Times over the years. The 2015 redesign, which he worked on with top Canadian designer Lucie Lacava, won awards including from the Society for News Design and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, and he played a key role in the most recent revamp of the paper last year.

"Peter was a world-class designer. He left an indelible mark on this newspaper. From its current masthead, the fonts and colours we use, he had a hand in it all," said Mr Warren Fernandez, editor-in-chief of SPH's English/Malay/ Tamil Media Group and editor of The Straits Times.

"He would work patiently and painstakingly to think through the designs and refine the options, often presenting me with multiple versions to choose from, each ever so subtly different. For him, it was a labour of love."

Over the years, Mr Williams was also art editor at the former commuter publication My Paper, and he redesigned the Tamil Murasu paper, tabla free sheet, and The New Paper.

"Peter was a genius in his field," said ST associate editor Rahul Pathak. "When I moved to My Paper as editor, we faced a situation where we had to make do with fewer employees. He single-handedly redesigned the paper such that its pages could be drawn quickly and efficiently, using fewer sub-editors. It took him just 15 days and the design was beautiful in its simplicity."

Associate editor Lim Chuan Huat, who co-chaired ST's recent redesign effort with him, said: "Peter had a deep interest in and keen eye for typography and colour. He was meticulous with details and the hardest-working person around, especially when he was working on the technical specifications. He was also that critical bridge between the IT systems people and the designers."

Tamil Murasu editor Rajendran Jawharilal said Mr Williams took on the task of redesigning the Tamil-language paper in 2008 even though he did not understand the words of the language.

"But being the pro that he was, he learnt as he went along and patiently worked with us during the many sessions we had with him," said Mr Rajendran.

"We brought him vadai (fried fritters) and he brought us doughnuts. It was more than a job for Peter. It was about understanding cultures and making friends. He was such a wonderful soul and we will always be grateful to him."

Mr Williams is remembered fondly by his co-workers.

His colleagues at the art department spoke of how he was a perfectionist who always pushed them to do better, and a good boss who fought for his team with passion.

Although reserved, he had a wicked sense of humour if one knew him well.

When The Straits Times renovated its newsroom in 2019 to pivot to a more digital way of operations, Mr Williams was put in charge of the redesign.

He spent long hours working out details of the layout and also the decor, and shopped for the office furniture on his days off.

He designed the carpet tiles to reflect the newspaper's colours, and even created an iron-cast artwork depicting the paper's masthead that now hangs above the newsroom's main entrance.

In his own time, he designed the new logo for The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund, as well as that of the global World News Day initiative, which was used by more than 150 news media outlets around the world last year.

Added Mr Fernandez: "Peter was someone you knew you could rely on. I valued his integrity and trusted his judgment. Whenever I asked him to work on something, his stock reply was simply to say, 'Warren, I will do my best.' He always did. I was never disappointed. He is a great loss to all of us."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2021, with the headline 'ST mourns loss of its art editor, who played key role in newspaper's redesign'. Subscribe