You may not know Tom Carmony by name, but you’ve likely used one of his apps. He’s the design director at Black Pixel, a Seattle development shop that has helped build products for The New York Times, ESPN, Starbucks, and other major brands.
“Chances are that if you’re carrying an iPhone or Android, you’ve interacted with our work,” he said.
Carmony manages a team of designers all over the world and heads up products for high-level clients. He shared insights about his creative process and balancing work and family for this installment of Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature.
Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.
Current Location: “Black Pixel is headquartered on Queen Anne, but more often than not I work remotely from my home office in the Green Lake neighborhood” of Seattle.
Computer types: “I’ve been a Mac devotee since getting my first used PowerMac G4 tower back in 2003. Currently, my main computer is a 2014 15” MacBook Pro. The large SSD and 16GB of RAM still packs enough horsepower for most everything I need to run day-to-day (whether that’s working with 100MB Sketch files or building work-in-progress apps via Xcode). Its beautiful Retina display is a nice bonus, particularly given my less-than-stellar vision these days.”
Mobile devices: “Most everything I do away from my desk is done on my iPhone 6 Plus. The sheer size of that phone took some getting used to, but now anything smaller (especially an iPhone SE) just feels like a toy in my hand. I also regularly use a Moto X to run the latest version of Android and for testing apps during our design and development process.”
Favorite apps, cloud services, and software tools: “Sketch and Slack are definitely at the top of my list. After years as a Photoshop devotee, I’ve now transitioned to Sketch as my go-to interface design tool. While it can be buggy at times, I find myself much more efficient working with it.
Slack is also a tremendously valuable tool at Black Pixel. We’re a largely distributed team – I’m the only design team member in Seattle and most of our engineering team is distributed throughout North and South America and Europe. With team members working on a range of different projects across multiple time zones, the ability to track all of our conversations in a single place is key. This is especially valuable in my role as a team lead, as I can drop into a project-specific channel in Slack and quickly get caught up on team discussions, the latest commits and PRs from GitHub, view and comment on design mockups, and more.
Those are the big two, but we make use of lots of additional software tools. Holding regular meetings via Google Hangouts gives some much-needed face-to-face time for remote team members, and we use Dropbox and GitHub as homes for all of our design and development work.”
Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? “I share my home office space with my wife Dianne, who’s a college professor currently teaching and mentoring for an online graduate program. It’s like our own little co-working space, and while it’s a bit cluttered with design books, textbooks, framed gig posters, and more, it works for us. We’ve got adjustable standing desks, big monitors, and lots of natural light, so I can’t ask for much more. Having a turntable and my stack of favorite records at hand is a nice bonus as well.”
Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? “Find a schedule and stick with it. I lean on Google Calendar a ton to block out heads-down work time (not just meetings!) and to reserve time for personal and family activities as well. I’ve usually got a ton of stuff on my plate, and I’ve found that when I don’t stick to a good schedule and to-do list, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and not know what to deal with first. In terms of work/life balance, the right amount of structure is your friend.”
Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? “Definitely Twitter (along with a little bit of Instagram). I’ve been an active Twitter user for nine years now, and I owe most of my professional connections (including my position here at Black Pixel) to relationships first built on Twitter.”
Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? “Currently it’s not too bad – 68 at the moment.”
Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? “I’ve been out of the office part of this week and last, so my schedule has definitely been more flexible than usual – ‘only’ 17 meetings across five days.”
How do you run meetings? “With our design team being fully remote, everything begins and ends with Google Hangouts. We’ve tried a number of different online meeting options (GoToMeeting, JoinMe, Uber Conference, etc.) and while they’ve all got their advantages and disadvantages, Hangouts is the one that’s stuck for us. Having the chance to see one another regularly throughout the week is wonderful, and it’s helped bring a greater degree of closeness to a group that’s spread across more than 5,000 miles.”
Everyday work uniform? “Most of the time it’s either a button-up shirt and jeans or a T-shirt and shorts (during the summer months). Plus some form of Nike or Converse sneakers on my feet.”
How do you make time for family? “It can definitely be tough at times. Some weeks I’m slammed when we’re close to shipping a client project, and other weeks my wife is overbooked with student meetings. Our eight-year-old son Del has a pretty busy schedule as well, but we try to make sure we connect as a family as much as we can. Whether that’s over dinner, sitting down together for a family movie night, or biking or walking Green Lake together, we try to carve out quality time, especially when quantity isn’t always an option.”
Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? “Exercise is definitely a great stress reliever. I wish I enjoyed running more, but I try to mix up occasional runs with biking and some lifting and pilates at home. I’ve found that it’s less important what I do to work out, but more so that I just make sure to take the time for myself to do something.”
What are you listening to? “I grew up primarily on punk, but my tastes have become more eclectic as I’ve gotten older. My current obsessions are the new Ladyhawke album ‘Wild Things’ and Sam Russo’s ‘Greyhound Dreams,’ but my recently played list features everything from The National and Band of Horses to Modern Baseball and Run The Jewels.”
Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? “The New York Times for most of my news, The Verge, Daring Fireball, and (of course) GeekWire for tech stuff, Medium for all sorts of different topics, and, being a longtime Seattle sports fan, either Lookout Landing (for the best Mariners coverage) and Field Gulls (for all things Seahawks).”
Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? “Usually too many to count. I just finished the new Jake Knapp/Google Ventures book Sprint, and I’ve been chipping away at Khoi Vinh’s How They Got There, a series of interviews with digital designers discussing their career paths. There’s also the latest version of D&D’s Dungeon Master Guide, as we’ve been starting to play as a family lately (and I need to improve my game management chops).”
Night owl or early riser? What are your sleep patterns? “I’m trying to become more of an early riser, and figure out how to structure my early mornings to be productive, but I’ve traditionally been more of a night owl. I think that goes back to my days in graduate school, where I’d often end up pulling late nights wrapping up research articles.”
Where do you get your best ideas? “Often during some of my night owl work sessions. There’s something to be said for the ability to go heads down without any interruptions for a good chunk of hours to tackle a design problem, and for me that most often happens late at night. If I still think it’s a good solution after waking up the next morning, I know I’m onto something.”
Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? “I can’t narrow it down to a single person. I’ve long been a fan of stuff like “Working Geek,” “The Great Discontent,” and “The Setup,” which all feature creative people and their processes. I devour that sort of thing, and I’m always looking for innovative new ways to improve my own work.
That’s one of the great things about our team at Black Pixel; across the entire company we’ve got so much wide-ranging experience, I honestly feel like I’m learning something new every day.