Beyond the px — TomTom’s José Torre on research, finding your feet, and design as life

Luis Ouriach
Jan 25, 2019 · 8 min read
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It’s January 2019 folks, and that means that Beyond the px is back with a bang. I hope you all had a splendid end of year, and are prepped to dive into the new year with fresh passions and even fresher pixels.

For the first interview of the year, I caught up with TomTom’s José Torre, who’s had quite the European tour so far in his career. He’s also a prolific writer in his own right, with some great work over on his personal Medium account.

So without further ado, here’s the interview.

For those not in the know, who are TomTom?

TomTom is a dutch company, pioneer on GPS mapping and mostly known for creating a new consumer electronics category when they released their very first PND (personal navigation device).

We’re now on a mission to create the most innovative technologies to help shape tomorrow’s mobility.

Long story short, TomTom helps the world keep moving.

What has been your design journey up until now?

My earliest memory is me drawing the characters of my favourite cartoons, so I could cut them up and play with them like action figures.

I knew that whatever I would like to do as a profession would have to be somehow related with that, so for my last 3 years of high school I wen’t to what we call in Portugal a “Professional School”, where I learned Graphic Design. But I didn’t know what graphic design really was when I joined. I only knew it had something to do with drawing

During my final presentation I was offered a job by someone who was in the audience, meaning that at 17 (almost 18) I started to work as a designer for a very small magazine.

Unfortunately I was the only designer there, so after a year I felt like I needed to learn more and since I had a job and could pay for it, I decided to go to university to study Graphic Design.

After graduating, I started to work as a freelancer, but soon I realised that wasn’t a very easy thing to do in Portugal; especially fresh out of university. I had a couple of bad experiences with clients not paying even though they used my work, thus I decided it was time to try to get me into something more stable and reliable.

I decided to apply for a Masters in Illustration and Animation.

I got into the Masters and soon after that I got a job at this big publishing company called Leya. I worked there for 3 years as a Multimedia Designer. I also almost finished my masters, only the final project was left to do, but I never went back to it because at the time I decided that I had learnt enough and now I wanted to move abroad.

To be attractive to international companies I did a couple of freelance jobs for a company in Switzerland where a friend of mine was working and I tried to find a job in London.

I joined TomTom in London as a Visual Designer, was promoted to Senior whilst I was still in London. After a while, TomTom offered me job in Amsterdam’s office and I decided to take it.

In the meantime, in Amsterdam, I was promoted once again and am now Leading a team.

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What does your typical morning look like?

First things I do when I leave home is taking my daughter to the daycare, I do it on a skateboard (pushing the stroller).

After that, I either go for a run or head to work, I travel on my skateboard during summer, and I cycle during winter.

Once I’m in the office I get some coffee and try to get something done before opening the email.

What does your design / dev tool stack look like?

It’s quite broad, but this is what I need to get things done:

Sketch, Illustrator, Principle, After Effects, Keynote, Slack, Zeplin, Sourcetree, the internet!

I’m also trying to learn Protopie & Invision Studio in my free time.

Do you have any design hacks?

Loads! Here are a couple for free:

Sketch before you jump onto the computer.

Don’t open your email (or Slack) first thing in the morning. Also don’t check your inbox everytime you get an email, let it stack up.

I have 7 top tips in an article I wrote actually.

Do your career aspirations encroach your life?

Yes, I feel like being a designer it’s almost like a lifestyle. Not because I bring the work home, but because design is just ingrained in the way I look and interact with the world.

From my shoes, clothes, home decor, my daughter’s toys, any product I buy really.

I can’t avoid but looking at things from a designer’s point of view, which sometimes can be a bit heavy on the wallet; especially because my wife is also a designer.

With that said, I do try to save time for other things though, because it’s that time when you stop thinking about design where the best ideas come to you. Those things for me are mainly hanging out with my baby daughter & wife, skateboarding and running.

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How do TomTom balance their legacy with trying to design for the future?

I feel like TomTom has more to offer than what meets the eye, internally we do a lot of things that are not so visible externally, we don’t release everything that we do.

We prototype and test a lot of things and we base our decisions on the feedback we gather from real people.

TomTom also has initiatives to ensure that they take advantage of our creativity by organising hackathons regularly. We also do something called ”Innovation days”, which is basically a day where you can do whatever you like.

On my team we do this once per release, and besides being fun days, because you work on whatever you like, these are also super productive days where people come up with crazy ideas and some actually find their way into our products.

Can you explain your team dynamic?

We have a big UX team which is divided into smaller working groups that focus on a products or in bigger products, we have teams that focus on specific parts of the experience.

My team is focused on a single product, an app that will be released soon.

We are a total of four (me as the Design Lead, an Interaction Designer, a Visual Designer and a UX Researcher) and I’m actually now in the process of opening a position for another designer.

We have the advantage of working for a big company, but we’re working a bit like a start-up inside TomTom. We work closely with the development team as well the PMs, data-science and marketing teams.

We align regularly with our VP, CPO & UX Director and our decisions are heavily influenced by our process which is basically the following:

Research > Analyse data > Ideate & Design > Prototype > Test & Validate > Code > Repeat

Will your product exist in ten years time? How do you see it evolving? How do you hope it will evolve?

Who knows what our problems will be in 10 years?

We’re designing for a problem of today and a near future. That means that what we’re designing now will most likely not last 10 years but due to our process it will certainly evolve into something else, which will be relevant.

We base our decisions on validation with real people, and our vision is to keep this going after we launch. We want to learn from our users and we will keep on iterating the product. It will never be finished and our roadmap will be heavily influenced by our user’s needs.

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Do you feel obliged to work outside the 9–5 routine?

One of the reasons I left Portugal was the fact that not only I felt like I had to be at work on time, but also I felt bad if I left on time. I had the feeling that I had to work overtime everyday, and that’s not fair, especially considering what I was getting paid at the time.

Thus, I’m not a fan of 9–5 and I’m happy TomTom is flexible in that regard.

Here the important thing is the work you put in, not the time you come into the office.

Personally I like to start between 9:30/10 and I leave between 6/7.

With that said, I don’t see a problem of working outside the 9–5 as long as you’re doing it willingly, and you’re not sacrificing your personal time.

I think it’s important to balance your work with your personal life. It’s also important to make sure that you take a break from what you’re doing at work, because that’s when you gain perspective and when the best ideas might come to you.

So by working overtime you might actually be doing you and your company a disservice, because you’ll get burned out.

What advice would you give for those interested in kick starting a career in design?

Design something and share what you did, including the process.

It doesn’t matter if it’s real work for a client or something you made up, just design something and keep on doing that until you get a job.

Once you get a job, design some more, don’t stop.

Why? Because I believe the more you design the better you become at it, there’s no such thing as talent. What people call talent I call dedication and practise.

José’s shared some wicked insights with us there. He’s demonstrated that through extensive research and experimentation, you can achieve great successes in the workplace, and that’s reaping great rewards for TomTom as they climb back into the public consciousness.

What I found particularly useful about the interview was learning how he treats being a designer as a lifestyle choice, which is something I can definitely relate to. Having a creative and problem solving outlook is something which benefits not only your work, but how you approach relationships, finance and travel too.

I hope you enjoyed this one, see you next time.

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Thanks to José Torre

Luis Ouriach

Written by

Design Advocate @FigmaDesign, newsletter writer, co-host @thenoisepod, creator of @8pxmag. Sarcastic.

8px Magazine

Life, by designers.

Luis Ouriach

Written by

Design Advocate @FigmaDesign, newsletter writer, co-host @thenoisepod, creator of @8pxmag. Sarcastic.

8px Magazine

Life, by designers.

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