Having grown up in Cross Plains, Wisconsin “on a hilltop surrounded by as many oak trees as anyone could ever want,” Tony Smith brings a sense of good Midwestern values to the BenefitMany team as our Senior Designer and Frontend Developer. He spent his childhood on some of the “most gorgeous land around,” which impacted his interest in aesthetics and love of nature.
Tony classifies his high school self as “kind of a hippie,” a stereotype that’s understandable once he explains his current passions of meditating, canoeing, learning, and playing music. He is also passionate about the arts, ever since his first digital art class in high school (of which he took many), he has loved exploring how design can solve a problem and tell a story. Given his interest in solving problems with design, it’ll come as no surprise that he says his hidden talent is solving Sudoku puzzles. Across his personal and professional life, Tony mentions that he is interested in basically “anything that gets more interesting or impactful the further you immerse yourself into it” — a great quality for a designer if we do say so ourselves. “Turning a blank screen into an interactive experience is fascinating,” he adds.
While his interest in design is deep-seated, it’s safe to say that Tony’s first love is music. He writes and plays his own, having studied fingerstyle and jazz guitar performance and composition in undergrad. One of his idols is the late Bill Evans, a jazz pianist who Tony says, “had an incredible way of looking at music and had a huge influence on harmonic language.” Tony sees “so much intent behind his music,” and would have loved the chance to talk to him why and how he produced and achieved all that he did.
But when Tony started dabbling in design over 13 years ago, he found that his approach shared a lot of the same thought processes that he loved about music composition. “I look to find music in my professional projects. Patterns, proportion, arrangement, form, texture, etc. are all common elements that I pay close attention to when approaching design and development.” It’s this kind of cross-disciplinary thinking is a big part of what makes Tony’s contributions to the BenefitMany team so valuable and unique.
Professionally, he’s been working in design for a little over three years, and development for about a year and a half, but before joining our team, his professional life was anything but typical. While most programmers and designers were reporting to co-working spaces, he was happily freelancing from his wife Kate’s and his chosen home — a Toyota Tacoma that they built out with solar power, storage, and a sleeping area in the truck bed. They lived minimally while traveling the country with their dog Charlie.
They’ve now settled back in Milwaukee, where you won’t be surprised to hear that when he’s not designing or playing music (or working on the recording studio he’s building in his new home), you’ll find Tony outdoors. He especially loves going on camping trips or just hanging out by the Lake Michigan shore with Kate and Charlie, and usually with a camera in tow. He says he simply enjoys “exploring nature throughout the world and photographing it.”
Given his previous lifestyle and obvious dedication to sustainability and the environment, it only makes sense that he would be drawn to a company like ours, one that has a serious investment in helping nonprofits. He has been involved with several environmental nonprofits like Milwaukee River Keepers and SurfRiders. “Here in Milwaukee (and the Midwest) we have to watch out for our Great Lakes” he says, adding that “nonprofits operate from a place of passion for helping people and making the world a better place, and that’s always interesting and inspiring to be a part of.”
He enjoys working with our clients to tell their stories by helping them find a way to look at their product or business in a way that they haven’t yet explored, giving them a fresh perspective and “amplifying their message through design.” His ideal clients are passionate about what they do and enjoy thinking outside the box. When asked why clients should connect with him, his answer is earnest, and one that only a true cross-disciplinary artist would give. “We should connect because I’ve spent my life working within my passions and so have you — combining our individual perspectives allows us to solve problems and make something great together.” We’re excited to have such a forward-thinking, passionate addition to our team, and Tony is excited to help businesses problem solve with simple, seamless, structured design and development solutions.