Blinker Profile: Meet Tom Columbus

Blinkers are an interesting and dynamic group of people. Each Blinker is carefully selected to join the team because we understand how he or she will positively contribute to our culture and work. And while we do post Blinker Bios on our website, we thought we’d go a little further and profile our Blinkers on our blog. What better person to start with than Tom Columbus, our latest hire working in interaction design?

Everyone arrives at Blink along his or her own path. What path brought you here? Tell us about your journey.

I’m part of that influx of people that this city seems to be experiencing. I apologize to the established Seattle population; my wife and I are Arizona natives. We moved to Seattle in August 2013 after a series of events lead to a family member, who lives in Seattle, needing our support. While living in Arizona, I was working for Pearson Education where I helped create some great experiences in educational technology. I was very fortunate to be able to design for users of all ages, while contributing to people’s education.

One of the coolest things that happened was solely by chance. My wife was a third-grade teacher at an elementary school that was using an application I worked on a few years back. However, she never realized it was a Pearson product.

One day a student of hers raised her hand and called my wife over to the computer screen. The student was about to begin a reading assignment where I had done the interaction design as well as some of the illustrations. My name was credited on the title screen for the illustrations. “Mrs. Columbus, this person has the same last name as you!” the student said. My wife was ridiculously proud. She snapped a picture of the student next to the screen and sent me a text. The following week I visited her school and got treated like a rock star by her students. It was pretty rewarding to see the fruits of my labor feed the minds and imaginations of those kids.

Illustration I did for Pearson

Illustration by Tom Columbus for Pearson

We are all encouraged to focus on an area of Thought Leadership here at Blink. Will you talk about your area?

I haven’t checked into what everyone else has selected already, but my first choice would be Design Thinking. I like working with people by encouraging them to be active participants in the creative process. There is strength in numbers and in collaboration—no one person can provide the best solution for any given design problem.

When working with a team of people in those critical early stages of a project, you’re doing your best work by driving consensus and defining the vision with the team. Ideally a team would use design-thinking exercises to inform a low-fidelity prototype and then perform a rudimentary user test within the first week or two. This demonstrates for the whole team what the user-centered design process is in a very inclusive way.

Who or what motivates you right now? What’s causing the greatest impact on the way you work/live/think?

That is a good multi-tiered existential question. Being a father of three has the greatest impact on all of those things, but there are other, more tangible influences that I can share. In the work arena, Jon Kolko’s writings and talks on interaction design have greatly influenced my methodologies and work processes. He’s great at explaining new ways to tackle creative problem solving.

One of the biggest influences on how I think and live these days actually came from a graphic novel. I recently re-read Promethea by Alan Moore & J.H. Williams. The novel’s main theme is the semiotics of mysticism and the occult. Even if you’ve read it before, the writing and artwork are so well intertwined that you will uncover the layers of foreshadowing you missed and form new connections when you re-read it. Moore intentionally aims to craft graphic novels that are intended to be read multiple times. It has really initiated me into a new way of viewing and thinking about the world around me and how I interpret my experiences.

When you’re not at Blink, where would we find you? And what would you be doing?

I am constantly working on my personal illustration and design projects. For me they are a necessity. These projects are how I express ideas and thoughts I want to explore. When I’m not buried in my work, most of my free time gets devoted to my kids. I have three of ’em and their appetites for attention know no bounds. That’s good though. I know that as time goes by, they will soon start asking me to leave them alone. I’m trying to do my best to remember that their demands are fleeting and I should enjoy their attention while I still have it.

Below are a few examples of my artwork:

media file artwork
Image of a buffalo

Lastly, if you set out on a long voyage at sea and could only bring one book to read, what book would you select? Why?

Gah! The dreaded “favorite book” question. It’s so hard. It’s almost as bad as selecting favorites in music. I tend to change the type of books I read up a lot too. Different authors provide such different perspectives and there is a variety of good writing out there: Great modern social and character exploration in fiction by Chuck Palahniuk. Mind-expanding non-fiction by Malcolm Gladwell. Belly aching, heart-felt comedy by David Sedaris. Plus, I read a lot of comics too—Ed Brubaker and Alan Moore are some of my favorites in that arena.

However, Kurt Vonnegut is my favorite author. I think I can cheat the question here by saying that I would take this one book I have on my bookshelf that has three of his novels combined: Cat’s Cradle, Breakfast of Champions, and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. This way, I’m still taking just one physical book but get to indulge in multiple reading experiences.


Have more questions for Tom? Please submit them in the comments and stay tuned to this space to meet more of our Blinkers.