Riomar Mccartney

Riomar Mccartney — ookami.tokyo & NobodySurf

Riomar is a British Japanese designer based in Tokyo, working at the intersection of expression, design, and engineering. He is currently Head of Design at ookami.tokyo and a designer in crime at NobodySurf.

What led you into design?

From early on, my parents gave me lots of creative encouragement and support through do-it-yourself projects! I would assemble with recycling materials, experiment with electric circuits and combine them together to build moving objects... I love making things and doing hands-on experiences! As I grew up, my interest in computers grew as it was such a versatile tool to make, view and share online. Messing around with creative programs like photoshop, illustrator, editing skateboard/surf photos and videos (I took them down, it was cringe), as well as tweaking website, game huds, building weird contraptions in Minecraft (it was cool back then... still is)... All that taught me to code and make graphics, and that was just so much fun!

Later in high school, I majored in science of engineering as it was still the closest program that interested me and professors advised me, but I got quite bored from it and wanted to pursue more creative challenges that included solving engineering challenges, as a whole. It was then that I was a lot more attracted by the practices of product design, problem-solving, as well as communication designs with its graphical practices. It was that sweet area between being creatively and technically challenged to bring solutions to a range of problems in many industries.

I started to do gigs online designing graphics, interfaces, and websites with other community of freelancers online, and I enjoyed the work very much!

After graduation, I moved to Tokyo as some of my favourite creative companies (like Rhizomatiks, Takram, and many more smaller studios...) and artists (like Daito Manabe, Sakamoto Ryuichi...), were there and I wanted to see their work in action. I majored in Design Informatics & Graphics Design at MAU, but I dropped out soon as school then didn't feel like a priority. There were many job postings for design so immediately started to work in design agencies and startups.

What does a typical day look like?

Not a morning person, but I usually wake up around 8 ~ 9, give water to those plants, grab a latte at Iron Coffee and head to work by bicycle or skateboard. I've been trying to wake up earlier to have time for reading and writing, but that's still a work in progress.

As we are a small company, there's a lot to do so it really varies day to day. But typically we gather around 10 at the office and start with a daily standup to sync up with all team members. I then allocate myself an hour to catch up on emails, replies, issue threads and check overall the design team's sprint plans and progresses. This allows me to align my priorities and see if there are any matters or a team member needs attention that day; that includes designing (duh), reviews & feedback, 1:1 with my team, meetings with the board and stakeholders, aligning plans with other teams, handoff documentation, and so on…

A few times a sprint, we hold a product-focused session where we all come together to share, sync in and feedback what we've been shipping and discuss what data we have and learnt from it, improving team processes, discussing date towards plans and iterations on a bigger picture.

We wrap up work around 6~7pm, and if there are any good games going on, we would watch it in the living room or go to the game and watch it together. We build Player!, an online stadium where fans and teams of all sizes (local or international) can gather together, cheer, communicate, and follow games from anywhere, as a goal to spotlight youth athletes and local communities throughout the country.

What’s your workstation setup?

We are based in a quiet neighbourhood in Hanegi, Setagaya (East-side Tokyo). It is a residential area, so the surrounding environment is quiet, well lit with nature. We are really lucky to have found this place a few years ago, considering Central Tokyo is condensed, spatially limited and crowded with a lack of nature around it.

The house-like office is equipped with a kitchen so we sometimes cook food with the team, and a shower for those super hot, high humidity summer seasons, it's a perfect fix to start the day.

Where do you go to get inspired?

It's difficult to pin down, but my strongest inspirations are passive, beyond the screens, like just going outside my routines on the bicycle or skateboard to the closest coffee shops but also prints and exhibitions can be nice.

Here are a few of them:

idea アイデア magazine is a fantastic quarterly published graphics design magazine featuring timely topics, small initiatives and focused on designs in and outside Japan. Slanted Magazine (feels like a book) have many designers and studio interviews with great project insights from country to country. Their recent edition of Tokyo is fun (shoutout to Jody & Dan in the book!). Other favourites are Holo Magazine, books by niggli and Wasted Talent. As for discovering zines and small-batch magazines, I would occasionally visit commune Press, Shibuya Publishing, and Daikanyama T-Site bookstore.

There are also lots of ongoing exhibitions in museums and galleries by artists all around Tokyo. Visiting many parts of it by bicycle is great to re-discover neighbourhoods and old towns.

On screen, Are.na, vs.co, itsnicethat, Instagram and Twitter mainly from friends posting, sharing cool works and what they are up to.

What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?

(Disclaimer: I'm kind of a photography nerd..., all I really talked about here is great designs in the photography area.)

Despite using film cameras, I've been digging the Fujifilm X-Pro 2 graphite a lot. The fact you just immediately look into the viewfinder and take pics without being distracted by the interface is so good. In a crowded market where it's all about new technology and gimmicky features, X-Pro 2 is a subtle, charming camera. The body and the lenses are portable, unobtrusive and affordable too.

Following up on the camera, I've recently fallen in love with post-editing photographs again with Lightroom CC on Mac, iPad, iPhone, and Web. It's powerful yet delightful without sweating on the technical chores like backing up, storing raw on hard drives, and look for what photographs were stored on where. Adobe made professional-grade post-editing tools fun, accessible and most importantly, portable at an affordable price.

What pieces of work are you most proud of?

Overall, I'm very proud of the team, of all the work we have put into building Player!, especially on the craft in details from our small design team (Take, Nancy and our intern Taka ), delivering a fun place that gives voices to athletes and fans, a place where they can enjoy games together as one community, and give teams the opportunity to express and be discovered by new fans, surpassing traditional mediums that required capital and connections with committee and mainstream media.

I've been working at ookami for nearly 5 years now, and designing Player!'s platform from the ground up has been the most challenging but immensely rewarding work I've ever done. It's especially magical when we get to hear stories about users going beyond the interface, where it actually motivated friends and parents of athletes to go out and support them. All that is just amazing to see it happen. We can't wait to hear more stories as we ship new iterations!

Another work that I'm proud of is the complete re-design I've done for NobodySurf. This app lets you browse more than 8000+ free-surfing videos, created by surfers and filmers around the world. While the app has been out there for a couple of years, they were many usability and experience issues that prohibited users to browse around and use it at its full potential, thus making growth a difficulty too.

With plenty of feedback and story cases collected within the team, my role here was to re-work with the team from the ground up and bring neat experiences to the fans, communicating by design the full potential of NobodySurf. Big iterations are challenging and risky but the project returned positive growth and feedback with what we offered to fans and creators, and that was rewarding :). Many small details were considered and crafted in, which I'm proud of it too!

What design challenges do you face at your company?

We are a really small team at ookami, and it does come with the advantage of members being able to involve in many different roles, having the whole team to focus, collaborate and iterate on projects quickly, be very close to the user's voice to close feedback loops fast... but it comes with the biggest disadvantage of not having enough resources or time to focus on different matters simultaneously, and that does impact our growth if we don't manage those compromises and priorities properly based on our user’s needs. So right now, managing and constantly updating our priorities, our goals, all those are crucially important challenges for us.

Also, another challenge is internal efficiency in product communication: handoffs from the design team shouldn't make the engineering team ask obvious questions because of the lack of documentation. The product team should communicate with a familiar language that can handoff projects with ease, with reviews and feedback loop closed, checked by stakeholders so that we stay focused and manage product efficiency, observe data and ship meaningful iterations to the users.

All these challenges aren't really new for a team like ours, but it's important to keep in mind that when it's done right with the right people, team and product can shine even more ✨.

What music do you listen to whilst designing?

Any advice for ambitious designers?

There are lots of lovely advice out there (including all interviews on Interface Lovers too) so I'll just leave this one that I advise myself all the time (not a design advice really...). Be humble towards others and yourself, look after your body and mind. Be intentional about what you do and keep being curious about what drives you forward. Follow your heart, support your friends <3.

Anything you want to promote or plug?

You can follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and VSCO. I'm connecting many strange things on Are.na too.

Also, give Player! (Japan only) and NobodySurf a try, they are both free on the App Store :)

I also want to give many shoutouts to my close friends in Tokyo and other parts of the world for supporting me closely with wise advice, motivations and lovely friendships <3.

Upcoming updates: By the time this article goes public I may have already started, I and Cyrus are starting a new design studio by the end of this year. More will be shared on Twitter when the timing is closer but for now, that’s my upcoming plans.

That's it! Cheers and thanks for reading :)

Share this interview

Related Interviews

Liz Wells — Stink Studios

A user experience designer originally from the suburbs of Maryland, currently at Stink Studios in Brooklyn, NY. She works with visual designers and developers to create experiences that are both usable and delightful.

Caylee Betts — Swipies & Digital Ocean

New York-based all round designer who enjoys creating products and has an entrepreneurial flair.

Jaycee Day — Freelancer

A Berlin-based Freelance Product Designer and mental health advocate obsessed with user testing.

Delano Limoen — Nozem Design

Besides being a Nozem he’s a freelance Art Director & Designer. He likes to turn his gaze wherever he sees fit.