Playable Profile: Addison
Welcome to another Playable Profile! This month, we're chatting with our senior UI/UX designer, Addison! We chat about what a UI/UX designer does, how it can impact the player experience, what it's like working at Playable Worlds, and more! Continue reading to meet Addison below!
VioletLight: Let's start with an easy one, can you introduce yourself and tell me about your role?
Addison: My role is on the difficult side to explain because I touch on things in every discipline, from art to design to engineering. On the UI side of things, I make sure that the wireframes and the interfaces that we create are consistent with the design that we're looking to make, that they're consistent with our tech specs, they're pretty, and that we're considering a variety of additional things such as accessibility, color blindness issues, and readability across screen sizes.
On the UX end, I try to be a bit of a sanity check for our design. I know I’m a broken record on some topics, but sometimes things can be fantastic on paper but once we start breaking down how we are supposed to be interacting with it, how it fits in with the entirety of all the systems- something simple can become a lot more complicated when we start looking at the whole picture. For those situations, I do a lot of competitive analysis, storyboarding out potential user scenarios, then working with the various stakeholders to ensure we’re all on the same page. There’s a lot of games on the market, we want to make sure that our game can be easily picked up and played.
V: How long have you been doing UI/UX design, and was that your goal when you were getting into games?
A: I actually started out in games wanting to get into the environment art path. It's a very common story, I got my foot in the door as a QA tester and did a bit of that, which - not to derail the conversation or anything, is incredibly important and so overlooked. QA testers provide such an important service. From a UI/UX perspective, they are probably one of the closest people that I can talk to within our company that's going to be experiencing what the end user experiences, so I like to get their feedback too, because there is enough distance between them and the design to get a bit more objective opinion.
Anyway, I originally started out as an environment artist, but I’m going to be honest. There are a lot more people out there that were far more talented than I was in that regard. I struggled trying to keep up with the pace of the tech and began doing some more graphic design work to fill the job gaps. I began to notice that people responded really well to the work I was doing, so I decided to go down that path. I soon found a job as a 3D marketing artist utilizing both the graphic design and 3D skills I had previously developed. Not too long after I joined, they came to me to get some UI work done and I’ve kept going with it ever since. It's a really interesting field, and while it may not be the most exciting thing in the world, it's very important. Ultimately, it doesn't matter how good your design is, it doesn't matter how good your art is if the overall experience is hard to play. If you can't access what you need to do, if getting from point A to point B takes 20 different steps, then nobody's going to want to play it. That's one of the reasons why I really like this work, because I definitely have played games where it's like if they had just modified the system in just the slight way to make the experience easier, or cut down these extra couple of steps, it could have gone from an OK game to a good game or to a great game.
V: We want players to have a good experience all the way through, and if there's something wonky with the UI, or how they go through the beginning stages, it can make a huge difference.
A: Going through the beginning stages is a really good one, because I've played some other procedurally generated games. While I've had a fun time, and I recommend it to other people, they’re like, “I tried jumping into this game, and it was so impossibly difficult”. It was mainly because they had loaded onto a really hostile world, so their opening experience was so difficult that turned them off to that game. That's something we definitely need to keep in mind, too. It's not just about interface and interaction, but how does this feel? Is this going to be something that a player is going to have difficulty accomplishing? And if it is, how are we going to mitigate those issues? Or things like tutorials with giant walls of texts - we want to find a nice, happy middle ground between that gameplay and informing people what they need to do without it just like becoming a slog and turning them off.
V: As a UI/UX designer, what do you think is the biggest challenge that you have to overcome?
A: I think the biggest challenge is making sure that every team is on the same page with what we need to be building. There's often times where I am tasked to look at building a user interface and UX flow, and I talk to art and they have one idea for how things are going to be built. Then I talk to tech, and it's like, “well, that's not how we can build it on the technical side and this is how we were planning on doing it”. Sometimes, all of that is completely separated from the systems the game designers have actually written out
So a lot of what I do is bring everyone together, and it's like, alright, let's talk this out. What can we do on the tech side? How can we utilize the art efficiently and just how the player touches that ends up being a catalyst for a lot of these conversations and kind of helps bring these people together so that we can come up with the exact answers we need to have. I mean, they might not be the right answers, that's another interesting and fun thing about this work is that it’s a lot of speculation. Sometimes what we think is the right path is not the right path. It's really important for us to listen to our player base - to an extent. It’s one thing if there’s a general consensus among our players that this one feature is really difficult, it's another thing if we’re prioritizing a small subset of people yelling at the clouds. When we get to that general consensus, that’s when we need to start reevaluating how we've either handled things on the art, tech, or design side of things.
V: Yes, and my job is to be the middle person! I get to collect all the feedback and make sure the team gets the information they need.
A: I am looking forward to hopefully working with you on some of that, because it's a really interesting world. Going back to the importance of user feedback and user testing, there's this one episode of Silicon Valley where they are putting out this platform that they've made, and the only people that have looked at it were engineers, and they all thought it was great. They're like, “this is the best thing ever, they’re going to love it. This is going to be the best thing since sliced bread”, and then they do actual user testing and nobody knows what's going on. When the engineers were asked if anyone beyond engineers looked at it before user testing, they said no and it was just like a lightbulb finally went off for them. That right there, is why it’s really important to get people who are not highly involved in your project to help test and provide meaningful feedback.
V: What is your favorite part about working at Playable Worlds?
A: The people I've worked with here so far have been just phenomenal. They're very understanding and have so much industry experience that I can refer to and they're willing to share that experience. It's a lot more of an open environment than I have experienced at past companies, and I appreciate that because it really does help other people to grow when you are sharing the things that you've dealt with in the past that might be related to their work. Just being able to have these conversations and bounce ideas off of people that have been in this industry since I was in diapers is pretty amazing. The other thing is there's just a lot of collaboration on the design side especially, they're happy to listen to ideas and kind of work together to create that nice balance between the UI/UX, and the design or the art. I’ve been siloed a lot at past jobs, so it’s really neat to be in an environment where I feel free to express my ideas.
V: Can you share a rewarding experience that's happened during your career that was especially memorable for you.
A: I was working for one company that I enjoyed, but I have a family, and the reality was that it was just too expensive living there. It wasn’t the lifestyle I wanted for my children, so we made the jump. We found a nice house outside of California and I went to the company. I was like,” look, I liked working with you, but I have to do what's best for my family. I don’t have a job situated up there, so I’m just going to see where things take me.” And they were just like, “No, don’t go, we really appreciate all the work you do,” and worked with me to set up remotely. This was pre-pandemic, before working from home was a normalized thing in games, but they allowed me and then used me as an example to pilot their remote worker program, which, funnily enough, ended up being a huge boon for them when the pandemic hit. Odd as it sounds, that was a rewarding experience for me because it was like, “alright, I'm doing good enough to where they clearly are going to work with me to make sure that my life outside of work is what I need. And it's not just about what I can give to them.”
V: What is your all-time favorite game?
A: This is a difficult one because there are games that I've definitely sunk the most time into and games that I love. I'm going to focus on two games, which I'm saying are my favorite because they did things right: Horizon Zero Dawn - I have, unfortunately, not gotten to play the new one yet - and then Ghost of Tsushima. Between those two, I would say there's just a couple little things that put Ghost of Tsushima at the top of my list, and it all has to do with UX stuff. I seriously could just talk about that for like an hour, it is a phenomenal game.
V: I've heard good things about the Ghost of Tsushima, but I haven't played it yet.
What kind of hobbies or interests do you have outside of work?
A: I do so many things, but my main hobby is gardening. I have half an acre that I'm working to transform into a sustainable food forest. Not having the easiest time doing that because bugs really like my food. Which is good, it means that my garden is part of the ecosystem, which is what we want - but it means that in the best case scenarios, we get some extra protein in our fruits and veggies. It's definitely a learning process, but it's really fun for me and rewarding. It’s also a nice de-stressor just getting out in nature and feeling like you're cultivating something.
V: Final question and it's my favorite since it’s helpful for people trying to get into the industry, which I think is so important.
What advice would you give to someone trying to get into game development?
A: There's a couple of pieces of advice, one is to be flexible. We all have grand ideas about where we're going to go, and sometimes it doesn't work out the way we want it to. I learned very early on not to beat that dead horse and I'm very happy I did because I would not be here and have the career that I have.
The big piece of advice that I'd like to give to people looking, not necessarily to break in the industry, but to be successful is learning to listen, and learning to take feedback. Learn when to fight for your ideas, and when not to. I've been in this industry for about a little over 12 years now, and the people who I've seen rise through the ranks are the ones that are happy to collaborate and willing to have those conversations, and we have to admit that we don't always have the best ideas. It's an important quality to have. It's uncomfortable, it's never fun being like, “I kind of screwed up on that”, but getting to that point shows a good maturity level. Also, learning to communicate between different disciplines, it's very important having that cross team communication because ultimately, all of our stuff plays off of each other.
V: Yeah, I absolutely agree, I like that advice. I think a lot of people don't really think about the soft skills, but they are very helpful in communicating with team members.
A: It's really easy to get caught up in your work and then have a hard time seeing the forest from the trees. Once you start getting out of your comfort zone and learning to talk to people and pulling them in for critiques, it not only makes your work better, but it also strengthens the relationships that you have between people. There's times when you're going to need that support, you're going to need people to back you up.
V: Thanks so much for chatting with me, Addison!
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