In my last This UX Thing, I mentioned that someone had emailed me with three great questions, and I tackled the first of them in the last column. Today I’m tackling their second question. I’m quoting here verbatim for transparency, but I believe English is Yuda’s second language so just bear that in mind.

i am learning UX in web designing right now, and i saw a lot of techniques that have been using in UX Web design such as wireframing(low, mid, high fidelity), mockup with balsamic, etc. i am curious about how UX designing work in video games. i saw your work in this blog about UX and UI designing process but i dont really get it how it flow. Can you tell me which part should UI/UX designer work on in video games ? and show me the flow of it until the game is ready ?

So if I’m understanding the question correctly, Yuda is wondering what the difference is between the UX design process for the web versus the UX design process for games, and how it might be different since certain things won’t be applicable. That’s a great question, so let’s take a look at it.

The broad answer to this is that the general process, which we outlined in the last column, is still the same: you’ll still sketch and ideate first, then cheaply prototype, then maybe wireframe if necessary, and then begin building the real UI and test it as much as possible before deploying it to real users. The big difference is that UI/UX design for the web is lacking two things that game development has: an aesthetically rich user interface that requires not just good user experience design but good graphic design, and a game designer who needs the UI to accomplish the goals of their design.

These two things, graphic design and UI/UX design, are often linked so tightly in games that I’ve written an entire article on the subject. And it’s a bit of a thorny issue, because many game companies say they’re looking for a User Experience Designer when in fact they’re actually looking for a visual User Interface Designer. 

But let’s assume that we’re dealing with a team that knows how these two jobs are different and where they overlap. For the rest of the article, I’m going to use the terms “UX designer” and “UI designer” and not “UI/UX designer”, even though that latter term is on the business cards of most people involved in UI design in the game industry. Some teams separate these roles and some require someone to do both even though they are two entirely different skill sets (which is an entire article in and of itself, but I digress). If you’re the UI/UX designer for your team, you’ll need to switch out your hats as you read this article and put the appropriate one on — UX designer or UI designer — depending on what I’m discussing. So, where does the UX designer’s role start and end, and where does the UI designer’s role start and end? What parts involve the UX designer and what parts don’t?

Both the UI designer (the person responsible for the aesthetic beauty of the game UI) and the UX designer (the person responsible for a frustration-free, sensibly-organized and consistent UI) should be involved in almost all stages of the UI’s development. So the real answer to the question of “which part should the UI/UX designer work on in video games” is “all of them.” But generally the UX designer is going to be involved far more in the early stages of the UI development than the UI designer, because the UX designer’s role early on is to be the glue between the goals of the game designer (to convey information about the game systems to the player, and allow the player to interact easily with the game systems) and the goals of the player (to interact with the UI in a way that makes the game experience enjoyable). During this stage, the UX design process is very much the same as for the web: sketching, prototyping, and testing. At this stage, the aesthetics of the UI are probably not important — the UI designer can be exploring art styles while the UX designer is working out what the UI flow is going to be and what screens are needed. 

At a certain point in development, the two roles will need to work together more tightly. If you’re working on, say, an RPG game with a rich character-customization option, the UX designer and UI designer will each have goals they want to accomplish in the Character Creation screen. The UX designer will be thinking, are the options easy to understand? Is it tedious or fun to fiddle with all the different ways you can build a character? Is the flow through the options sensible? The UI designer might be thinking, should we have a paperdoll-style UI here? Or can we do something more fun, like a fully-3D scene with a rotating character? Can the character do some of its animations while the player is choosing options? These questions will need to be answered together to create a UI that is both easy to use and pretty to look at. 

In my experience on many game titles across many platforms, the point at which you can consider the UI “ready” is “long after you’ve shipped the game and released several updates.” The UX and UI designers will be working on the UI up until and after shipping. As the content- and code-complete dates near for the game, you’ll spend more time polishing details and UX inconsistencies and, hopefully, less time actually adding new screens to the UI flow. As a UX designer, you’ll shift from a prototype-test-repeat workflow and into a refine-test-repeat workflow. Your team, near the end of development (and hopefully all through development, really) should be playing the game frequently and saying things like, “you know how in the character creation screen you name your character and then you create it? I’ve always felt like that was backwards because I feel like I need to build my character to really know what to name it next.” And as the UX designer, you’ll be taking this feedback and turning it into actionable items to improve the UI flow and thus the user experience.

So to summarize: all of the stages of UX design are still there in game UI/UX design, but you’ll have a greater emphasis on the visual aesthetics of the UI than you would in web or app development, and that will require you to work tightly with the UI designer on the project…or have some really good graphic design chops if you’re expected to play both roles. 

Thanks for the question, Yuda, and we’ll see you on the next This UX Thing! 

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