UI design for games, generally, Part 1

I decided to write this article because I couldn’t find any other source covering the topic on the internet. Thats probably due to me not looking hard enough, yet I am sure you’d be a lot more successful searching for funny cat videos than user interface design for games.
Because I am actively looking for UI Artists in various career networks I noticed that there are in fact quite a few out there, working for various game companies and doing really great work. Still, I feel as if there could be more on the topic – UI Design for web is covered so much, its almost impossible to not stumble on really useful information.
Fun fact: around 99% of the internet population never contributed anything to the net. Except maybe photos and facebook comments, if even. I believe in that number. Therefore the following article.

Interfaces

There are clearly different requirements to interfaces depending on the media they run on. There is almost countless media running all kinds of interfaces, such as mobile devices, computers and consoles. We should also take tv sets and refrigerators into account as they all provide more or less interfaces to interact.
In games however there are certain aspects that stand out. This article will try to sort them out. Who doesn’t know what an interface is may read what wikipedia has to say about it.

Interfaces in Games

Most people working in the games industry of course know what a HUD or UI is or what it refers to. They have heard wireframes and user experience design (Whats that?) often. Some never heard of it or never gave it a name. Some might even do user interface design not knowing it. Which is somewhat dangerous: I will try to tell you why I say that. Some feel its evil, others that its useless mambo jambo. Most though really don’t understand it, and most upsetting, many don’t even respect it – except for the ones leading certain media types. Because believe it or not, they have thought about stuff earlier then you. Maybe not you, but you for sure. In still one of the fastest growing industries its all about advantages. And now that even the big ones – that granted sometimes are the slowest – picked up on it, theres no way you’ll get around it.

The good, the bad, the ugly

A bad user interface won’t break a otherwise perfect game. That said, a great interface can’t save a broken game either. But…a well thought through, tested and carefully iterated interface will make a good game better, it will be more fun, last longer and thus bind more players. Actually, at this point in time, not having one will be the death of your ability to compete with the game products of your competitors. Sounds funny, but its true.
Ugly user interfaces on the other hand are a very interesting species. They can still be very successful – against popular believe. Visual appeal is just a tiny bit more than nice to have! Some artists actually claiming to be UI artists forget about that and believe that the design of a user interface is in fact all about the visual appeal. Sure, no doubt will a visually appealing interface be even more successful then a unappealing one, but thats about a fifth of the stuff one needs to get right. The most part is the design of information, feedback, flow and feeling. Not only but especially in games.

Who’s designing a UI

Designing a UI for a game has many parts to it. There are considerations about typo, colors and shapes. There are  usually many people involved such as game designers, artists and other stakeholders, at best there are UX specialists and statistical data. They all still don’t guarantee for a well working UI, but they increase your chances. And all of them have a valuable influence on the final design. And they should have – to a certain degree. Thats our job, to carefully maneuver the ship to the harbor. There will be damage to the ship, but we’ll arrive intact, maybe even strong.

Finding the best one for the job

Since some people still ignore the impact of well designed interfaces, some are eagerly looking for people with experience, and most important talent. Its like in all other professions, there are many people claiming to “do” it, but only few doing it – well. And with “well” I am referring to first and foremost common sense, work speed, accuracy and experience. If you’re lacking one of the latter, don’t worry, an open mind will soon pick up on those. I am afraid common sense seems to be something that people lost or never had.

Hover, not Hoover

No need for negativity, we are in games to produce entertaining and exciting stuff for a living, right? Thus we put some real effort in it to meet the expectations of many. But our most important clients are the players. If they feel more comfortable with placing a certain element on the left side of the hud we’ll do it. Every effort to make their gaming experience better is a good choice. People aware of UI design carry this important knowledge into their creative work. The web is a great starting point, not only because it still provides loads of valuable information on the topic, but also because its constantly redefining itself. If you are one of them with roots in web design, passionate about games and able and willing to work in that field of expertise, let me know. ;)

In case you are otherwise a well employed UI Designer and stumbled on this article by accident, I’d be so grateful if you’d share sources you have in the web that may be interesting. Anything related counts.

Thanks and good night.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Ruth says:

    Oliver sadly this is so true. I am a UI, UX designer for games and I struggle to find anything about UX for games (and its kind of funny because games are all about experience) no articles, no books…

    I spend hours on the web (I am not giving in to cat temptation :) trying to find anything about the subject, there are rare gems on Gamasutra but mostly I read general UI/UX stuff and use my imagination to adapt it to games.
    How come such a fascinating and reach subject have no exposure at all? I would call it gap in the market ;)

    Every thing I find that is good and useful I post on my twitter @RuthVakrat

    1. Oliver says:

      Hey Ruth, thanks for the Feedback! Really appreciate it.

      As you pointed out, because there doesn’t seem to be that much information about it, people seem to often reinvent the wheel.
      I’ll try to post stuff to twitter in the future wheneer I find anything UI-UX-game related!

      I know for example that many web designers created their own knowledge hubs in the web, where’s ours? I’d call that a gap! Yes!

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