Over the past 15+ years, I have seen many job applications for various roles in my UX/UI design company, Sprung Studios. Some guarantee an interview, and others I click away from immediately. About 20% of the time I make a definite ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ decision to give an interview. But for many applications, the decision is less straightforward.
I often find myself thinking, “I wish I could see more of this” or “I wish they would have shown me that.” Sometimes I email the applicants with questions concerning areas not revealed in their work. This doesn’t happen in every case.
The problem with this approach is that we risk missing a large number of great applicants who, for one reason or another, fail to show their talent.
This article is tailored for either recent graduates of design programs looking to impress and secure an interview or working designers from other disciplines (like app design) who would love to work in the games industry. I hope that by explaining what I consider to be a strong CV and portfolio, this could help applicants on a path to success. All the thoughts here reflect my personal opinions and may not reflect other people’s experiences.
Do you have a passion for games?
As we all know, the games industry spans a vast array of genres and platforms. The job of a UX/UI designer is to be curious about the way players interact with games.
When you have a true passion for games, then you are as fascinated by how people navigate a mobile casual game as you are a AAA console shooter. Our role is to question conventions and learn from disparate sources to improve and forge new and interesting menu systems.
Demonstrate your passion and knowledge of games.
In one interview, I asked the applicant about their relationship with videogames? They replied, “When I was young, I used to watch my sibling play Nintendo games.”
What is wrong with this answer?
Firstly, it gives no indication that the person is (or has ever been) actively involved in experiencing games. Secondly, while everyone LOVES Nintendo (me included), their old games are not enduring templates of complex and/or easy-to-use UX/UI Design.
Anyone applying for a job in the games industry should immerse themselves in the diverse pleasures of the art form. If you are applying for a role at a AAA console studio, they would assume that you are interested in playing their games. However, in order to be of real value to them, you should also mention a series of other diverse games that you play and enjoy, to show that you can draw from a number of different sources of inspiration.
At Sprung Studios, we find ourselves working on every type of game which is one of the things that makes us unique. It is imperative we all have a fascination with every genre, platform and style of interaction. If you tell us “I don’t really have time to play videogames”, we will not seriously consider you for the role.
Tell us more about yourself
Please introduce yourself with a cover letter alongside your CV and portfolio link. If you want your application to stand every chance of success, it is worth putting in a little extra time to show the person behind the application.
A great cover letter explains your relationship with games and why you feel that this company would be a great place for you to be. Use something specific that you have discovered about the company in your letter (some people mention our office dog) as it shows that you have done your research.
Configuring your portfolio for success
The portfolio is the most important window on who you are as a designer. At best, it will demonstrate what makes you exceptional. At worst, it will fail to load properly and show a series of unrelatable projects that leave the employer in the position of trying to decide if you are worth further investigation.
The number one rule of a portfolio site is to keep it simple.
Your website should load promptly, and be divided up into projects (Behance is also fine for this).
I am old enough to remember Flash being used extensively in website designs of the early 2000s. The majority of them had complex and unintelligible animation to ‘introduce the user to the experience’. All it did was frustrate the hell out of everyone, slowing down interactions and sending you searching for the ‘skip intro’ button.
The way you show your projects is absolutely key to your success as an applicant.
Many project pages are structured as follows:
Drawings/concepts/post-it note investigations
Wireframes (low and high fidelity)
This is a great way of showcasing your UX thinking. I need to see that you considered many different avenues before arriving at one concept that is successful. Don’t be afraid to show failed experiments and detail why you chose a different direction. It is key to the role of UX/UI Designer that you are able to dispassionately view your ideas, encourage candid feedback on them and signal (but not remove) those that are not working (no matter how clever they appear to be).
Many of the portfolios of recent graduates are structured in this way, using the projects that they did during their courses. I also see portfolios like this from designers working in another part of the design industry as app designers.
These app-based projects are the perfect way to display your UX thinking and your work process and I love to see them. But they do not show your passion for the games industry and ability to adapt your artistic style.
If you only have a series of app-related projects on your website, but you are applying for a job in the games industry, it is very difficult to assess your artistic talent. Games are entertainment and their design must reflect this.
This does not mean that we sacrifice usability or simplicity for complexity under the misguided notion that this is more ‘gamified’. But many game interfaces have a distinct artistic style that sets them apart from their competitors. Material Design may look great in apps and has its benefits when creating a clutter-free interface for an application, but this does not reflect the majority of games.
If video games do not feature in your portfolio and are relegated to a small line at the bottom of your CV under ‘interests’ then you are not displaying your desire to be in this industry.
The solution is simple and often overlooked – create some fake game interfaces.
You can take an existing game that you know very well and reconfigure a certain set of screens with annotations. For this task, you could either keep the original style or create a new style. If you mimic the existing style (a talent in itself), you must show your UX thinking, changing the layout to better serve the player.
You could also set yourself mini art tasks. The games industry is so rich and diverse in terms of design inspiration that you could take a simple ‘PLAY’ button and design a sci-fi version, a fantasy version and a military version. This would demonstrate your ability to work across different styles and give potential employers more faith in your abilities.
Iconography is a huge subject and features heavily in many different genres. The creation of a set of icons that feel like a family set is a beautiful thing, especially if the icons are skeuomorphic or faux-3D (think potion bottles, gems etc.)
To summarise, you stand the best chance of success if your portfolio shows the following aspects of your talents:
App UX thinking
Game UX thinking
Game UI artistic ability (buttons and menus)
Game UI artistic ability (icons)
I hope that the pointers in this article help you to tailor your job hunting for the best chance of success in a video game-related UX/UI design job.
The games industry is a wonderful and exciting place to be and I look forward to seeing you join it.