Last December, User Experience (UX) Director Francisco Cabrita joined in a Q&A on the Ubisoft Graduate Program to share some insights into the new track in UX Design. Here’s a brief summary of the discussion and Francisco’s advice. Read on to find out more about the job, what skills make a good UX designer, and what to expect when joining Ubisoft.
Can you tell us more about your own experience?
Working on player experience is never boring! It’s one of those jobs in game development (along with gameplay programming) where you are at the crossroads of all disciplines, so you get to work with all sorts of people: programmers, designers, artists, producers, animators, user researchers, etc.
My own experience is a bit unconventional. I worked as a programmer for 15 years before slowly transitioning to usability-centered topics. Having been a programmer on different fields and having a personal interest in psychophysics helps me every day as UX director.
What areas of UX design can a newcomer expect to work on at Ubisoft?
Every project is different, so it can vary greatly. As a general rule of thumb, the bigger the project, the more specialized your area will be. Depending on the production phase, you can also experience different sides of the job. During conception, for example, you may cover a very wide area ranging from interaction design, prototyping, visual design, user research, information architecture, to programming. Then, once the production kicks in, you’ll probably focus a bit more on specific needs. In any case, when it comes to improving player experience, being able to create information with a simple and consistent design (i.e. atomic design) is always a valuable skill.
What tips would you give to applicants?
Prototype, mock up, improve! The more practice you get, the better your understanding of how to improve usability will be.
For instance, say you’re interested in 3D world map visualization. One thing you can do is look at 3D world maps out there (i.e. Google Maps/Earth, SimCity, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, etc.) and do the following:
1. List all the features that compose this world map (i.e. player location marker with orientation, north orientation, 2D-3D camera transition, level of detail applied to street names and icons, camera manipulation type, markers, options, legend, animations, building depiction, etc).
2. See what you would improve.
3. Probably the most important step of all: build a prototype where you implement those improvements!
You can do the same with information architecture:
1. Take a game like Assassin’s Creed.
2. Draw a tree diagram of the menu screens, using a program like yEd.
3. See how you would improve the tree, or each screen layout.
Are there any skills that would be nice extras?
Programming! No need to be fluent in C++ here. The main point is realizing that programming is the 21st century equivalence of literacy; if you don’t acquire a minimum of autonomy in it, you’ll end up waiting for others to translate your thoughts into something the machine understands. Especially interactions prototyping, like being able to prototype a gauge that increases the more you push on the left stick.
Basic sketching or 3D modeling. This is a nice extra, as it makes a lot of discussions easier and helps translate your mental model to other people. When prototyping new 3Cs (Character, Control, Camera), drawing and modeling the character poses helps a lot to share your intention.
“UX design” is a pretty broad term. What are the most important topics to master to succeed as UX designer?
I’d say that to get your bases covered, you should have some knowledge in psychophysics, be familiar with interaction design and information architecture, and be able to conduct surveys and test sessions.
On top of that, depending on the project, UX designers need to master one of the following topics:
Game / Level Design: – Understand what “affordance” means in the context of video games
– Play video games, of course!
– Signs and feedback
– Understanding the fun factor (and that sometimes, optimizing a task can kill the risk/reward balance)
– Real-time interaction prototyping
– 3C programming
– Input latency and how to improve it
– Here, any knowledge on real-time 3D engines will be a huge help: the general principles of rendering (i.e. GPU blending modes, texels, mipmap…etc), what kind of antialiasing can be used, basic knowledge of memory footprint, texture atlas, etc.
– Knowledge of shaders is also a plus – on Far Cry Primal, for instance, the visual designer was able to understand and even code HLSL shaders.
Are there any books you would recommend reading?
Here are my picks, not necessarily in any order:
– Perception by Randolph Blake, Robert Sekuler
– Cognitive Psychology by Douglas L. Medin, Brian H. Ross, Arthur B. Markman
– Thinking Fast & Slow by Daniel Kahneman
– The Brain, The Story of You by David Eagleman
– Image of the City by Kevin Lynch
– This means That by Sean Hall
– Game Feel by Steve Swink
– The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman
Visit our official website to apply to the Ubisoft Graduate Program: ubisoftgraduateprogram.com