The Problems with UI Design in Mobile Games Dev

Etienne Badia
5 min readMar 13, 2022


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UI Design in mobile F2P games is generally misunderstood and quite often in the shadow of almighty, tentacular UX Design. It’s getting better though, a quick search for UI in Linkedin will bring up lots of names from Peak, Playrix, King, and other gaming companies who noticed its importance and hired UI specialists.

On this article, I review some recurring problems with UI in mobile game dev and discuss solutions to alleviate them. But first, my definition of UI Design:

UI Design consists of creating the interface of a game. The interface is anything the player can interact with to input actions to the game, and receive informations from the game. The goal of UI Design is to make this interaction between the game and the player intuitive, playful, useful, satisfying, and crystal clear.

Now, let’s jump into the problems:

❌ Problem 1: UI design is not part of your core-team skills.

The classic Triforce of a gamedev team is: a developer, a game designer and an artist. Sometimes it’s all done by the same person. Yes, there are other important disciplines in game-making, but nobody starts making a game without having the Triforce in place. In this context, UI is likely to be handled by everyone, all sharing different parts of the job. The game designer will create a wireframe on a napkin, showing how that Inventory Screen should look like. The artist will take it from there to “make it pretty, do your art thing, I trust you with colors” while making extra sure to stay true to the napkin layout. And the dev will quickly integrate everything in Unity, eye-balling the colors in code and compressing everything to save some build size.

The outcome? The Inventory Screen will have a broken layout, a character in the middle for a random reason, paragraphs of texts too small to read, buttons of various colors and sizes, and beautifully crafted and intricate panels made of wood and stone texture. The buttons will be huge on iPad, miniature on iPhone 8. This deadly cocktail is ultimately getting in the way of legibility, accessibility, and therefore usability is general.

While the game designer, artist and dev partners-in-crime are extremely good at their core skills and did their best to create a cool Inventory Screen, they all lack expert knowledge in UI and made wrong decisions. And it’s completely alright, like in all (good) RPGs, you have to choose where to spend your skill points and specialize in a class: you can’t be great at everything!

Problem 2: Live Games need lots of UI.

So, you managed to ship the game with a cool core gameplay and an inventory screen. Data is good, players like it, and now you realize you need to start doing live ops and adding meta features. On your roadmap: a leaderboard, a team chat, a shop with 25 bundles and special offers, monthly seasonal events, weekly contests, a battle pass, a daily reward bonus. You need to catchup with competitors and be feature-complete asap.

Now, you’re noticing your team starting to worry: there is too much UI work pilling up. They are outside of their comfort zone, and would rather focus on tasks they are way more proficient with, can execute with highest level of precision based on their core skills. Take the artist for example, who studied anatomy, perspective, color and lighting theory. Making a chat system is outside of his expertise, and even if it sounds simple, making the feature feel great is actually quite a frustrating challenge if you lack the know-how.

In parallel, and with the best efforts of the team, the game is getting noticeably Frankenstein-y: The Home screen is cluttered with live-ops buttons all screaming for attention, timers everywhere, there is no space to add anything else and the whole navigation between menus is clunky. Every popup is different in their layout and style, buttons change place, there are 25 different font styles. The game performance is worsening because there is no atlas system to manage your UI assets.

🎯Solution: Get a UI expert!

To solve problems 1 and 2, you guessed it: you need to hire in your team someone dedicated to UI Design. And now come your next problems…

❌Problem 3: General confusion with the job titles.

The industry is totally confused with UI, UX, Design, Product, and Art. There is no universal agreement on how to call a person who handles UI for a mobile game. UI Artist, 2D Artist, UI Designer, UI/UX Designer, UX/UI Artist... For any combination you can think of, you will find someone with this title on Linkedin. And what they actually do will change depending on the company they work for.

My input here? I call the folks crafting UI for mobile games UI Designers. I find the UI Artist title too limiting, removing the design part of the job and conveying the wrong message that UI is “just” about visuals. On the other end, I find the UI/UX Designer title too broad, not conveying well the specific area of accountability.

❌Problem 4: Lack of UI education and training resources.

UX Design schools, courses, trainings: they are everywhere. Look for a UI course, you will find 10 UX workshops. You may be lucky and find something about UI, but it will be unrelated to games. Much like making a game differs from making a movie, it also differs from making a music app or a video streaming website. They differ in their conventions, visual codes, and product goals.

Game schools teach game design and art but always skip UI. Design schools do have UI/UX in their curriculum, but heavily biased towards UX and not applied to games anyways. All in all, it’s impossible to find UI Designers for mobile games coming out of schools, except some rare unicorns.

🎯Solution: Don’t look for a title, but for skills and background!

Skilled UI Designers can perfectly balance Design, Art and Technical abilities. They must possess a general understanding of UX and Design principles to craft intuitive, relevant, and accessible UI. They must be well-versed in Graphic and Communication Design to make the UI playful and visually appealing without overcrafting it nor making it look like your bank app. They must understand the game engine you are working with and be able to export, integrate and animate their UI in an optimized way. Obviously in collaboration with devs, designers and artists, but owning their part!

And I find that the best candidates follow this pattern: Trained in graphic design, they joined the game industry as an artist working mainly on UI while others would rather focus on environments and characters or join the UX bandwagon after taking a 4-hour online course. They developed passion and good intuition for turning both players and game design needs into concrete UI solutions. Whatever their title is, if you find someone with this background, they will likely be a good fit for your team!

Thanks for reading! That was a long article and it’s only my point of view based on my experience. I hope I convinced you to hire a UI Designer for your team ASAP! You may have diverging opinions about UI Design and notably with its interaction with UX — which would reinforce my point with problem number 3.





Etienne Badia

Head of Art at Voodoo. Former Senior Art Director at King.