My afternoon with ustwo New York

As part of the 99u experience every attendee has the opportunity to attend two workshops — my first was with ustwo New York.

Who are ustwo?

Started by two friends in the UK, 13 years have gone by and they now have four offices across the globe - London, Malmo, New York and Sydney. Most recognised for their iOS game Monument Valley and Monument Valley 2 they have divided their product studio into three.

Monument Valley 2 — Part 2 of the award winning game by ustwo — Image Credit
  • Games — making great games like Monument Valley and Land’s End
  • Ventures — backing and investing in blossoming products or ideas
  • Studios — Offer their product studio team for hire and help others tackle big challenges

In my opinion I honestly believe ustwo is up there as one of the best product studios around.

Designing Across the Client Spectrum

There are many challenges in communications between a studio and the client. With this session I hoped to achieve three things:

  • Learn something new to take back to the team
  • Validate roads we currently use with Agile & Lean methodologies
  • Make new friends

Hosted by three of the team at ustwo, Maree Frakes (Project Manager), Cesar Corral-Castilla (Product Designer), and Eduardo Oliveira (Product Designer).

ustwo Smart Watch Faces for Google — Image Credit

The afternoon was spent running through the ustwo process on both short and long term projects. Discussing the process from initial kick offs, through to stand ups after sprints and ending with retro’s. Some of the key takeaways were:

  • Everybody within the product team (design, dev, pm etc) need to be on the same page on how they’re are to tackle the challenge laid in front of them, the tech they’ll use, the process they’ll go through, timelines and that they understand the brief. Make sure that the team are set up for success.
  • Each part of the process is to respected and not skipped as much as possible.
  • Real life prototype as much as possible. Clients tend to connect and understand the idea you’re presenting to them much easier if they can see the solution, live in their hands. It doesn’t have to be the completed output. Just enough for them to understand the route you’ve chosen.
  • Remind the client the problem this prototype covers. This helps the client not get distracted by the shade of blue used in the prototype etc.
  • If you have something to say, make sure you raise it as early as possible within your team. Speak up.
Level designs for Monument Valley 2 — Image Credit
  • Be aware that initially your client will still be feeling you out. Empathise, gain trust and work with them if they don’t understand something. A client wants to feel important.
  • Constantly remind yourself of the goals.
  • Investigate what you need, don’t rely on others. Just because your title may be Visual Designer doesn’t mean nothing but visuals or UI is your problem. Offer to help and be proactive.
  • Remember that clients need to react, often they don’t know what they want. Iteration and getting feedback early is vital.
  • Project boredom or burnout can happen on long projects, many causes and solutions to these issues. But if all else fails, try switching project for a time.
  • How can you make sure you’re intentions are achieved in both work and personal goals. Remind yourself of this, are you on target?
  • Be passionate about what you do.

The afternoon with the ustwo team was great and showed even with clients such as Google and Facebook they still come up against the same pain points that I and others have with their clients. There is no universal answer to all our woes unfortunately but it’s comforting to know we’re not alone in the challenges we see day to day.

Image Credit

If you’d like to learn more about 99u and are thinking of attending next year please visit their website. If you’re a creative always looking to learn and push yourself, I couldn’t recommend attending enough.


Further Reading

My second workshop at 99u 2017 was at the Dropbox New York office “Transparent Teams: Driving Alignment Through an Open Creative Process”. Click here to read more about that session.