The Game UX Interview Series
Interview #1: Maïmouna Brownrigg
Welcome to the beginning of The Game UX Interview Series! This is a series of interviews where one UI/UX Designer in the Games industry interviews another. The catch is that the interviewee choses someone else to interview next! The hope is that we get to know each other, share knowledge and advice, and create a more collaborative industry.
My name is Mike and I’m a Lead UI/UX Designer at Disney, and I’ll be kicking this series off. I’m very excited to introduce our first interviewee, Maïmouna Brownrigg, who is a Senior UI/UX Designer at Ubisoft Montreal.
Let’s get to know Maïmouna!
Hi Maïmouna and welcome to The Game UX Interview Series! Thanks for being the first interviewee and taking the time to talk!
It’s my pleasure! I’m quite honoured to have been chosen for this great initiative of yours, Mike. There are many people out there doing amazing work and I can’t wait to hear new voices and learn about them.
Can you tell me about your current role? What are you working on and what do you do?
I have been working on the Assassin’s Creed series for a few years. I just shipped AC Origins and its combat-free mode, The Discovery Tour.
Basically, my role is to take the design intentions and translate them into game reality. So I build the logic, integrate the assets and create systems to manage consistency throughout the whole UI. This last part has been kind of my thing (slight obsession). I have been known as the Consistency Police on my previous projects; unifying typography, colours, patterns, icons, layouts, etc.
How long have you worked in the industry and how did you get your start working in games?
I’ve been in the video game industry for almost 7 years now. Before that, I worked in advertising for 5 years. I never thought I would end up making games for a living, honestly. After school, some people I studied with got into the game industry. They tried to convince me to join them because they thought I would love it, but I actually felt intimidated by the game industry. From the outside, the industry looked very homogeneous to me and I did not see how I could fit in. I had this preconceived idea of what a game dev was and it did not look like me. After a few years, I finally decided to give it a shot. I quickly found out how wrong I was. For sure, I felt sometimes like I had landed on another planet, but I also had the chance to meet some great and passionate people.
A lot of us struggle with inspiration when designing something new, what is your approach?
I usually start with a Pinterest board to try to collect appealing visuals related to the subject I’m working on. I also accumulate references from movies, websites and other games that I find interesting. And then it goes beyond the screen. My eyes then turn into searching mode. It can happen when I’m watching TV while running on the treadmill at the gym, stopped at a red light and watching the ad on the back of the bus in front of me or when I’m colouring with my kids. Inspiration is everywhere but I think you need to start with a narrative which will provide you with the key words for your search. Then, once you have an idea of which direction you want to go, you just need to put on the right kind of glasses to see the world around you.
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
To explain to my mom what I do for a living. She’s quite confused. She knows that I work with computers and that there is some colours involved but that’s about it :) No but seriously, it’s not just to my mom. Sometimes I feel that our role as UI/UX designers isn’t well understood even by people within the industry. UI is too often put at the end of the assembly line like a patching service for bad design. We have been perceived for too long like the icing on a cake when, in fact, UI is central to the player’s experience.
What have been your biggest successes so far?
My role now is so different from what I did 5 years ago and is worlds apart from what I did 10 years ago. Is it too cheesy to say that I’m just really proud of the progress I’ve made? The fact that I’m learning new things everyday is what I love about my job. Somedays it makes me feel insecure; like I don’t know what I’m doing. But when I look back, I realize how much I’ve grown and it makes me proud.
There’s a lot of people who would love to work in games, do you have any advice for anyone wanting to start their careers in Game UI/UX?
Most UI/UX people that I know that work in the industry have a background in graphic/web design. I think it is a great start but it is important to be curious about various domains, not just about games. Build up your general culture because I think this could make the difference between you and another candidate.
Another key element in the industry is your network. Making a game is all about the team so choosing the right team members is vital. Your reputation and work ethic will make a huge difference. Most people in the industry got in because they knew someone who knew someone who knew someone. Game jams, school or online communities could be good places to start. And last but not least, don’t do like me — keep your portfolio up-to-date and well-documented. You just never know when the opportunity to show off your skills might come up.
Do you have any dream projects you’d love to work on?
As paradoxical as it may sound, I love games that have very minimal UI, where the UI is so well-blended with the game narrative that you barely notice it. “The best UI is the one that you don’t see” as they say. As you probably know, it can be quite complex to make a simple UI and I would love to take on that challenge. Of course, you need the right kind of game for this.
I would also love to work on something really mainstream. Designing for a wide range of users is something that I find interesting and challenging as a designer. I got a small taste of this with my last project, The Discovery Tour. We had to design the experience while taking into consideration kids using it in a classroom, people playing a video game for the first time, and also hardcore gamers.
Let’s talk about what’s next, what are you most excited about for the future of game UI/UX?
I think that more focus on accessibility is inevitable. We are starting to realize that it doesn’t make sense to spend so much time and effort on great content, while keeping entry barriers for all to enjoy it. Even if the industry doesn’t take into consideration the positive social benefits, it should at least think about the financial benefits!
Accessibility is important in a broader sense too. It is not just making games more accessible but also making the industry more accessible to people; gender, race, age, cultural backgrounds and people coming from other industries should be well-represented. The game industry should be as diverse as the people enjoying games. We need to change the face that people have in mind when thinking about a game developer.