The Game UX Interview Series
Interview #2: Kathryn Storm
Welcome back to the Game UX Interview series! This is a series in which one UI/UX Designer interviews another.
My name is Maïmouna Brownrigg and I’m a UI/UX designer at Ubisoft Montreal. After being interviewed by Mike Mariano, I decided to pass the torch to Kathryn Storm. I chose Kathryn on the basis that I had never heard of her :) I like the idea of this series connecting people together but also bringing hard-working people into the spotlight.
Hi Kathryn! Thank you for accepting to be interviewed by a total stranger on the premise that we share common interests :)
One thing that I love to hear about people in the industry is how they got to where they are now. So, what’s your story Kathryn?
Hi! Thanks for interviewing me, Maïmouna. Similar interests are a great way to start talking. :)
My story starts with being a designer in the traditional sense before I got anywhere near games. I went through my university’s graphic design program which at the time didn’t offer any classes on digital media. Games were always an interest but not something I saw as connected to the kind of design I did.
During that time, I briefly considered concept art because I draw and paint. I wanted to be involved in making the things I enjoyed, with whatever skills I had. And much later, working at Xbox put a giant spotlight on how many disciplines it takes to make games happen. Ones that I couldn’t even think of while I was in college.
So how did the jump from graphic design to the game industry happen?
It was mainly by looking for little connections. I enjoyed the work I was doing and felt that there had to be something similar in games. I had this mindset that there was something I’d yet to uncover. That thing turned out to be moving to Seattle and eventually finding a home at Xbox. Xbox was my first professional experience in gaming.
Design is all about immersing yourself in your subject matter to create impact and Xbox is all about gamers. I am definitely both. And that’s how the rest of the Xbox design team is. It’s a really unique team and kind of magical that these sorts of things even exist.
Can you tell me a little bit more about your experience at Xbox?
One of the many great things about working on a small team like Xbox Design is the variety of projects and platforms. Over four years it felt like I’d had a few jobs. I’ve worked on Xbox Arena, Store, Game Streaming, Mixer and some interesting R&D projects. My official title was Interaction Designer but my responsibilities went the gamut in design. Workflow is contextual, but generally we follow agile and have close relationships with all of our partners.
I saw on your Twitter account that you are involved with an organization called GeekGirlCon. Can you tell me a little bit more about what it is? What do you do there and how did you get involved?
Absolutely! GeekGirlCon is an organization and annual weekend-long convention in Seattle. We celebrate and empower women and girls to pursue their passions in science, tech, gaming, etc.
While living in San Francisco, I was looking for a women’s gaming community and found GeekGirlCon in my research. A few months later, I just happened to be moving to Seattle and they had a volunteer staff position open.
Currently, I’m the Video Games Coordinator managing the video game content for the convention. The org empowers us to try new things and pursue big ideas. Last year, video games organized tournaments and a Let’s Play stage with a great lineup. Those new ideas were at the top of my wishlist and it was awesome to see them happen!
What do you do to improve your skill/knowledge?
I read a lot of books and blogs. I’m constantly keeping an eye out for recently published books on design and UX. I’ve also curated my Twitter feed to be 95% industry so I can keep up with the pulse of the community. I started blogging in the last year to sharpen my communication skills and was surprised at how much I enjoy it. I would definitely recommend blogging to designers.
Oh cool! What do you blog about?
Initially, I started blogging as part of Microsoft Design but was inspired to branch out with other topics. I’ve spent a lot of time working with GeekGirlCon and Xbox’s Women in Gaming and wanted to shine a light on the things I care about and what I’ve learned.
Any books you enjoyed that we absolutely have to read? What’s on your night table right now?
Not too long ago, I finished ‘Blood, Sweat and Pixels,’ a series of development vignettes. I feel like I talk about this one a lot because it’s easy to read and there is so much detail. I especially enjoyed the chapter about Dragon Age: Inquisition and their experience developing with Frostbite. I’m currently reading ‘Stay Awhile and Listen,’ the story of Diablo. I might be giving away what type of games I like…
Knowing what you know now, what would you tell to young Kathryn who wants to start her career in video games?
“Instead of making apps and websites, attend game jams! Or both!”
“Keep pursuing illustration!”
I don’t regret the path I took, but young Kathryn didn’t pursue the depth of what was out there in terms of the concept art route. When I moved to Seattle, I met an artist who worked on the art of Magic cards and it blew my mind. I definitely had a moment.
Do you have advice for people who want to start their career as a UI/UX designer?
To start doing what you love and to meet people in your industry. And there is no formula for doing either of those, invent your own! The rules are rewritten every day. Sometimes what you want to do doesn’t have a major or a job description. Waiting for either doesn’t have to be an option.
According to you, which topics should we watch for in the next few years in game UI/UX?
I think there are still some points we are working through. With game UX’s increased attention, contributing to that momentum is key. Shepherding it into strategy as opposed to a commodity is something we can all be a part of. From the way we talk about our work to the way we sell its value, our value. And then, diversity is a UX problem. If we’re all about empathy and being user-centered, let’s remember that we are not our users and research can help!