Time for the next interview in the series! My name is Sarah Massagee, a UX Designer who recently decided to go indie and create my own games. I’ve had the pleasure of taking the time to sit down and chat with Marie Jasmin, an Interaction Design specialist with 15+ years of career in the UX/UI field. She joined Ubisoft Montreal, where she has built a varied portfolio: 4 Assassin’s Creed games, a free-to-play experiment, a Kinect R&D project, and a UI tool. With her broad skillset and technical expertise, Marie is a go-to UI reference. She is also an advocate for Diversity and Smart Team Building as drivers of innovation and success. She is currently at Bethesda Game Studio, working her UI magic on a project you *might* hear about soon….
Let’s start with your origin story: GO!
I graduated from University in 1999, and at that time, UX didn’t really exist. “HCI” was a small part of what I studied in university. I studied general design (furniture making, interior design, etc.) Then there was a small subset of that which was called “multimedia design” at the time. That’s what I focused on, and went into web design. Then I went into the music industry for a little while. This was an interesting time because there was a transition from the physical world of records (which I’m really nostalgic for) to the digital world. That was challenging, working with the changing management of different crowds. Once that was set, I had a friend in the game industry who kept saying I should come and join, so I did. I was hooked.
What made you decide to make that switch?
What fascinates me (and still does) is the very big requirement in entertainment for UI or UX is to tell a narrative. In the web there is some narrative, but not as much as in games. Your UI has to be functional and well understood; and fulfill a narrative. That storytelling aspect is so interesting. I think UI/UX is a powerful way to convey a story, and to me, that’s what gets me up in the morning.
I noticed that you used a demo reel instead of a classic portfolio to display your work, what made you decide to do so?
Well, animation! Which is HUGE in Assassin's Creed 2. The whole way that the UI unfolds is the story. The replay menu is not just a replay menu, it’s a DNA menu where you relieve the memories of your ancestors through the animus; so it can’t be just like a website. To me, animation is a big part of where the story telling aspect of UI shines. With web and mobile, whether transitions will bounce away or not will change your feelings about the whole game.
With that DNA menu, how did you and your team come up with that idea?
My art director (Laura) kinda brought the idea. The narrative for Assassin’s Creed 2 you steal a computer from a big corporation (Abstergo) and hack into it, so the interface needed to not look corporate. Each menu is designed differently to tell the story that you’re in an interface that was quickly patched together and needed to be usable, but edgy as well. In Hollywood, they have cool animation and UI’s (like the HUD of Iron Man.) It’s not usable! Those screens filled with information can’t be processed by humans. SO in games, we have to do a hybrid: you understand where you are in the menu, but it still looks cool. It’s a challenge.
What tips do you have to help create that immersive design like you’ve done with Assassin’s Creed 2?
So, I have many. One thing that really works (from Laura, my art director on the project) from the beginning when you do your research, and you begin creating your (reference) board for the initial UI, make tangible artifacts. We spent a whole morning, pasting images on a big art board (very big, took up a whole wall) and it sat there during the entire production. Everyone saw it. I think it’s really important to have these physically in the room. Physical artifact binds are really powerful to get everyone on the team to understand where you are going with this narrative/UX you’re designing.
That was insightful!
If you could redesign one game, which would it be and why?
Ohhh, first thing that came to mind is Fallout.
And now you work at Bethesda!
I know! So, now that I’m on the inside, I see why it was done that way. But you know the pipboy? I have a strong love/hate relationship with it. You can see the narrative behind this menu, with the hand taking up most of the space on the screen along with your pip boy. It’s so hard to work with this, by giving the story so much space within the screen and not as much with the UI itself. My biggest gripe with it is consistency. Only having one color to work with in a small screen is very challenging. I feel breaking the one color rule here would have improved the UX.
What is your favorite part of the UX process?
I like all the parts! To me, the process is really simple. It starts by research and going out and watching people. If you are designing a chair, you go out and see how people sit. If you’re designing a game, you go out and see how people play. So it’s fun to imagine ways to make their lives easier. Finding ideas and trying solutions, then you build a prototype and go out and watch people again! People are interesting, they don’t react like you expect. I love the iteration process.
What tools do you use to prototype with?
So, we don’t have macs, so we don’t have sketch. (Why won’t you port this to PC?!) I have high hopes for Adobe XD. It’s getting there, but it’s not there (if you’re working on it, PLEASE KEEP GOING!) What I really want is a tool that will allow me to have multiples of the same object and if I change some property of that object (rounded rectangle to a normal rectangle for example) then it would change all of those objects at once. The perfect tool for atomic design doesn’t exist yet! I use photoshop in strange ways. It would be nice to be able to go from lo-fi wireframes to high-fi wireframes all in one tool. When we build our wireframes in Axure, then bring them into photoshop, a lot gets lost in translation. Animation is also really important. There is After Effects, but it’s not made to prototype UI. I’m still waiting for the holy grail of UX prototyping tools. Please, someone, DESIGN THE TOOL FOR US!
Where do you go to find inspiration?
Easy answer is nature. I love going outdoors and I like to get away from my computer. Somehow, it feels like when I’m in motion, I get more ideas. The ideas were there, but when you walk, it helps them come out. I still like to look at blogs and internet sources. I like a blog called 99 percent invisible. It’s very well researched and I like the idea that design 99% invisible.
What advice do you have for aspiring UX designers?
I get that question a lot. It’s hard because the world is a lot different from when I started. What my advice is, is to look at a lot of diverse games and see what they are doing. See what indie games are doing, mobile, AAA games, etc. Don’t just play one type of game. Then try to do it yourself. There is no education that will top just building your own game and learning from it. Now a days, there are many tools to do it! Like Unity!
Pizza. If you let me choose, I’ll pick pasta over pizza. I’m married to a Japanese, so we eat a lot of rice. I secretly just crave the bread.