Interning as a Non-Game Designer in a Game Company

UX Design Summer Internship at EA

This summer I spent 12 weeks with Electronic Arts in Austin, TX. My design team works as an internal design agency serving the information technology organization — employee experience.

Check out my detail project on my portfolio:

Sitting closely with my design team gave me lots of opportunities to ask all types of questions and learn from them. Having daily stand-up meetings with my project team ensured that I was always on the same page. I learned so much from each individual I’ve met here and also from each design process I feel familiar with but also unfamiliar with in the industry context.

Attending CTO Intern Tech Fair

✎___________My three key general learnings___________

◖User Research

Never take users for granted but don’t overgeneralize them either.

During this internship, since I work on employee experience, I get the chance to talk to my real users easily. I’ve interviewed 30 EA employees overall, during different stages, from interns to domain experts. How much opinion and feedback we as designers should take out of the user interviews is a challenging task.

Sometimes, I ask leading questions just to get the answers I want to hear:

Like, “If you want to …, would you click this?” In this type of question, I not only “forced” users to have motives that they might not have, but also “guided” them to notice the designs that they would have neglected. To avoid this type of leading questions, one way is to separate it into several questions: “Imagine you’re…, what would you like to do…?” “To achieve that, what would you do?”

Sometimes, I get influenced by one user’s strong opinion just because he/she is very emotional about this idea:

One time, I conducted a usability test on a colleague who has a strong personality and here is exactly what he said, “Oh I like thumbs-up icon, that’s the only button I would click to show I like this content, or whatever!” Then I got so influenced by his strong opinion that I directly used this thumbs-up. However, when I tried to make a rationale, “oh, I designed it this way because one user likes it” sounds ridiculous. Also, talking to more users definitely helps dilute the bias.

Luckily, I did 5 rounds of interview in total, which allowed me to reflect and improve quickly. After the first round, I started to review interview questions with my design team before actually conducting it.

Over time, I learned to conduct each research method professionally and balance the design judgment carefully with general user behavior when synthesizing findings.

◖Product Thinking

Most often, we struggle to solve a problem because we didn’t define it clearly. And no matter where we are in the whole process:

Never hesitate to go back to the problem framing stage and ask the right questions.

I worked closely with an engineering team, who had already started the project without any PRD(Product requirements document). Even though we were working on an experimental project based on a hypothesis, reframing the problem is vital. There were times when our team met to discuss our progress and we found ourselves discussing things repetitive or not relevant. Asking questions immediately when I had this feeling really helps. It can be as broad as “Why are we discussing this? Is it relevant to what we’ve decided on?”

Reframing project roadmap

◖Problem Selling

How we communicate our ideas to users, stakeholders and even co-workers is so important that:

We should never allow ourselves to neglect the beauty of selling.

And when we sell our ideas, getting at the “why”, is extremely important. If we tell the right story about “why”, the “how” and “what” will come naturally to the audience. Like Simon Sinek’s “Golden Circle”, the “why” is a small circle in the middle, which requires a lot of wisdom and effort to extract, but also takes very short time to convey. In contrast, the “what” is easier to narrate, but the audience gets easily lost when taking in the flat description. Always start with the “why”. That’s the hook; getting audience into the core. Then they will get into “how” and “what”.

When I was making my internship project poster, I tried different ways to present my process and findings, most of which focused on “what” and “how”. “What” is basically different versions of my design solutions. I tried to show all the iterations I made. “How” is the methods I used during the whole process, like data analysis, expert interviews, contextual inquiry, content inventory, competitive analysis, usability test, etc. However, I felt that it wasn’t as exciting as it was supposed to be.
My director inspired me to use a hypothesis question as the topic of my project. I then started my poster with a big “why” — “Can Enterprise Search Be Collaborative?” — in the center to attract audience. It turned out to be a big success, as I won the CTO (Chief technology officer) Award at the Tech Fair.
Awarded by CTO

✎_______________Work hard, Play Hard_______________

Big thanks to my awesome design team: my design director — Ryan Rumsey, my mentors — Chen Liang, Yang Zhang UX, and Jordan Janes, Mae Reed, and Andy McFee !