“I’m a crazy cat lover.”
Hey Howard, I hope you are well this evening. I’m glad we are finally able to chat.
“Hey, I am doing well. Thanks for asking. How are you?”
I’m good. What is your current title and where are you currently employed?
“My current title is User Interface Artist and I am employed at KIXEYE in San Francisco.”
What are some of the game titles you’ve worked on in the past and currently?
So, Kixeye is your first game job?
“You will be surprised, but my first game job is at KIXEYE. [Laughs] Before this I used to work in local advertising/marketing agencies north of San Francisco.”
So, how did you make the transition into games?
“So I transitioned into games because it is something I have always had an interest in when I was growing up. I’ve always been a gamer so this is where I have always wanted to be since. When I was in high school I have always wanted to get into graphic design/web design related things. I’ve started at a very young age doing logos, marketing collaterals, and websites for friends and family.”
“I didn’t have any knowledge about doing designs for real clients, but as I read books and learned from other designers, I started to gain more confidence doing work for people.”
That is cool. You started making things for people you knew. Good experience.
“Yeah, at the time I was too shy and I didn’t have any knowledge about doing designs for real clients, but as I read books and learned from other designers, I started to gain more confidence doing work for people. It is funny because I am still shy.” [Laughs]
So, it sounds like you are self taught. Did you go to school to learn more about graphic design?
[Laughs] “Yup, I am self-taught. I went to school for a few semesters, although I enjoyed it, like interacting with other designers/students, I wasn’t really learning anything as I’ve already learned all the design/graphic fundamentals from past experiences. So I pretty much dropped out, and amazingly interned at a marketing agency, and from there I made the decision to work in the gaming industry because you know… GAMES!”
So, how did you get your job at Kixeye?
“You are going to be surprised when I tell you this, I am actually an Undocumented Immigrant who, just to obtain his workers permit, I literally applied for any job I saw.”
Wow, that’s news to me! I’m sure you are not the only person in this situation.
“There are others. When I am currently under a workers permit called ‘DACA’ which stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It was president Obama’s executive order which gave job opportunities for undocumented children who arrived in the US at a very young age and have no knowledge about their immigration status.”
“So when I obtained that, my workers permit, I literally applied for every single design job online: craigslist, monsters, simply hired, you name it. When I was applying, I would always apply at gaming jobs. I would get emails from places like Credit Karma that I would occasionally do contract UI design work, but unfortunately it wasn’t a full-time job and I would only come in when I was needed. So, after about 4 months of doing contract work, I got an email from KIXEYE which I applied for a few weeks received the email. The first email was a phone screening with the recruiter, interviewed with the UI team, and got a job offer a couple of days later!”
That is quite a journey. Some might say the true American dream.
[Laughs] “Seems that way.”
You are User Interface Artist, what does your typical workday entail?
“So, typically when I get to work, I work on the most prioritized feature on the game that I am working on. I create UI Art based on the design spec and wireframes that’s created by product and UX designers. After reviewing them, I create the artwork, lay them out, implement and code them on Flash. I would frequently communicate with engineers to better implement the UI into the game.”
So, you are currently working in Flash?
“Yeah, I am currently working in Flash. It’s not a bad tool.”
War Commander: Rogue Assault, was being developed in Unity, correct? So you have experience in both?
“Oh yeah, that is right. I occasionally switch teams when I am needed. the War Commander: Rogue Assault team needs a bit of extra help sometimes and I would help since I am very experienced with Unity and the UI tool. Yes, I am experienced in both, Flash and Unity.”
“…good knowledge in visual hierarchy, color theory, typography, information architecture, these are some things that will make your designs easily understood and better streamline gameplay.”
As a UI Artist you swoop in to different teams to help out a lot. Seems like the typical role of the UI artist in free to play games. There are many screens to create. As you are working, are there any key programs or plugins that you use? Anything you can’t work without?
“Adobe Photoshop with the TINYPNG plugin which compresses your PNG and JPEG files by 60% to 70% to better improve loading times for games. I use it in every project I am in. I honestly did not know about this until recently. You would think compression would reduce the image quality, while it does, it is hardly noticeable.”
What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
“Ah, well… my most proud accomplishment is finishing my first game! Tome: Immortal Arena, and it is my favorite genre as well: a MOBA, Multiplayer Online Battle Arena. I have worked on Tome since the ground up, and just seeing it shipped was awesome.”
RIP, Tome. You have a bit more experience since Tome. What would you say are key traits or skills one must have to succeed as a UI Artist?
“There’s a lot. But the one trait that I always recommend is learning design fundamentals. Like knowing good knowledge in visual hierarchy, color theory, typography, information architecture, these are some things that will make your designs easily understood and better streamline gameplay. Also, knowing your audience and meeting their needs is also important to bring conveniences to their gaming experience.”
Looking back on your career in games and out, is there anything you would have done differently?
“The one thing that I would have done differently, is learn more about User Experience early. I did not know much about UX until I got a job, and having good knowledge in UX usually improves interface. Things like using a generalized image of an icon so it is more easily understood at first glance; using good feedback when you’re interacting with an element whether it’s presented visually or with sound. Placing UI elements in areas based on common knowledge. I know these are common sense, but sometimes these are forgotten during game development and it is always important to remember them.”
Are there any trends in UI that you have noticed? What sort of things interest you in the space?
“Quite honestly, the trends I’ve noticed is creating UI for VR devices. It’s such a challenge creating UI for VR because the only way you can interact with something is by looking at an element/object. I have played some Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard games, and it amazes me how creative designers can get with the UI. Like, looking directly down, where you will less likely bring up a UI Menu.”
Yeah, I believe Google or Oculus put together a playable demo with best practices. It covered UI. You have to consider distance from the camera and font size. It’s the new frontier.
“Yes it is! I am actually excited to check out other games/applications for the Oculus. Hopefully, I get to work on one someday.” [Smiles]
“Not a lot of UI Artists know how to draw, and I find it often crucial when creating concepts and iconography/framing art.”
How do you stay up on the latest UI trends? Are there websites you follow? Any groups you participate in?
“For staying in the latest UI trends, I pretty much play games/applications that interests me. Like VR games. Usually if there is a game with an interesting UI, I often analyze/study each UI element for long minutes and trying to figure out the design and how it was implemented. As for websites, I used to look at Joystiq, but now I follow designer blogs on a site called Medium and learn from their experiences. People like Julie Zhou, a product design director at Facebook, is the one blog I often read.”
That’s a great set of resources. You do your own research, then learn from the success and failures of others. What is one game that has influenced you the most?
“The one game that influenced me the most is a SNES game called Secret of Mana. It’s the first game that I played with friends on the couch and not online like how most games are now. Playing the games feels a lot more collaborative when you are with friends who are next to you. Rather than trash talking at them via online.” [Laughs]
“I also liked the game because of its very unique user interface that is easily understood, concise, and very simple to navigate. Most SNES menus I’ve played are usually long strings of text, but in Secret of Mana, menus are in an iconography form that you can easily understand. At the time I thought it was a very innovative interface.”
Classic game. I assume you play games to wind down. How do you like to spend your free time?
“Oh god, I knew this was going to be asked. Ok, I spend my free time; I enjoy spending time with my husband, we’re out every weekend just going through spontaneous trips. We do things like going hiking in the east bay and going to the drive-in theater in San Jose.”
“Another thing I do in my free time is searching/looking for Nintendo Amiibo figures and Disney Tsum Tsum plushies. I have a huge collection and it’s growing.”
Nice, I just had to look up what was a Disney Tsum Tsum. Seems like a new type of Beanie Baby.
“Yup! They came out in the US about a year ago? I just started in late 2015 and I’ve been hunting down my favorite Disney Character Tsum Tsum all over. [Laughs] Although I need to stop because it’s draining my wallet!”
What advice would you give to someone trying to become a UI artist?
“The best advice I can give you is learning the graphic design fundamentals and learning how to draw. Not a lot of UI Artists know how to draw, and I find it often crucial when creating concepts and iconography/framing art.”
“Another that I recommend is knowing some basic code, knowing at least a bit of HTML/CSS. This will not only bring convenience with the engineer that you are working with, but it will give you a better understanding how interfaces are structured in the game. Not all UI implementation tools requires knowledge in HTML/CSS but it is always good to know them.”
“Also, do not be afraid to throw away an idea if it interferes with the simple/intuitive interface.”
If you had to describe yourself in one sentence, what would you say? What is your tagline?
[Pauses] “I’m a crazy cat lover.”
Yes, yes you are. Thanks Howard. I’ve really enjoyed this interview. I learned so much about you.
“Thank you! I enjoyed the interview. Thanks for speaking with me.”