2017 in Review

When I started this blog I had a goal to write regularly, but building a habit can be challenging to design. I'm hoping to create that habit this year as I reflect on what I've done in 2017.

2017 in Numbers

3 books - one of my goals in 2017 came much later in the year and was inspired by my job. My boss asked me to lead a book club for our team, and that got me thinking about all the books that I've wanted to read and what I could do to grow as a UX designer. 

These were the books I read: 

  • Hooked by Nir Eyal - this was for my team's UX club, and it's one that I've reached for in regularly since I've read it. Hooked is about how habits are formed and what designers can do to get their products to become a habit. There were a lot of game examples that I enjoyed, such as Zynga's Farmville; the variable rewards come in the 'produce' grown and the investment with deliberate timers to stop the players from progressing too far in one shot and brings them back to invest more time. What I really appreciated about it was the warning about using our powers as designers for good when creating products for users
  • Playful Design by John Ferrara - I've had this book sitting in my digital collection for a while and I wish I had read it before I started my master's thesis. This book had great anecdotes and examples for balancing game design and UX, and the tips about playtesting helped me evaluate my own practices and think about where UX research practices could be effective in testing games. It was written before the rise of XR, but it has some good ideas that I want to pull into my practices.
  • VR UX: Learn VR UX, Storytelling & Design by Casey Fictum - if you want a primer on VR and tips for thinking how to design for it, this was a great and fast read. It goes over the landscape of options in the VR space and how that could affect design as well as 3D design tips such as how to reduce motion sickness. 

2 conferences - I got to attend two conferences last year, both of which were full of great content and left me feeling inspired. 

  • The Games UX Summit - I was so excited when the first one was announced... only to discover it was right when I was presenting my thesis project. So you can imagine how thrilled I to hear they were doing an extended one in Toronto (if you follow me on Twitter you definitely saw my excitement). I wrote up a summary of some of the key things I learned here.
  • Oculus 4 - I was so fortunate to win a ticket to OC4 from SH//FT, an organization that supports diversity in the AR/VR industry. I met a lot of incredible women who are doing some amazing work in the space and learned first hand from creators about the challenges of designing systems and experiences in 3D space. 

2 game designers collaborated with- this is the thing that I am most proud to have been a part of. I had the chance to work with some friends on their games on the side as I was settling into my job, and it stretched my skills in different ways. I'll do a longer piece about my experiences here, but I learned so much from it and hope to do more work like that in the future: 

  • But Not Tonight, Clio Davis - Clio is one of the people responsible for getting me into games, and she's an incredible game designer who has games from tabletop to escape rooms. She created an RPG for a contest, and I offered to run a playtest for her to get practice my playtesting skills and also think about how to set up a play test and recruit testers. It was a nice way to mash up games and design thinking and pushed my approaches to testing in general as well as running a game. 
  • Feast, Sharang Biswas - like Clio, Sharang is another person who encouraged me to get into games. When he calls I know that I'm in for an interesting experience, so when he asked me to do the print work for a game he had made I immediately said yes despite my lack of experience in doing graphic and print design. We talked about everything from moods and fonts to content and wording, and collaborating with Sharang was one of the easiest things to do. Feast went on to win the Dark Horse award at IndieCade last year and has gone on to do amazing things, and I'm so proud to have been a part of it.

Lessons from 2017

2017 for me was a balancing act. I moved back to Chicago from New York, started my first agency job, and tried to figure out what I wanted to do with my career and how to balance my creative interests. There are many small lessons I took away, but the big one of the year was to take a few risks.

Why not try something I hadn't done before? Sure, I hadn't done print work or an in depth play test. But even with all the generic advice about taking risks, it didn't really hit home until I was staring at a screen analyzing font choices or copy for Feast. Nothing I did was 100% error free - in my playtest for Clio I realized how underprepared I was for the role of running the game. But having those experiences left me with something new to add to my design practices, something that wouldn't have happened if I said no.

The same approach paid off a little with meeting people too - when I was in Toronto for the Games UX Summit, my first instinct was to keep to myself. Approaching people is not easy for me, but I came to Toronto wanting to learn from people in the games UX field. Since that requires using my words and making the first move sometimes, I decided to test my boundaries.

It was completely worth it. I met some amazing people who still boggle my mind with that they've done and who I'll hopefully run into again someday.

So professionally and personally, I'm hoping to push myself to try new things. Will I still be sweating bullets? Absolutely, but I hope they'll pay off as much as the chances I took in the last year.

Goals for 2018

Learn something new daily - It seems pretty generic, but if I plan to grow as a UX designer and a games UX designer there's a lot of ground to cover. I already have a long list of books related to games and design to dig through this year, and I've started digging into this guide to get back into some development and learn Unity. 

Collaborate with more people - I loved working with Clio and Sharang on their games, and while I would certainly like to do my own game work (my thesis notebook is currently sitting on my shelf begging me to pick it back up) collaboration has been a big motivator for me to do something new.

I'm hopeful for what 2018 will shape up to be, and if it goes according to plan this year will be the year where I actually document it more thoroughly.

I can't wait to see what's next.