Jen - UI Artist Interview News
Posted July 11, 2016 by Etaew (PC) and viewed 671 times.
In this interview we chat with Jen "Newtboots" a UI Artist on Trove. We find out more about her role, what that involves, what she is responsible for and more.
Shadow Tower Concept
COULD YOU INTRODUCE YOURSELF?
Hey! I’m Jen, otherwise known as NewtBoots (on the rare occasion you catch me lurking in-game). I’m the UI Artist on Trove/resident millennial.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED AT TRION AND THE GAMES INDUSTRY?
I actually went to school for animation, with the original intention of working on animated films. While in school I began an internship at my first game company, in which I created a massive amount of icons for LOTRO. Fast forward half a decade, many blunders and successes, and two game companies later-- here I am at Trion, now a Senior UI Artist.
WHAT RESPONSIBILITIES DO YOU CURRENTLY HAVE, AND HAVE HAD PREVIOUSLY ON TROVE?
I started on Trove as a UI Artist (surprise!), designing skill icons and re-skinning the beta UI—basically work that our former AD, GrumpNTug (remember that guy?), didn’t have time to do. Since then, responsibilities have increased due to a number of factors (time, budget, etc), and my work is now a little more expansive.
I’m still a UI Artist and, to some limited extent, UX designer, combined—sort of a hybrid of two extremely different roles that rely heavily on each other.
What defines the workflow for UI and UX will vary from company to company, but the difference here is this: UX logic handles the research and reason for why a new feature is being added, some prototyping, and layout, while UI design handles the visuals (color, typography, etc.), implementation, and overall feeling of the feature.
To quote designer Craig Morrison: “If we’re talking about delicious cake (and why wouldn’t we be?), UI is the icing, the plates, the flavour, the utensils, and the presentation. UX is the reason we’re serving cake in the first place, and why people would rather eat it than hamburgers.”
I work closely with producers, design and engineering to develop the user interface of Trove—UI is anything you see in the HUD, panels, popup dialog, and iconography (minus the 3D models). My responsibilities include, but are not limited to:
- Establishing a style guide and rules for the visual aspects of the interface, and improving upon older iterations
- Creating wireframes as needed for new features, based on design spec documentation
- Taking wireframes and using them to create high-fidelity mockups in Photoshop
- Importing assets into Flash for layout, animation, and final implementation
- Designing icons
- Rendering out 3D models in Maya for the store
- Giving more senior team members a significant amount of sass
CAN YOU WALK US THROUGH ONE OF YOUR TYPICAL WORKDAYS
Wake up, destroy about three cups of coffee, sit in traffic, get to work and boot up my PC…
Usually I’ll get a barrage of Skype messages and emails with suggestions and feedback on previously implemented assets, coupled with a smattering of tickets for new work assignments.
It really depends on where we are in the development cycle of a project, so that will dictate what my schedule is...although, with the speed of production on Trove, that schedule is subject to change at any given time.
Essentially, here’s what I do:
- For new features—discuss spec documentation with producers, engineering and design. This is usually a bunch of meetings, Skype messages and whiteboard scribbles. A stakeholder in the system (designer or engineer) then creates a wireframe and I tear it apart and make it better (or conversely, I make one, have it torn apart and improved upon by someone else).
- For mid development—create several iterations of mockups in Photoshop, get feedback from the team, and adjust as necessary.
- Later in development—work with our UI engineer to implement the assets from mockup that has been signed off on, and polish existing art. This stage probably involves the most cursing, as we have a very…challenging implementation system.
Throw in a few random assignments of high priority bugs to be squashed, icons to be made, and store assets to be rendered, just to top it off.
WHAT IS INVOLVED WHEN WORKING ON TROVE'S UI?
Well, the short answer is—A WHOLE HELL OF A LOT.
The job of a UI Artist is definitely a balancing act, as there are many demanding points of view to work with. What that entails for my work flow will differ, again, roughly on where we are at in a development cycle and what needs are being met down the pipeline.
The idea is for players to have a great experience, but on top of that—producers want everything to look good, engineers want everything to run smoothly, the company needs to make money—there’s lots of needs to be met.
Here’s a rough idea of what’s needed:
- The ability to work quickly and efficiently and change schedule on the fly.
- A bit of conviction--defending my choices, and knowing when to pick my battles.
- The ability to self-edit and self-direct. We’re a small team of primarily senior people, so everyone does more than just one thing.
- As a UI Artist, one must have empathy toward users. Not everyone’s experience will be the same, and this needs to be taken into consideration. As such, there’s always the need to compromise.
DO YOU WANT TO HIGHLIGHT ANY OF YOUR PREVIOUS TROVE WORK?
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BENEFITS AND CHALLENGES OF WORKING ON TROVE'S UI?
UI is generally a pretty massive undertaking across all MMOs that I’ve worked on or encountered, and Trove is no different.
Let’s start with the benefits:
- It’s a welcome change to my typical art style, which tends to be a bit darker. Trove’s minimalist design forces me to think of ways to communicate visual elements in the clearest manner possible, without relying heavily on excessive decoration and gradients.
- As something of a perfectionist, my work never feels completely finished, though it is certainly satisfying to see a button or icon with previously off-center graphics FINALLY looking pixel-perfect.
- Exploring different tools, creative problem-solving, and learning new methods of production. For example: I’m learning Marmoset and Maya on the job. Rendered 3D assets for the store are occasionally shared with the creative services department (the super talented people that make Trion’s website look nice)—especially new classes and skins—and so it’s not as simple as “take a screen shot and it’s DONE”. They need assets at a much higher resolution for web format, so even though I only need a 189x164 .dds image for store art, the bigger and better version needs to be available at their disposal.
And then there are, of course, the challenges:
- Seeing my work turn out to be “not quite” what it was originally intended to be. The speed at which we produce work on Trove is craaaaaaaazy fast. Sometimes, we need to rush work based on time and budget deadlines, and also deal with some technical limitations. This may result in something less aesthetically appealing (but functioning).
- It’s considered a success when people are quiet about the UI…this means it is working as intended! UI is not the star of the show, and should not be immediately in the way. It is intended to support your experience, sometimes on a subconscious level. Think of branding logos—Nike, Pepsi, Apple, etc—they’re all minimalist designs that don’t scream the name of the item, but the design is recognizable and sticks with your associative memory. In the same way, buttons and icons and visual language need to be understood without a second thought. For example, consider the green bevel on our buttons—these were designed to denote “click this and a thing happens!”; any time that design is not carried through, it’s a confusing user experience (“why can’t I click this thing that should be clickable” or “this is a BUTTON?”). As our game continues to change, maintaining consistent visual language is a challenge.
- UI is immediately criticized at all points at development—everyone is speaking on the perspective of how they use the interface, so they’re not necessarily wrong. But how we react to that feedback may vary. We need to find balance and compromise with critique from people who don’t know what or how we do what we do. In addition to the player base, there’s marketing, design, engineering, producers…I have to defend the art portion of my work while still keeping in mind design and tech limitations or budget. When we make changes, we need to sift through and analyze why people don’t like or don’t prefer something, in addition to finding game-breaking bugs, and determining the best resolution for addressing potential challenges. (Remember the various hotbar iterations? I do!)
- We are a teeny tiny team, and we do what a teeny tiny team is capable of. “Why doesn’t the RIFT guy do A/B/C?” Because the RIFT people are hard at work on RIFT things, and the Trove UI team is just myself and one engineer. There are plenty of things we would love to add but just don’t have the time, tech, or heads for, even if we were to never ever sleep.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR PRIORITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT TO TROVE'S UI? ANYTHING COMING UP YOU WANT TO HINT AT?
We are painfully aware that our UI ALWAYS has room for improvement. What we can and will accomplish depends on internal goals, time, and budget.
My biggest goals for right now are cleaning up anything that doesn’t currently work or could be better, over adding additional features:
- CHAT TABS! These would be great to have, and yes, planned to go in soon…the art has been made, but the technical work behind our chat system is extremely complex and needs more time; on top of that, we have had to prioritize other features.
- Bringing back the style to be simple, consistent, and flow elegantly. Personally, I’d like everything to have a similar feel to the leaderboards UI.
- A more sensible user flow, across all aspects of interface interaction (especially Collections).
What will actually happen is a much bigger discussion that involves other team members, although we all shoot toward the common goal of making Trove more enjoyable and a much better experience for our players.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE KNOWN BY ANY OTHER NAME?
I have so many nicknames outside of the office. Feel free to pick one! Among the possibilities are:
- Fire Queen (a hair color reference)
- Wednesday Adams (smiles cramp my style)
- JenKen (people like to rhyme)
- Janeane (I have been unable to shake the Janeane Garofalo comparison for the past decade)
Seriously though, “Jen” or “NewtBoots” is fine.
OUTSIDE OF WORK WHAT DO YOU GET UP TO?
I’m into healthy cooking, exercise, sketching, collecting more comic books than I can feasibly catch up with (primarily the Spawn series), finding weird and old art and animation, and hanging out with my lazy cats and lovely fiancé. I also like to dabble in FX makeup when time allows and wish Halloween happened multiple times per year.
WHICH CLASS DO YOU HAVE THE MOST AFFINITY WITH?
I’m pretty terrible with anything that isn’t a sword-wielding melee class, so I guess Neon Ninja. Tomb Raiser is pretty cool too—gotta love that necromancy.
WHICH BIOME IS YOUR HOME AWAY FROM HOME?
I love the color palettes of Cursed Vale and Neon City, so probably one of those.
Please let us know what you thought about this interview if you have any other questions about the UI Artist role, or what you think about the UI in general.
- One random commenter will receive a Trove Pack of their choice, drawn Monday, June 20.
- Comments must be on topic, and you can only enter once
- The winner will be notified using the Trovesaurus Mail system
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