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How to Design Great Game UI

How to Design Great Game UI

Looking for a blueprint that breaks down how to design a great game user interface (UI)?

Today, the billion-dollar market value of the video game industry continues to project even greater growth in the years to come. In such a potentially profitable market, the businesses that craft winning game designs are those that will have an edge over their competitors and maximize their chances to secure a larger profit margin in the industry. 

Due to the importance of design in augmenting a business’ chances to succeed in their game project, the process surrounding which game design interfacing is addressed, conceptualized, and subsequently executed becomes a crucial element in the entire project strategy. Failure to nail the UI design process can either spell disaster for your project when done incorrectly, or it can signify a grand victory when orchestrated correctly.

The design process of an all-round stellar game UI has to be founded on a solid strategy while simultaneously striking the balance between sound technical engineering and a careful selection of UI components that make your game stand out in the crowd.

The Importance of Vision In Game Design

In order for a game project to have an acceptable margin of success during the design process, it must stem from a central idea that guides a design team throughout the various phases of its development. 

This central idea usually takes the shape of a well-defined game vision that articulates the purpose and objective of the game project, both of which can then be summarized into a visionary statement. 

In much the same way that a thesis statement guides the development of an academic paper, so too does the vision statement act as a point of reference throughout the entire design phase, directing the actions and tasks carried out towards a common, unifying goal. 

When a game vision that describes the overarching goal of the project is not established, it makes it difficult for a team to focus their efforts on targeting the problem to be solved, thus increasing the chances of poor productivity and an overall lag in your project’s completion.

Therefore, a decision must be made which pre-conditions the type of design choices that should be adopted. 

The Must-Haves In Game Design Vision

There are several key elements that should be taken into account when drawing up a clear and concise game design vision. These include:

  • Storyline: Some video games utilize the real-world concept of narration to enhance the experience of the gamer while playing. In doing so, the game design serves to immerse the user in a game world where they feel connected, engaged, and involved in the events which unfold throughout the game. This, in turn, helps to bridge the gap between fiction and reality as it forces the player to live the experiences, pains, and emotions of the gaming characters. Video game narratives can be represented either via video (and dialogue), animations, or a combination of both.
  • Gameplay elements: Similar to web design, the sky’s the limit when it comes to the kind of game you can develop. For this reason, it is crucial that the game design vision makes reference to the type of gameplay that the corresponding design should mimic. For example, cooperative gameplay in which one gamer’s experience hinges on the live participation of another party will undoubtedly condition the type of design conceptualized. Similarly, twitch gameplay which emphasizes precision and reaction times in a gamer’s input may require a shift in design elements.
  • Feelings and emotions: A huge component to the experience of playing a video game centers around the emotion and feelings it invokes in the minds and hearts of the player. While the result, score, or outcome of the video game undoubtedly plays a huge role in the player’s overall mood, the diegetic music, graphic designs, game art, colors, images, and animations also contribute to building an ambiance and feeling that goes hand-in-hand with the storyline.

Once the above factors are articulated in the game vision, greater focus can be placed on crafting a design that coincides with the overall goals of the project. 

The Fundamentals of Game Design Strategy

While establishing a clear and concise vision surrounding the creation of your game design is important, it is also equally as important to develop a well-founded strategy. Said strategy encapsulates other disciplines and concepts related to both game design and overall business development which will form the basis of your project and contribute to its success.

Let’s take a closer look at these elements: 

Product Research

When conceptualizing the layout and functionalities of an attractive game design, a recommended starting point is to gather information surrounding your product that may be useful in the design process.

An example of this is to conduct some research on video games that share the same or similar niche market as yours. These may constitute direct competing video games that feature very similar gameplay and narratives as your own game design.

For example, hypothetically speaking, if hand-to-hand combat between two live players is a central element to your gameplay, then the logical thing to do would be to examine some of the most popular video games which resemble this design pattern.

fighting sequence game

Credits: Youtube

If, however, the slant your vision has taken is more centered on a single-player adventure mode gameplay where powerful narratives and immersive experiences are more of a priority (role-playing video games or RPGs), then you would turn your attention to similar games which have performed well on the market.

action in RPG game

Credits: KeenGamer

In all cases, careful analysis must be done of the competing games’ graphics, storyline, animations, use of color, placement of heads-up display (HUD) such as health bars, pop-up frequency, and sound effects in order to spot possible flaws which you can capitalize on in your own game design. Similarly, you may also take note of strong game assets that you may elect to incorporate in your UI design, adding your own touch to make it unique to your product.

User Research

User research constitutes yet another significant aspect of a solid game design UI. It involves studying the habits, behaviors, status, environmental, and characteristics of your target audience in order to tailor your video game to their specific needs. 

Doing so increases the margin for the success of your video game by ensuring that it aligns with your gamers’ expectations and needs. 

One of the most common ways to organize this information is by way of a buyer persona. This is the creation of a fictional character that embodies the characteristics and profile of different segments of your target audience.

biography example

Credits: IndieGameGirl

By clearly outlining the key characteristics which make up your target audience, you are better able to make key design decisions that match their wants, needs, and desires.

Open Innovation As a Design Strategy

At a time where iterations form the basis of continued product renewal and improvement, it is not uncommon for gaming businesses to use open innovation as a tool to pull in UI/UX insight that’ll assist in bettering a video game.

In open innovation, gamers are invited to contribute to the UI/UX design process by way of an ‘open alpha’ version which is constructed for live usability testing. There, the gamers actively participate in the design phase either by way of offering suggestions, comments, and even tweaking UI elements in real-time.

open alpha

Credits: NIST

While this strategy may not be applicable to all types of video games, it is worthwhile to consider incorporating some type of direct user involvement during the design process. That way, you stand a better chance of conceptualizing a gaming product that has your target audience’s stamp of approval.

The Best UI Practices of Stellar Games

Once you have doubled down on a strategy that you believe will contribute to your game’s success and come up with a solid idea, the time has come to begin the most time-consuming part of the process: design.

While the exact activities carried out in this project will vary based on your gaming project, this phase typically involves the construction of complex animations, graphics, and color scheming to add life to chosen story narratives and create a realistic version of what the game will look like post-development.

Since design is a highly creative process that prioritizes user accessibility and experience, there is no formula for a winning design. However, there are a series of best practices and hot trends that you ought to consider incorporating in your design.

Vibrant & Contrasting Designs

Video games are by their very nature visual interfaces. One of the best ways to maximize the impact of visual appeal is to juxtapose bright and dark color patterns in animations or graphics. 

In order to qualify the potential of this design trend, let us take a look at Voodoo’s Helix Jump.

Voodoo's helix jump

Credits: Steemit

This Android/iOS mobile game UI embodies this trend. It contrasts two colors on the pieces of brick that are featured on different levels. What’s more, as the ball descends and hits a brick, it changes color along with the smashed object. 

Interestingly enough, the mobile app video game features more than one color scheme, as is seen below.

game animation example

Credits: TopGames

The constant juxtaposition between colors makes for a vibrant user experience that keeps the gamer on their toes since the layout is constantly subject to change. This has a positive effect on their overall engagement with the game, thus earning your design some points.

Shading & Tones To Capture Emotions

As mentioned previously, determining the emotions and overall mood you want your video game to evoke is crucial to the success of your project. 

While music does have a powerful way to set the tone and ambiance while playing video games, color and imagery can have just as much of an impact.

video game color contrasts

Credits: Insight Hub

Monument Valley is a mobile puzzle game application that utilizes imagery and color to summon emotions and feelings through video games. 

This is done through deep shading, overlays, and careful tone blending, oftentimes mixing colors to create hues that, when combined with the gaming experience, help to create certain emotions.

Comprehensive Narratives

While this does not apply to all video games, those which do feature story modes as a central element to their gaming experience should not be sold short.

When crafting a winning narrative, the graphics and animations are not enough. Instead, colors, tones, background music, character story depth, and dialogue are all significant elements that work together to draw the gamer into a completely immersive experience.

game action example

Credit: Youtube

In the example above, a still screenshot from an animated Mortal Kombat 11 scene is depicted where two characters are engaged in dialogue. 

The language used in the dialogue (indicated by subtitles) features language that generates emotion, conflict, and rage, mirroring the notion of battle which is present throughout the game and drawing the gamer even more into the storyline.

These are just a select few UI design practices which you ought to consider adopting. 

Once the design is fleshed out by way of a design tool such as Sketchup or Augment (for augmented reality (AR) video gaming experience), a design document is then created which compiles all the plans, templates, mockups, art directions, graphics, and other design ideas conceptualized. 

This document is then passed on to game developers who then bring the design to life.

It is highly recommended to document the various phases of design during the design workflow and not wait until the process is complete to begin documentation.

Deciding Who Should Design Your Game UI

Video game UI design is not a bed of roses.

It is a highly complex field that requires the absolute best strategic and technical skills if you want to have a solid chance at success. After all, the video game market is known to be unforgiving if the product’s design is not up to par. 

There is only one question: who should you choose to design your game UI? 

The natural assumption is to hire a videogame designer via a freelance platform or job board. 

After all, these service providers typically charge you roughly $15 or $20 an hour. With video game development being such a time-consuming venture, to some, it makes sense to go down that route and save on the video game budget as best as you possibly can.

However, this is where most businesses make a fatal error. 

To illustrate this, let us take a look at the facts.

To start with, video game design demands a combination of visionary prowess, intense strategic research, and planning, as well as expert analytical skills to create a base upon which the game design can be crafted to maximize its impact on the market. To be concrete, market and user research are key areas within the game design strategy, so much so that one false conclusion or misdiagnosis can send you down the road to failure.

Then, taking the insights, strategic planning, and vision statement to the conceptualization and design processes respectively and crafting a compelling path to your goal is a Herculean task. This does not even include the challenges related to project management, ensuring transparency throughout the entire game UI design lifecycle, all while engendering accountability. 

To top it all off, it also involves the need to be current with the latest trends and tendencies in game UI design, all while balancing trends with standard UI game design, color schemes, pixel quality, and animation sequences to ensure that you are building attractive-yet-functional immersive experiences for gamers. 

The Challenge of Hiring Freelancers

In light of all the complex tasks, activities, and responsibilities associated with game UI design, it is extremely risky to entrust your project to a freelancer simply because of cost.

Firstly, in most cases, the freelancers and service providers who flood these online platforms have not done any test or evaluation to measure and confirm their skills in game design. 

Usually, it is up to you the recruiter to handle all quality control and onboarding challenges. In other words, you as the employer have to gauge how credible the designer is based on either their qualifications or portfolio. At a time where illegitimate professionals lurk at every corner falsifying documents, you don’t want to fall into the trap of hiring a phony.

Then, even if you do source a decent game designer via those platforms, they may have the technical skills but lack the necessary project management skills needed to ensure your design process is a success. These include adhering to the timeliness, having the necessary software support, and more. 

In short, low cost doesn’t equate to a smarter decision. You should never cut corners in video game design.

Instead, it is always wiser to invest more in securing high-quality professionals who will help guide your project to success.

If you want to land a great game UI for your project, you need to partner with the right pros.

Here’s how.

Hire Top Game UI Designers With DevTeam.Space

DevTeam.Space is a members-only vetted community of expert software professionals. Our members help companies all across the world secure the talent they need to take their software projects to the next level. Among our members, our game UI designers represent the best of the best available, leveraging their skills to create compelling designs that match business objectives. 

The game designers who bear our DevTeam.Space stamp of approval have all been carefully selected based on their skills, expertise, and drive to continue delivering top-quality software designs for partnering businesses. 

Apart from their track record of excellence, our professionals are bolstered by an agile AI algorithm that simplifies the challenges of project management:

  • Gain access to weekly reports and daily work overviews that recap tasks, activities, and achievements throughout your project. 
  • Generate milestones and keep track of them as they are completed by the software design team.
  • Get an overview of the progress of your project so you can plan ahead.

No matter your game design project, our designers are up for the challenge. Fuel your next game project with true experts in game UI design. 

Final Thoughts

From this tutorial, you’ve learned just how complex it is to design a great game UI. 

Don’t make the mistake of hiring a freelancer.

Collaborate with real design experts at DevTeam.Space. 

It only takes a few minutes to complete our DevTeam.Space questionnaire

Once you do, one of our account managers will reach out to you as soon as possible.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR CHALLENGE & GET A FREE DISCOVERY SESSION

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