UI style development

Martin Darby
UI & UX Consultant

Martin Darby

Martin Darby is a UX and UI consultant who has worked on games for many different devs including Codemasters, Jagex and Jaw Drop Games.

Another week, another Tentacle Zone virtual event for our residents. Last week’s talk covered UI style development, with a touch of UX chat to boot. Our speaker was Martin Darby, an established UX & UI consultant who has worked in games for more than 15 years. 


Martin has lent his experience to some of the biggest names in UK development – the likes of Jagex and Codemasters – so we were thrilled to get his perspective.

Defining UI and UX

Martin started by offering up definitions of UI (user interface) and UX (user experience), and what makes them distinct from one another. 


“[UI is] the screens, menus, buttons – the visual look. UX is more about how it works and it can include things like audio, accessibility concerns and playtesting,” he said. 


Martin went on to talk about why we so often see roles in the industry combine both UI and UX. “Currently in the games industry, most studios are looking for people to do a hybrid role. They want you to be able to do both UI and UX. That’s fine for where we’re at, at the moment, but as games become more feature rich, we’re likely to see specialism increase and the roles divide.”

Abstract UI vs Immersive UI

Martin followed on by discussing abstraction versus immersion. In his mind, this is a great starting point for UI development.


“When you’re making a game, this can be a good thing to think about up front, and be honest about as a team. What are we trying to achieve with the UI? Abstract UI is what we see in most games – buttons, menus etc – the necessary evils for getting to gameplay. Immersive UI is rarer but when it works in certain genres, it really does work well. It’s where the UI is part of the game world and pulls you in.” 


Martin then highlighted Alien: Isolation as an example of effective immersive UI. “The terminals you use, the technology, has that retro futurist 1970s feel to it. That’s been done on purpose to make the game feel more immersive. Even save points feel clunky and physical.”


So, immersive UI can have major benefits to your game, but what are the drawbacks? “Obviously it’s more of a time investment. It takes more commitment,” said Martin.

UI as a career

Towards the end of his talk, Martin shared advice for aspiring UI designers, as well as some tips for hiring managers who are looking to recruit UI specialists.


“When I’ve worked in management, I’ve typically had around 50 CVs a week,” he said. “I can tell you that 90% of those don’t even get shortlisted. It sounds unfair but honestly, it’s because not all candidates are equal. It would be a shame if there were genuinely good candidates who don’t get shortlisted just because they’re not presenting themselves well.” 


To avoid being consigned to the applications dustbin, candidates need to spend time on their portfolio. “The portfolio’s prime directive is to show what you can do for someone else. It shouldn’t be about self indulgence. Other people have problems, they’re going to pay you money to solve them. How do you show them what you can do for them? Answering that question should drive everything about the portfolio and how it’s presented,” he pointed out.


But what makes a great portfolio and why are they especially important for UI specialists? “I can’t believe I have to say this, but I’ve been through so many portfolios that I know that I do – show visuals as fast and easily as possible,” said Martin. “Don’t send through a PDF with a link here and another link here and a website over here. You’re trying to communicate for a UX / UI role that you’re a straight line, logical thinker and someone who knows how to present stuff,” he went on. “You have to go above and beyond.”

Signing off

That’s it from us, thank you for reading, and thank you to Martin for sharing his knowledge and experience. Our virtual events happen (almost!) weekly, and they’re an exclusive benefit of joining our shared workspace in Farringdon, London. Fancy joining us? Check out our workspace page for all the info.