SCIFI User Interface Designer Lukasz Wieczorek
Posted on September 23, 2013 by lukasz on UI, UX

How HCD can help video game design


We will be exploring the HCD method, which stands for human centered design. Not sure if HCD was meant to mimic Hear, Create, Deliver, but I would imagine this was very intentional. HCD in game design is something I have been thinking about a lot lately because when I am trying to relax I will pop open some video games for an hour or two. I am constantly thinking about the UI in these games and how they can improve.  One of my biggest beefs about video game design is that the user is not the focus, the content is. Here we are going to focus on a simple concept. Come up with a more efficient in game inventory system. Here is what I imagine the process goes like…

UX astronaut Ug, UX Astronaut…who let you in. UX Astronaut usually has good suggestions, but not this time… Here is what happens:

  1. We have a crap ton of content
  2. Put it in groups/categories
  3. Slap a UI on it

Mission accomplished right? Nope. Really all we have done is organized their content for them a little bit. We haven’t thought about how they use the inventory, what if people use the 3rd row for a specific trait build they have, then 4th for all their food. This tells us something about the user and how we might organize the content in a way that would help them play the game. But at this point we also have none of these metrics, how often do they use it, or for what reason? Lots of things we have missed and we haven’t even scratched the surface. See where we are going? In the next few steps we will help uncover a lot of these habits the user might have.

You can clearly see that not a lot of thought is put into most inventory systems. Our example earlier is a oversimplification, but just stay with me. What we really should start with, wait, what was that, the User? BINGO. Some concepts you might uncover are how the user uses the interface. Maybe even what the user needs that they might not know they need. Does the user perform actions with items that should be automatic?  Let’s take a look at how IDEO might approaches this concept.

The break down

Before we get started its good idea to set some criteria:

  1. Set a deadline
  2. Stay broad, don’t just stick to your style of game
  3. No ideas are bad ideas, remember that throughout the entire process. Sometimes the “bad” ones bring on really great ideas.

hear First we need to Identify a design Challenge. Lets come up with a few ideas:

  1. Design an effective inventory system
  2. Define why gamers stop playing MMOs

Earlier in the article we already decided, examples above are just to show you can start with a few challenges. Then through some deliberating and maybe some paper, scissor, rock you can choose one to pursue. Lets continue, but remember sometimes we ask the wrong questions or phrase the questions in a way that isn’t as productive. So Lets try to elaborate on the simple idea:

How can we deliver a system of organization that is quick to understand and flows with what the user is already doing in context to the gameplay.

Ah, much better. Moving on… This section is based on research and gathering, hence hearing. It will identify what you want to achieve and gather feedback from users. One way to research is qualitative research, as opposed to quantitative research. Both are valid, but lets look at why IDEO feels qualitative research is important:

Qualitative research methods enable the design team to develop deep empathy for people they are designing for, to question assumptions, and to inspire new solutions. At the early stages of the process, research is generative — used to inspire imagination and inform intuition about new opportunities and ideas. In later phases, these methods can be evaluative—used to learn quickly about people’s response to ideas  and proposed solutions. -IDEO pg 43

This will help validate how we want to approach the problem and give us insights we might not have had before. It’s time to get the sticky notes out. No, really, do it. It might sound like a load of crap, but I have seen this work magic. People have a blast doing it too, you might get some initial resistance but people will give, promise. When you finish the next two steps put them on a wall/whiteboard/some paper (if you need to transfer them). Ok, these sticky notes are getting heavy… what do you want me to do with them?

Identify what you already know.

Identify what you already know about inventory systems. If you have been working in the industry a while, you probably already know a lot about it, why not use it? There are a ton of inventory systems out there, what do people like/dislike about them? Do you have metrics or heat maps of your own existing inventory systems?

Identify what you might want to know

Try to identify areas where you could know more about the users needs. Are they posting on forums? This is a great place to find out what users need. Are you getting complaints about an existing UI? Try to dive deeper into why people are complaining. Are they just used to a type of UI or is the UX simply just bad? Remember, just because a few users complain a lot doesn’t mean they are experts, they might just have the biggest voice, there might be other reasons they are complaining which don’t actually merit change.

Seek Inspiration

Another way that IDEO suggests to research is to seek inspiration in new places (pg. 57) . Try to find context in different place, what if we looked in your tool box or your art supplies, how do you organize them, why are they organized this way? create

Ok, the fun and sometimes very frustrating part. Start to formulating some basic ideas.



Now you get to create and generate ideas. Remember to keep generating, no idea is a bad idea and the more you come up with the better chance you have at coming up with a viable solution. Stay broad and use knowledge from previous exercises here. What did you learn in your research? Make sure you are referencing it here.

Create a framework

These will help you organize your ideas and more importantly, explain them to others. If people understand where you are coming from they will be able to give you better feedback as well as tell you where you can improve. How many times have you been in a situation where you try to explain an idea and people are not following? Having a presentation method will help you avoid this situation.

Start Sketching

This is the part where you might have to generate 100+ ideas at times.Always always always start on paper, I cannot reenforce how important it is, even if you are terrible at drawing START ON PAPER. Make sure you use the insights from previous sections to help you build a product that is still revolving around the user.


My focus for this page was enabling the user to differentiate items at a glance. When you are playing sometimes you are auto running and have only a few seconds to look at your inventory, so like a car dashboard, sometimes you have to be able to just glance at the inventory and instantly know where you want to look. How can we achieve this? Here I listed just a few ways: Color, Item POV (point of view), Shape. What are some others that might be good to use?

sketch2 If you aren’t great at first, you will get better over time I promise. Just keep at it, and look at others sketch books, eventually you will come up with your own style.

I had a mentor that would always say “Don’t fall in love with your babies.” A bit dramatic, I know–but very true. At this stage of sketching you should come up with lots of ideas and never fall in love with the first one. Keep going because the best ideas are around the last 25%.


One approach IDEO suggests is a co-design approach (p.84) This is nothing new, we have seen feedback systems in play a lot in the the interface world. Being able to design with the people that will actually be using the product is extremely helpful. Being able to navigate what opinions are valid and what aren’t takes experience as well as a good system.

Share Stories

IDEO also continues in saying that sharing stories is a great way to inspire ideas. Gather some insight into how people are frustrated with the inventory. What was one time that they really were surprised and delighted by an inventory system. Maybe sharing stories isn’t verbal at all, maybe its aesthetic. Have people take pictures of their inventory and just observe how they organize it.

Identify Patterns

Where are the items in the inventory being used? Do these places have similar themes/colors/foley sounds? Sometimes looking at the broad connections helps you realize how to navigate a system efficiently.


It’s time to realize the ideas. Here is where you start making. There are great opportunities to do paper prototypes here, try it out.  There are great apps like pop and invision that you can use for this part of the process as well.


The last stage is where you will start building working prototypes. These can be done in whatever way is most comfortable to you. There are great tools for collaboration like noflo. You will eventually feel out what is best for your team.

Remember to keep things viable, if your game is trying to make a profit (I hope so!) and you want to earn a living from your hard work then make sure you keep in mind how you will make money as you build. Is there a macro payment system? Is it donation based? Being payed to put great content out there is not a bad idea and doesn’t make you greedy. People should pay for your hard work.

Plan Implementation

Set some road marks for when you plan on finishing parts up. Sometimes in the world of application/games you have to deploy in stages. If you need something up and running right away you can come up with minimum viable solution and implement that. Make sure your stages line up with end goal and that it wont be entirely reworking the idea, there is always reusable content and ways to work towards an end goal without restarting. In an ideal world you would just implement that best solution right away, and iterate from there. However, as I’ve seen in a lot of projects this isn’t always possible due to budgets, release dates, etc.


This article is by no means meant to be an exhaustive resource, its only here to introduce the idea and get you excited about HCD. There is a lot more to it. If you would like to read further check out books like Sketching User Experiences or the Human Centered Design Toolkit, which is referenced in this article. There are also great videos, including interviews with the pioneer of HCD, Don Norman. If you have other good resources, post them in the comments!

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    October 17, 2013 at 1:25 am

    really interesting take on this subject, never really seen it approached this way. Thanks for sharing!

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