This year’s Level Up Showcase will open at Toronto’s Design Exchange late tomorrow afternoon and close the same evening. For student game designers and developers at Ontario’s colleges and universities, it’s a day of excitement as they exhibit their teamwork to the public at large. Most of them are under 24, looking for jobs upon graduation and tasting their first project (or good prototype) launch.
For any professional who delivers — or depends on – a unique User Experience, it’s a chance to kick any creative exhaustion or a tendency to become jaded to the curb. If you’re in downtown Toronto, it’s worth wading into the crowds.
Here’s what I learned from the kids last year:
As a research contractor at Brock University for ONCAT, I was helping to build a taxonomy-driven prototype that broke down and analyzed data into its most molecular pieces, and then reassembled those pieces into program profiles. The prototype was ultimately a tool for post-secondary school administrators and faculty, but to be truly useful it had to be driven by an understanding of the students themselves along with their experience, their needs and their ambitions. As a researcher, Level Up presented me with the opportunity to see this audience at their best.
More generally, students presenting their work at showcases like Level Up are just meeting their audiences and dealing with all the surprises that entails. Hardened UX professionals working on delivering highly-specialized experiences to carefully defined audiences need to find ways to invite that wide-eyed surprise and keep the learning happening.
In many game education programs, students have to self-select their areas of specialization and courses of study. A designer might gain a basic understanding of programming, or vice versa, but defining their identities on their production teams is a process that will impact their future goals and careers.
The professionals these students encounter at Level Up know that the process of defining and re-defining roles on teams never stops…but, do we forget to try something new? Do we push ourselves, and each other, out of comfort zones? Doesn’t the iterative nature of UX demand that we reinvigorate our collaborative processes and roles on a regular basis? UX is never settled. It’s serious business.
UX is also fun. At least, it’s supposed to be. One of the highlights of Level Up is getting to play games created with the best toys in the lab. Motion sensors, VR devices and wearable tech might all find their first application in games, but it is never long before those tools find their way into other fields. A little time in the playground, a little free play in a game you’ve never seen before, gets the imagination rolling again. That’s what keeps UX developing. The kids are alright for reminding us of that.
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