I wanted to write this article largely because this has been something I have been more mindful of recently, its has really changed how I approach design. I am not sure whether this will be clearly transferable to all designers, whether this is dependent on some level of experience for example. I recently subscribed to a new youtube channel, Game Whispering, by Alexandre Mandryka, which really started to make me think about this topic. So much so that I began to analyze my own method and approach towards design, which ultimately is the topic of this article. I would like to explore this self-reflection and hopefully provide something interesting to think about the next time you sit down to tackle a design challenge.
Alexandre Mandryka highlights the depth of detail in the design of Halo, illustrating how the designers intentionally created a very interesting decision loop for the player. In short, the designers prevented the player from being able to kill an opposing player with just a gun so that they could encourage the use of either melee combat or abilities such as grenades. What this does is create an interesting loop whereby the player has to both weigh the risks of their decisions but more importantly understand when to choose each method of recourse. This dynamic also serves to keep the game feeling new, as players are not always simply running around shooting aimlessly like drones; they are forced to continually analyze their environment and opponents. Alexandre has a few other videos posted on his channel, I highly recommend giving them a view.
This really hit home with me, it really made me question my own decisions and whether I designed with the same level of intent as displayed within Halo. I began to conceptualize this concept into my methods, viewing design intent as the goals and purpose your design is meant to achieve. More than this, it forces you to ask yourself why you are making said decision and whether that fits to further your goal. I did some reflection on some of my past decisions and began to realize that in some instances the path I choose to take was not necessarily the right one.
I find that defining and communicating my design intent early is critical to myself and those that I work with. Its extremely difficult to provide feedback as a designer if you are unclear what someone is trying to achieve. By knowing the intent of the decision, it lends itself to being criticized based on whether the intent is achieved, whether the results of the intent are positive to the game, and whether the method of achieving the intent was the best approach. Maybe this is something that all other designers figured out pretty early on in their careers, but for me it took a bit more time. I was able to look back and realize why at times I struggled to provide other designers with meaningful feedback. It was not because I had trouble thinking critically and analyzing the work in front of me. Instead, it was simply because I did not clearly understand their intent.
I really cannot stress the important of communicating these intents throughout the design team. I find this information is often tucked away in someone else’s mind, which is not a good process. Really push to make your intent known, not only does this lends itself to better feedback, it provides you and others around you the opportunity to question whether the intent was the right one. If the execution of your intent does not work out, do not be afraid to question the validity of the intent. This is a very challenging thing to do, especially if you become invested in what you are doing. Sometime things just do not work out after and it often becomes an act of humility to be able to step back and realize this.
Design intent encompasses the purpose or goal of your design. It is so important to know why a design decision is being made, make sure to define your intents early so each decision can be weighed against it. Try not to forget to share this intent throughout the team, so they can properly criticize the work and provide meaningful feedback on your work. Finally, do not be afraid to question the validity of your intent if the results of your execution are not what you want.