24 May, 2007
I know I haven’t been posting much lately; I’ve been up to my eyeballs in work for the current project I can’t really talk about. Funny how that works.
But, I thought I’d talk about one of the most important design lessons I can impart to anyone. Without this vital aspect, all design fails.
What is it? Simply put, it is an attention to detail.
There’s a few realities that a designer has to face. First, you are not always writing for a willing audience. Sometimes the people reading your documents don’t really want to be reading through them. And, to be honest, they have their own jobs to worry about; wading through your design document is sometimes viewed as an obstacle to getting their job done.
However, as I have said before, your job as a designer is to be a communicator. This means that you have to take the ideas in your head and communicate them to other members of the team. It is important to be clear and concise when you communicate the design to others.
This is where the first lesson in attention to detail really comes in. It’s important to have a consistent, understandable format for your documents. The documents should also be laid out in a way that is easy to read and reference, because the other members of your team will be doing that frequently. The best format includes having a table of contents for the content of your documents to make lookup easier, for example. Use section headers and indentation to make it easy to find information. If you are editing an existing document, make sure that you follow the existing style. It can be very distracting to have a section that is not properly indented when you’re trying to search through a document for information. These little details may sound pedantic, but it’s important to do this well if you want to be an effective designer.
Of course, it is also important to pay attention to the details of the content of your design. Now, I will say from personal experience that you will probably forget some details, but you should really make an effort to think out as many details as you can. Why is this important? Because it is easier to add topics and make changes early in the process rather than later in the process. If you come up with a neat idea at the beginning of the design process, it is easier to see how it fits into the whole system. If you come up with the same idea after many months of implementation, then it becomes harder to fit it in the existing schedule.
It is also vitally important to pay attention to details as you communicate beyond your documents. If you use jargon or other shorthand, make sure you keep a document to define specific terms. Also, make sure you keep track of what you have discussed to other people so that you can give consistent descriptions to everyone. If you tell two different people two different answers to the same question, this will cause confusion sometime in the future. The best way to keep things straight? Update the documents with new information as you communicate it to other people. Updating the documents with new information and changes is important, anyway, so it’s good to get into this habit.
Finally, make sure to pay attention to all the other details in your mind. For example, you can take notes when you have a crazy idea, even if you don’t think it will fit into the current design. Keep a file that you can reference in the future, perhaps when you are designing the first expansion. This is especially important for online games, where expansions and updates are what keep people interested in the game long-term.
I honestly think that this is one of the most important lessons a game designer can learn. Unfortunately, I think it’s also one of the lessons I personally struggle with the most. As I’m working with a larger team, I find that I need to pay more attention to the details. Not that the design will spring fully-formed and perfect from my mind, but I try to make sure to communicate all the details in my head. I also focus on giving a consistent message to people who ask for clarification on the design as it is being formed.
So, if you want to be a world-class designer, focus on improving your attention to detail.