Women of Tag Games: Joanna

It’s Friday which marks the end of our blog takeover for International Women's Day. Our last interview is with Joanna Jakubowska our User Interface Designer and Special Edition delegate.


What made you want to work in games?

I really wanted to work in a team orientated, creative field, but stayed really open-minded about what industry it might be. Games have proven an interesting and perhaps unexpected career path as I grew up in an environment where computing and technology were rarely aimed at girls. Back then it was only my brother who got to spend time on our Commodore 64 and Amiga. I remember many holidays when I’d watch him for hours playing games in local arcades, however I was never encouraged to participate. Until University the thought of working in games never crossed my mind, but eventually, it was my female gamer friends that got me interested in this world.

During my university as a part of my theoretical work I looked at different industries: VFX, TV/Film Animation, and Games. When I was writing my report I looked at various aspects of the industries: where are they based, what is a career progression, what hours and wages are like, how teams look like and what sort of creative responsibility and freedom people have in those industries.  For a considerable time, I saw myself going to London and trying out in VFX as a modeler/rigger and I also got into Medical Art MSc (I love anatomy and drawing). However, because of personal and financial reasons, neither options were really viable and with the games industry literally across the road with awesome projects on offer, I decided to gave it a go.

What was your first job and how did you get it?

A few months after graduating, I landed my first job in games as an Environment Artist on a tower defense game called Alien Creeps.  I joined the Alien Creeps team two weeks before looming GDC deadline. Prior to getting this job I worked hard learning about the industry and networking. In my 3rd year of Uni, I started visiting different companies in London, Dublin and locally in Dundee. During my 4th year, I took on the organisation of the University animation degree show. I was very proactive in getting industry visits, talks, and mentorship sessions.  I wanted to make sure that people would recognise me after graduating. I also helped different teams with their final films so my name ended up in lots of credits, I feel that this also helped with being remembered.

What did you study at school/college/uni and how did that impact your career?

In 2013 I graduated from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design with 1st class honors in Animation. Before that, I completed two courses at the Stevenson College in Edinburgh: TV and Broadcast Production and Degree Foundation in Art and Design. In Poland, I studied Philosophy for four years.  I'm now a User Interface Designer. The connection between my education and what I'm doing now is maybe not a straightforward one, but I draw a lot from all of those courses. I guess the main themes I draw from daily are problem-solving, being creative, along with having the ability to constantly learn, study and stay inquisitive. I believe that having a strong foundation in traditional art techniques is a must in any creative industry. Drawing skills, understanding light, color, and composition are very important. Stevenson College was absolutely amazing when it came to drawing, sculpture, photography and digital techniques. All of the College staff were super supportive and it's thanks to them that I'm in here. My animation tutor Walter Mccrorie made me consider studying art and Russell Wallace constantly pushed me to be better at drawing and painting. I owe loads to Pat Imrie who supported DJCAD students and was ready to answer 3D questions at any time of the day :) In 2017 I undertook an online UI design training with Career Foundry and gave me a strong foundation in UI/UX skills.

What has been the highlight of your career/what are you most proud of?

I really enjoyed working on Prison Architect Mobile. I was responsible for the overall look and design of the mobile user interface. The largest challenge by far was to the UI and screen layouts, which needed a lot of work to make them touch-friendly. Screen layouts, buttons, input methods, control system, menu structure - pretty much every aspect of the UI needed to be addressed to create an intuitive and engaging user experience. Some hardcore fans made the new UI mode on Steam from the iPad version and I find that making the fans happy is always the hardest thing to achieve.

What advice would you give others trying to get into the industry?

Work hard and be a team player from day one. People, that you are studying with will be those who most likely will recommend you for work later on.  Be proactive, take part in jams and industry conferences/events, really challenge yourself and network and, I guess, treat every conversation like an interview.  If you an artist always have your art ready to be viewed offline. I remember going to  Eurogamer in London and talking to Creative Assembly team. The internet connection was painfully slow. I somehow after 10 min managed to load my portfolio. Waiting felt like an eternity,  but the conversation was amazing. One of the artists was so helpful and during my fourth year, he would give me regular art critiques. That is another very important thing, seek feedback and learn to take on constructive criticism.

What’s the biggest challenge of working in this industry?

For me, the biggest day to day challenge of working in games is the sedentary nature of work and the amount of screen time. I struggle with repetitive strain injury. I love to move. I'm waiting for the moment when tools like Tilt Brush will be industry standards and will make people stand up from their desks. When you work in games your schedule can get pretty hectic so you really need to mindful of how much exercise you are getting and how healthy your lifestyle is.

In a wider perspective, I think the industry as a whole has a problem with diversity. Working within a male-dominated environment can be challenging at times. I would also love to see more inclusive games.

Joanna has worked on
Angry Birds Action
Prison Architect