Meet Joanna – NM Spotlight!

19th January 2021

Joanna began her journey with NaturalMotion as a subcontractor before taking on a full time position as a Principal User Interface Artist for the CSR2 Racing team in Birmingham! After studying Philosophy and Animation, Joanna knew she wanted to pursue a career which would allow her to combine her technical skills with her creativity. As someone with a passion for usability and accessibility, it became clear that the gaming industry would be the perfect fit! Joanna has worked on a diverse range of mobile and PC titles as a 3D environment and character artist before joining NaturalMotion! Joanna has really been enjoying her new role at NM; she loves interacting with creative people so that she can continue learning, problem-solving, testing and adapting.

Read on to learn more about Joanna and her Journey with NaturalMotion.

What is your role within NM/BA, and how did you get here?

 I’m Principal User Interface Artist, and I’m a relatively new hire. I have been with the company for just over three months. I had the pleasure of working briefly as a Natural Motion’s subcontractor so I had a bit of a head-start into the company culture and work. 

 Tell us a little bit about your background and what you did before joining NM/BA.

 My educational background is in philosophy and animation. I started in the games industry as a 3D environment and character artist. I have worked on a diverse range of mobile and PC titles from ‘Alien Creeps TD’, ‘Angry Birds Action!’, ‘Gears POP!’ to ‘Total War’. I love side projects, and in the past, I also created motion graphic pieces for the British Council and the Edinburgh International Festival. While leading UI design on ‘Prison Architect Mobile’ I undertook additional UX design training with CareerFoundry in Berlin. Nine months of practical and theoretical studies, working closely with tutors and mentors has given me an insight into web and app development practices and a solid understanding of usability and HCI principles, and helped shape the way I approach UI Design tasks.

 I’m passionate about usability and accessibility. This led me to speak at the European Games UX Summit in France on two occasions in 2018 and 2019. I love this conference. The atmosphere, UX community and content is superb.

 When I’m not sitting behind the desk, I love to move and keep active. I’m a certified Iyengar Yoga teacher and a passionate hill walker. I also love to draw, a significant part of my personal art practise is life drawing. 

 Walk us through your typical day.

 My typical day is usually a mix of meetings in the form of stand-ups, review sessions, catch-ups and a deep focus work when I get to research, design, prototype and implement. User Interface Design is a point in game development that brings loads of disciplines together, from the game, UX and economy design, product management, engineering, to art. Daily, I get to interact with a variety of creative people and solve a variety of visual and functional problems. The structure of my day is usually very predictable, but the content of my work changes from every project and game feature and requires constant learning, problem-solving, testing and adapting. 

 What would someone be surprised to learn about your company or profession? What is a common misconception your industry faces, and what is the reality?

 If I talk to people who don’t actively engage with games, it is usually a surprise that a job like mine even exists! Most of the general public doesn’t realise how big the sector is for the UK and world economy, how big, and complex the projects are and what goes into creating successful games. Gaming is still sadly establishing its place in mainstream culture. Within the industry itself and mainstream media, there are a lot of misconceptions around free to play games. I think one of the biggest misconceptions in games is around who constitutes a “real gamer” and even experienced developers are not immune to this. One of my favourite, eye-opening research initiatives, is ‘Change the Game’ by Google Play which highlighted that 49% of Android game players are women. 

 Do you have any mentors or leaders that have helped or inspired you throughout your career? 

 I have never participated in the official mentorship program. I always found the idea of approaching someone about mentorship quite uncomfortable. However, I took part in the Special Edition by TRC Media – a professional development programme that seeks to help women in the tech sector. It was a great experience where the whole delegate group ultimately became my support and inspiration network. I’ve been fortunate that in my career, I found people that believed in me, supported and gave constructive criticism. Sometimes small things like a link to a conference that you can take part in or coffee catch up when you can openly discuss issues is all it takes. I also think that the best mentor is your team or the person that is next after you in the pipeline. You can learn a lot by listening to what they need. 

 What does it mean to you to be a woman in technology and gaming?

 When I was starting my degree in animation, I had never imagined myself working in games. I’m in debt to my university friend Laura McNaughton (now fellow games artist) for showing me what the games are for her. I like to think that there is nothing special about being a woman and deciding to go that route. I just wanted to have a creative career and the games industry made the most sense for me and my skills at that time in terms of projects, creative output and freedom, career progression and geographical location. Later on, in my career, I started to become aware of the issues around representation and diversity and the things that could be improved in games. But I do not want my gender to determine the way I think about myself and my career.

 What role have men played in your career or what role do you think they can play in women’s career equality?

 I think the dichotomy of the roles that gender plays within our industry is flawed at a fundamental level. Men played both a positive and negative role in my career. I believe putting the whole responsibility for gender inequality on men is incorrect and counterproductive. I very much share Alison Wynn’s (Research Associate at the Stanford VMware Women’s Leadership Innovation Lab) view that the current approach might not be particularly effective. It blames individuals and favours initiatives like unconscious bias training and mentorship programs. It is rooted in the belief that if men can be taught to limit unconscious bias (particularly when making important decisions such as hiring and promotion), and women can be taught to behave more assertively and demonstrate valued skills (through mentorship), then perhaps gender inequalities can be reduced. She claims that those initiatives are a great start and can certainly help, but the organisations should go a step further and recognise the role their policies and culture play in causing inequality. Change agents and leaders (in case of the games industry, mostly men) have a huge role to play in implementing broader recruiting strategies, specific and measurable performance evaluation criteria and transparent procedures for assigning compensation. It’s on the most powerful people in the organization to set the standard for the types of behaviors they want employees to adopt. To give them the skills and feedback they need to practice equality as part of their day-to-day job so that it becomes a fundamental way of working. I believe that the key to achieving equality is addressing problems with structural forms of bias.