What UX designers can learn from video game interfaces

In video games, the user interface is literally everything. It helps create a compelling experience that allows players to immerse themselves in the game. Over the years, games have continued to refine their approach to interface, experimenting and iterating on ways to present vital information to users without breaking their faith in the experience.

Long before I started UX design, I knew all about interfaces because I was used to reading game reviews. And while most web designers and software developers claim that their product is far from being a video game, we still have a lot to learn from them about interface design.

Why video game designers are obsessed with the interface

The interface is an integral part of any game. Game designers need to balance the information displayed in a way that propels the player forward without interfering with the game – too little information can leave players confused, while too much can overwhelm or frustrate them.

From ammo counters in first-person shooters to health indicators in fighting games, the way games display information is important to how players play them. For example, in games of the series Call of Dutyif the player takes too much damage, the edges of his screen become stained with blood, and the player s character suffocates in pain. Other games usually display a health bar at the top or bottom of the screen, but the Call of Duty approach allows players to focus on everything around them, which adds dynamism to the game.

Visual display of damage in Call of Duty

While most websites have very similar interfaces – navigation menus, search bars, breadcrumbs – video games differ in that they create interface elements that truly serve their users.

“Good design, when done well, becomes invisible. We only notice it when it s done poorly. “

Jared Spool

Let s take a look at the three main ways video game designers shape UI trends and how they can be used for web experiences.


Many video games require players to perform various actions through the menu (for example, maintaining their game inventory or upgrading a character). However, instead of simple lists or folders, game developers take pride in creating unique experiences in their menus.

In some RPGs, players can improve their characters using the skill tree, which allows them to follow one or more “branches” in order to “pump” their character in a certain way. While this is a common game mechanic, often depicted as lines connecting skills, in Skyrim, the designers chose to display the tree as constellations in accordance with the game s fantasy theme. While opening their skill tree, the character literally looks up at the sky, which gives additional immersion in the gameplay. While the function of the skill tree remains the same as in any other game, the elegant approach to opening and using it is just one of the many details that make Skyrim stand out from other games.

What UX designers can learn from video game interfaces
Skyrim character skill tree

Points of Interest

Just as a marketing site may want to grab the user s attention with a call to action (CTA) button, game developers often try to grab the player s attention with points of interest (essentially points of interest). A first aid kit lying on the ground is useless for the player if he does not notice it.

Take for example The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Is an addictive open world game in which the player can perform countless actions. For example, hunting, cooking and taming wild horses. The frogs required in some recipes are easy to overlook in the wild unless you re looking for them. However, if you focused on the frog, a small line of text will appear above it.

What UX designers can learn from video game interfaces
An example of hunting frogs in the game The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

If the frogs in the game were too easy to spot, it would not allow players to fully immerse themselves in the game s world. If it was too difficult to find them, it would not be interesting to hunt them. If you had to click on it to see more details, it would quickly get tedious. Immersion in Breath of the Wild depends on whether the interface is where you need it and whether it disappears when you don t need it.

Simplification through customization

Compared to some video games, even the most complex programs look simple. Rather than trying to create a comprehensive solution that works for everyone, sometimes game designers prefer to let players customize the interface.

IN World of Warcraft customizing the interface is an integral part of the game due to its incredible depth and complexity. Players can add many modifications to make it easier to manage the hundreds of things they can do in the game. The game developer encourages them to do this. Many other complex games have similar customization, which allows players to display information in the most convenient way for them.

What UX designers can learn from video game interfaces
Customization in World of Warcraft

What interface designers can learn from video games

Web application and software designers can learn a lot from innovative game interfaces by asking themselves various questions when designing their interfaces.

Does this interface really represent our product? Or is it just an industry standard?

Whether you re helping users find their way or nudging them in a certain direction, you should always consider whether your interface really represents your product.

When the hamburger menu came out in 2009, it quickly became the gold standard for minimalist, mobile-friendly design. However, now that it is being criticized for its awkward UX, some brands have found menus that are better suited to their product. Soundcloud, for example, takes the familiar design of a hamburger menu, flips it on its side, and tilts one strip – it s like a stack of records or CDs. This is perfect for where this icon takes you: to your collection, where you will find your favorite tracks, playlists, and recently played songs. It s like your notes are stacked on a shelf.

What UX designers can learn from video game interfaces
SoundCloud Custom Hamburger Menu (bottom right)

Are there better ways to draw attention to the points of interest we want?

Go beyond coloring and posting your CTAs and ask yourself if there are other UI elements you can use to highlight points of interest.

GoDaddy.com has a traditional center call-to-action button that makes sense because they want to reach out to a wider audience. But for someone who might not be ready to “Get Started for Free,” it s natural to look out for a friendly placeholder message in the search bar that tells people they can just find the domain name they might want. What s more, search provides – by offering clear results and pricing so that users will remember that GoDaddy is the place where they can find domain names quickly.

What UX designers can learn from video game interfaces
GoDaddy.com home page with creative secondary call-to-action in the search bar

Are there any issues with my interface that can be solved by suggesting a custom setting?

Never forget that everyone uses your product differently. Rather than trying to create a universal experience, let your users customize the way they use your product s features.

Adobe products are renowned for their variety of use cases and highly customizable interfaces. InDesign is a powerful publishing software that enables users to organize function shortcuts in the sidebar and group similar labels together. You can simply drag and drop an open function into a sidebar or group and your sidebar can be customized quickly and easily.

What UX designers can learn from video game interfaces
Customizing the InDesign interface

Gamers love interfaces – so do your users

You can often see game reviews, forum posts, and even marketing materialswhich discuss the video game interface. The game s interface is essential for the game to function, as the primary way to navigate and what you look at for hours.

Great interfaces can help users not only use the product, but also enjoy it. Typically, websites and software are designed to help someone accomplish a task, while games are designed to keep someone coming back for more. The gaming industry s decades of experience with user-friendly interfaces have made it a breeding ground for interface innovation that offers many lessons for those looking to learn. Now you have a reason to play video games “for work.”

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