Monument Valley’s Lea Schönfelder on designing within constraints

When we look at our phone screens, we typically aren’t thinking about the borders.  We don’t notice the edges of our phones and how those boundaries limit our experience. It’s no wonder Apple’s crowning achievement for the iPhone X was adding a teeeeny bit of space to the edge of the phone. But that little frame for designers is everything. Things you could do on a giant 4K screen in your living room, you simply can’t do on your mobile phone. ustwo games knows these boundaries intimately. They are a mobile games design studio housed inside of a larger global digital product studio called ustwo. The design shop ustwo is based in London and was initially known for their client work for folks like Google, Ford, Samsung and more.

So when they started ustwo games six years ago, there was already a lot of accrued internal knowledge about how to work with small screens. ustwo games’ Monument Valley was a smash hit for a few reasons. It’s delightfully colored. It uses space in a novel way. And most importantly, it’s simple! That’s not a pejorative. It’s very easy to understand almost immediately. In Monument Valley, you’re a silent princess on a quest for forgiveness. In Monument Valley 2, you play as a mother and daughter on an adventure together. We spoke to Lea Schönfelder, a game designer on Monument Valley 2, about the differences between games and experiences, the difficulty of designing something easy, and how limits foster elegant design.

Sponsors

Subscribe on Pocket Casts, Radio Public, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Notes

Edited by Anthony Martinez. Music by Nick Sylvester.

  • Show All

Sam and Andy Rolfes put the life in livestream

Sam and Andy Rolfes self-describe their work as “overly navel-gazing, obsessed-with-layers, weird.” From visualizing songs by Lady Gaga and BLACKPINK to facilitating mind-bending, improvisational performances at MoMA, the duo are in a perpetual toggle between real life and the screen. Cleverly using VR, mixed reality, figurative animation, and motion capture…


Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley creates game worlds from autonomous archives

What happens when games account for the players’ identities? Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley’s work does just this. Traversing game design, performance, and sound art, the London-born, Berlin-based artist constructs stratified game experiences that depend on the player’s privilege. Someone who identifies as Black and trans will have a distinct gameplay experience; someone who…


Rachel Rossin makes entropy from infinity

How do we account for the tension between technology’s infinite, unrestricted promise and the impermanence of being human? Rachel Rossin interrogates this slippage. Floating between painting, VR worlds, holograms, and more, the Brooklyn-based artist carries with her the essence of what it means to be alive. Rossin’s work meditates on…


Salome Asega on cultivating the ecosystem of art and technology

“Embodied” may be the best word to describe the projects of artist, researcher, and educator Salome Asega. She has created VR experiences that evoke the channeling of diasporic spirits, a Kinect lesson that reinstates a dance form’s history, and a roulette wheel that sends participants to lesser-known corners of a…