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.

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Notes

Edited by Anthony Martinez. Music by Nick Sylvester.

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