Xbox Designer Kathryn Storm on Design, Process and GeekGirlCon

Working in the gaming industry is a goal for many of us, but for such a competitive field it can be overwhelming to chase that dream. That’s why it’s so great to talk to women who are already there-to get inspired by their achievements, and learn how to reach your own goals.

We talk to a lot of awesome women in gaming here at remeshed, and I’m happy to introduce you to yet another: Kathryn Storm. Kathryn is a designer for Xbox, and on the side she is also Manager of Digital Experience for GeekGirlCon. I was thrilled to get to chat with Kathryn about working for Xbox, her process and what gets her excited about the industry, and her work for GeekGirlCon on the side.

remeshed: You’re a designer at Xbox-tell us what that entails and what a typical day there look like for you.

Kathryn Storm: We do stand-ups in the morning and then meet with partners as needed. The rest is work, and depending on the state of the project that could be sketching, iterating on wireframes or moving into ship mode. This field moves fast, so there’s always something new. I’m always thinking about making things easy to use without exposing all the wires under the hood. It’s about what’s possible and the ongoing conversations with your partners and designers in other product areas. I would say what’s typical is that I look forward to it every morning.

On the design side and where I physically sit, I work with a smart and dedicated small group of designers. There’s a constant dialogue about gaming-related news, smaller groups that play online together, time out for gameplay, and watching streaming games. It’s actually very rare that I put on my headphones and listen to music because our culture is so unique and inviting-all while the group is also performing at a high level.

What kind of projects have you worked on?

Game streaming, some work on the TV side of the console, the store for the Xbox app and lately, generally on the Xbox App side. I’m still in that mode where I love the overall product and want to have deep knowledge of every facet. I don’t pester my manager too much to work on specific projects just yet, but as a group we do have a voice in that.

Can you tell us anything about projects you’re currently working on?

As a gamer, I can say that what we’re working on excites me personally. I can’t wait to share the products when they launch. What is interesting about where we put our focus is how much we listen to our customers outside of formal research. I mean, it’s all part of research, reading reddit, and capturing user requests. But that organic, unsolicited dialogue about Xbox is wonderful to read and we use it to help inform and inspire the work that we do.

What does your design process look like?

We start with collaborative brainstorms that include representation from all of the disciplines involved. I start my work with sketching and then move to Illustrator for wireframes. The process is very iterative. Things can change, priorities, resources, so you have to stay fluid, flexible and think on your feet.

I sketch more than is probably healthy but it can be so much more efficient when the ideas and iterations are moving around inside your head.

Getting a job in gaming can be a really tough feat, since there are so many people interested in breaking into the field. What advice do you have for those wanting to work in gaming? How do you break out from the pack?

Figure out what interests you. For me, it was about the platform that enables gaming, which starts with the console. The first time I really played an Xbox game, I was asking myself why I didn’t start sooner. I had a really good first experience with the console and wanted to be a part of its future.

Know what you’re getting yourself into. I worked closely with a recruiting agency specifically for designers and I was like, “I know this limits my opportunities but I just want to work at Xbox.” That in itself is a risk. But contracts can help you see if it’s a job you really want. And after a few months, the feeling was mutual and I had a more permanent role.

Another thing I still do to this day is use Twitter as a resource. Early on in my career I’d connect with designers who inspired me. And a lot of them I ended up meeting with for coffee and asking all about what they did and sharing my own desire to get there. “I want to do what you do” opens up a lot of very interesting conversations. And for someone who really doesn’t find traditional networking very ‘me’, this was just another way of getting to that same place.

Working for a company like Xbox is something a lot of gamers out there would love to do, but the day-to-day realities of the job can often be much different from what people expect. What is something people aspiring to work in gaming need to know about working in the industry?

I can’t say I was surprised in any way, or that I wish I had been better prepared. There are things I’d like to work on, like being out there and sharing what I love about games.

I had a friend who worked in gaming before I did and they told me, “It’ll ruin gaming for you”. I still think that doesn’t ring true for me. You just have to work on something you care about.

Have you faced any negativity from being a women in the gaming industry? How do you overcome that?

You know, I haven’t taken a lot of the risks that many of the women who have faced negativity in the field have. I don’t speak publicly, that’s huge.

But as much as I’ve heard and seen, I’m still focused on getting to a place where I am in a position to share what I love. Getting acquainted with the trailblazers in those arenas is a good start. I think it’s important to think more deeply about the issues. There’s a lot of great work being done in the industry and at Xbox to really make gaming for everyone.

You also work with GeekGirlCon. How did you get involved with that convention?

When I was still living in San Francisco, I so badly wanted to meet other women who gamed. I forget how I stumbled upon GeekGirlCon but I remember seeing a volunteer job posting for a designer and flipping out. I had spent a few years volunteering for AIGA SF which was an awesome experience but design plus gaming? That was really exciting. I reached out about doing some remote work for them which wasn’t really something they did. As luck would have it, I moved to Seattle for a job, reconnected and the rest is history.

What is the coolest thing you’ve experienced since working on that con?

The people. The convention’s commitment to diversity really taught me so much about experiences outside my own. I thought I was pretty open-minded already but working with the convention and the laser-sharp focus on our mission of inclusion really challenged me in a positive way. And the other side of that coin is giving back to the community. Creating awareness and a positive space for people to participate and be recognized is a mission I want to continue to support.

What changes are you most excited about in the gaming industry and games in general?

Continuing to build more powerful hardware and gaming engines. Augmented reality is a big one for me, too. The return of the console MMORPG, the accessibility on console for indie games, and eSports.

The eSports thing was a bit surprising to me. I went to the Halo Championship at Gamescom last year and I’ll just say you have to see that live. Streams are great too but even a smaller, local tournament has great energy.

Where can we find you online?

Twitter @stormka, no surprises there. I’m also shamelessly obsessed with Pinterest, and of course Xbox Live as LadyStormka.

Anything else you want to mention that I didn’t ask?

One of my first, official new year’s resolutions is to consume more diverse and inclusive media and literature. I’m always taking recommendations!

Kendall is a geek, gamer, a blogger, an awkward ballerina, Netflix binger, and avid reader. If there are zombies involved, she’ll probably be interested.

Kendall is a geek, gamer, a blogger, an awkward ballerina, Netflix binger, and avid reader. If there are zombies involved, she'll probably be interested.

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