Interview: Ustwo

Interview: Ustwo
Aaron Lee

By Aaron Lee

December 7th 2010 at 1:00PM

Acclaimed design specialists ustwo explain why user interface is everything

You only have to look at the community uproar when websites adjust their page designs to know that interface is central to the user experience.

Founded in 2004 by Matt ‘mills’ Miller and John ‘sinx’ Sinclair, ustwo is a digital design studio that specialises in creating engaging user interfaces for mobile devices.

The company, based in London and Malmö, Sweden, has released a string of successful apps, including Granimator for the iPad and PositionApp, which allows users to monitor download rates of their own apps.

ustwo has already partnered with major brands such as Sony, Intel and H&M. Next year the studio is looking to ramp up its investment in the casual market significantly.

Ahead of his appearance at Evolve in London, Develop spoke to co-founder mills about what it’s like being an independent design studio today, why brands use their services and the importance of user interface.

What can attendees expect from your session at Evolve in London?
The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth... ustwo is now more consciously moving into the casual games market next year with a commitment of over half a million of budget. Recent hirings have centred on gaming experience led developers to work with our ideas.

What’s it like being an independent design studio in such tough economic times?
Six years ago we started working in mobile user interface, crafting and honing our skills on the small screen. We built a team over the years that has allowed us to keep all ideas, design and development, in-house. This has meant that we are now perfectly placed to work on big branding UI across digital. 2010 has been our biggest year, growing our revenue 100 per cent, securing a bigger studio and solidifying structures and talent for our 2011 global quest. We have a passion for creativity on mobile, so game design fits well into our entertainment led mindset. ustwo loves digital.

In recent years, the ability to have a direct relationship with consumers has redrawn the balance of power. How have companies like ustwo benefited from this change?
We have always been a very approachable studio and one that, crucially, shares our experiences with whoever will listen. We were the first to openly blog about our successes and, more importantly, failures in app development. We are always open about the money we make or spend on creating these small experiences. The first four years of ustwo’s short life was about focusing on servicing the big technology manufacturers. About building our understanding of the technologies. With the introduction of the iTunes App Store we saw a chance to use these skills to promote ustwo and build a name as ‘the crazy ones’. We invest in apps and games because we care about and love them ourselves. Our five-year plan is to have a dual revenue stream split 50/50 of service design and owned IP releases.

The most incredible wake-up call we have had with selling direct to consumers is their willingness to tell you what they think. This also plays into our hands, as we are able to use their feedback to tweak ideas and helps us build a strong knowledge base of what the taste of the world is...

What is the importance of good design and interface to services on web and mobile platforms?
Simply put, it’s everything. If a user doesn’t understand how to use something, they will walk away from it. You have one shot to get it right. We have a process called UXP, which allows us to get to the heart of the client or user needs. It’s this that sets us apart from many other digital studios working today.

Where many digital companies fall so badly now is that working for web (which we have never had any interest in) is not the same as working in mobile. You have to be truly sympathetic to the size and situation of the device. Optimisation of design is one of the key components of truly successful experiences.

How has touchscreen technology changed interface design?
In my opinion it’s truly opened up the accessibility and usability of small devices. In particular, the iPhone has shown non-techies that mobile can be a useable and useful joy. It’s reduced the time needed to navigate devices and means users get to what they want quicker. A key component of a successful app is the ability to get to the task in hand fast.

You’ve been able to attract licensed properties to your existing apps MouthOff and Granimator. Why have these products proved popular in promoting other clients’ brands?
Our apps and ideas are engaging and entertaining. We create simple, usable and joyful experiences that resonate with users. By partnering with the right brands we feel we can extend the reach of our name, piggybacking on the brands global marketing powers while at the same time enriching and supporting the brands we partner with.

What makes ‘causal’ and social games a good method for promoting brands?
Brands are able to search our engaging experiences created by studios who truly care, piggybacking true innovation and entertainment.

I actually feel that too many brands release unrelated games and content that doesn’t resonate with the users. This sends out the wrong message. A branded game should extend the conversation that the brand is already having with the user and not start a new one.

A branded game has to be applicable to the brand it is promoting.

How do you see user interfaces evolving across mobile platforms?
Higher resolutions, touch becoming the primary input on all platforms and location contextually aware interface.

Find out more about ustwo at www.ustwo.co.uk.