Macro vs Micro Video Game Design Thinking Approaches

If you're looking for an article describing Micro vs Macro as a study of Cursed Problems Game Mechanics and player strategy, check out our Optimizing Player Strategies page.

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Macro Approach

In the initial days of a project, a Macro vision approach to game design should be the first step. It is like observing something on the earth from a satellite. It gives you the exploring power and a bird's eye view of the entire process.

Agile designing is the key methodology in this approach. Designers can make raw concepts with very little interactions and no polished components at this stage. They can approach clients with three and four, or more, logical design ideas and approaches. Client workshopping during this phase may give new inputs and ideas to brainstorming sessions.

Micro Approach

Now comes the Micro approach into play. We have a design concept with validated logics and now it is the right time to polish components and micro-interactions for the particular design to even the tiniest details.

Not so long ago, products were made of dull plastics, painted in few colors. These parts were placed with large gaps in-between to allow for fast and easy assembly and manufacturing. That world is still out there and it’s the world of old design. New design is not a 30,000-foot view of a system or hand-waving generalities…quite the contrary. It’s the view of a zero-tolerance, sub-millimeter perfection. It’s that perfection that makes Apple as great as it is today.

Such zoomed-in perception is an essential part of any effective design. If a decade ago half a millimeter (0.5mm) was considered a good fit between parts, today the number is 0.05mm.

Big Picture vs Detailed Oriented Thinking

Big Picture (Macro) | Detailed Pictures (Micros)

Designers are challenged today more by the micro than the macro views of systems. In other words, the strategy is too obtuse to be left to people who have no concept of how important the microcosmos are when it comes to making things happen.

What is Big Picture Thinking?

Big picture thinking is the ability to come up with ideas, solutions and opportunities. Big thinkers see possibilities and jump on opportunities. They are willing to take risks because they see the chance to make big gains.

There are many advantages to being a big picture thinker:

  • You are motivated. You see the opportunity, and you are willing to get the support you need to make your dream a reality.
  • You have lots of ideas. You continuously have new ideas in your mind. In fact, it can be challenging to stay focused on one because there are so many!
  • You don't see problems. You can quickly come up with solutions to potential obstacles and are fast at solving problems.
  • You see big possibilities. Big picture thinkers think big. You can see the big picture - potentially, financially or otherwise - of the plans and get very excited about how an idea could play out.

What is Detail Oriented Thinking?

Detail-oriented thinking is a more precise way of planning, organizing and managing activities with specific details. Detail-oriented people are not visionaries but are very good at executing the details of a plan. They likely over-think things in the process of organizing the plans. Detail-oriented people often are considered lacking common sense because they may not fully comprehend how all of the various pieces of a project. They are focused on the narrow area they are working on.

When considering your watercraft business, you recognize that you need detail-oriented people on your team to ensure all of the elements of the plan are handled. You hire a manager who is very focused on specifics, and you give him the tasks of creating the to-do list for each aspect of the business. Your manager thinks through everything that needs to be done, from organizing the facility to ensuring the proper licenses and insurances are secured. A detail-oriented person is vital to the fine details being completed.

A Unified Design Thinking Approach

NN Group

Design thinking is an ideology supported by an accompanying process. A complete definition requires an understanding of both.

The Process

The design-thinking framework follows an overall flow of 1) understand, 2) explore, and 3) materialize. Within these larger buckets fall the 6 phases: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test, and implement.

Imagine your goal is to improve an onboarding experience for new users. In this phase, you talk to a range of actual users.  Directly observe what they do, how they think, and what they want, asking yourself things like ‘what motivates or discourages users?’ or ‘where do they experience frustration?’ The goal is to gather enough observations that you can truly begin to empathize with your users and their perspectives.

  • Define: Combine all your research and observe where your users’ problems exist. In pinpointing your users’ needs, begin to highlight opportunities for innovation.

Consider the onboarding example again. In the define phase, use the data gathered in the empathize phase to glean insights. Organize all your observations and draw parallels across your users’ current experiences. Is there a common pain point across many different users? Identify unmet user needs.

  • Ideate: Brainstorm a range of crazy, creative ideas that address the unmet user needs identified in the define phase. Give yourself and your team total freedom; no idea is too farfetched and quantity supersedes quality.

At this phase, bring your team members together and sketch out many different ideas. Then, have them share ideas with one another, mixing and remixing, building on others' ideas.

  • Prototype: Build real, tactile representations for a subset of your ideas. The goal of this phase is to understand what components of your ideas work, and which do not. In this phase you begin to weigh the impact vs. feasibility of your ideas through feedback on your prototypes.

Make your ideas tactile. If it is a new landing page, draw out a wireframe and get feedback internally.  Change it based on feedback, then prototype it again in quick and dirty code. Then, share it with another group of people.

  • Test: Return to your users for feedback. Ask yourself ‘Does this solution meet users’ needs?’ and ‘Has it improved how they feel, think, or do their tasks?’

Put your prototype in front of real customers and verify that it achieves your goals. Has the users’ perspective during onboarding improved? Does the new landing page increase time or money spent on your site? As you are executing your vision, continue to test along the way.

  • Implement: Put the vision into effect. Ensure that your solution is materialized and touches the lives of your end users.

This is the most important part of design thinking, but it is the one most often forgotten. As Don Norman preaches, “we need more design doing.” Design thinking does not free you from the actual design doing. It’s not magic. Milton Glaser’s words resonate: “There’s no such thing as a creative type. As if creativity is a verb, a very time-consuming verb. It’s about taking an idea in your head, and transforming that idea into something real. And that’s always going to be a long and difficult process. If you’re doing it right, it’s going to feel like work.”

As impactful as design thinking can be for an organization, it only leads to true innovation if the vision is executed. The success of design thinking lies in its ability to transform an aspect of the end user’s life. This sixth step — implement — is crucial.

The Advantage

Why should we introduce a new way to think about product development? There are numerous reasons to engage in design thinking, enough to merit a standalone article, but in summary, design thinking achieves all these advantages at the same time:

  • It is a user-centered process that starts with user data, creates design artifacts that address real and not imaginary user needs, and then tests those artifacts with real users.
  • It leverages collective expertise and establishes a shared language and buy-in amongst your team.
  • It encourages innovation by exploring multiple avenues for the same problem.

Jakob Nielsen says “a wonderful interface solving the wrong problem will fail." Design thinking unfetters creative energies and focuses them on the right problem. 

Adaptability to Fit Your Needs

Each phase is meant to be iterative and cyclical as opposed to a strictly linear process, as depicted below. It is common to return to the two understanding phases, empathize and define after an initial prototype is built and tested. This is because it is not until wireframes are prototyped and your ideas come to life that you are able to get a true representation of your design. For the first time, you can accurately assess if your solution really works. At this point, looping back to your user research is immensely helpful. What else do you need to know about the user in order to make decisions or to prioritize development order? What new use cases have arisen from the prototype that you didn’t previously research?

You can also repeat phases. It’s often necessary to do an exercise within a phase multiple times in order to arrive at the outcome needed to move forward. For example, in the define phase, different team members will have different backgrounds and expertise, and thus different approaches to problem identification. It’s common to spend an extended amount of time in the define phase, aligning a team to the same focus. Repetition is necessary if there are obstacles in establishing buy-in. The outcome of each phase should be sound enough to serve as a guiding principle throughout the rest of the process and to ensure that you never stray too far from your focus.

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