Industry Insiders: Designers at Activision and Billabong Discuss UX and UI Design

Due to the huge influx of companies focused on creating interfaces for multiple screen sizes in addition to providing interactive digital experiences for their consumers, the demand for designers with expertise in user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) is more prevalent than ever in today’s design industry.

What exactly do UI and UX designers do? What kind of path does it take to become a professional in this industry? What are the common misconceptions of this industry? That is our topic in this edition of Industry Insiders. We recently had the pleasure of interviewing two FIDM Graphic Design Graduates who are currently professionals in this field. One is Jon Ezell, Senior Interaction and UX Designer at Billabong and the other is Martin Sandoval, UI Artist at Activision, currently working on Call of Duty: Black Ops III. We thought it would be great to get the perspective of both UI and UX design!


Jon Ezell Senior Interaction and UX Designer at Billabong

Martin Sandoval UI Artist at Treyarch Studios


(FIDM Digital Arts) What is your current job title/position?

Jon: “Senior Interaction and UX Designer at Billabong.”

Martin: “I work for Activision and I am currently working at the Treyarch studios in Santa Monica, CA as a UI Artist for the new video game Call of Duty: Black Ops III.”

Can you tell us a little about the process of landing that job ?

Jon: “This job opportunity was recommended to me by a previous colleague who thought I’d be a good fit for it.”

Martin: “After graduating from FIDM in 2011, I went straight to working for The Walt Disney Company out in Glendale as one of their graphic designers for their consumer products department. I got the job thanks to FIDM’s famous Student Portfolio show where my portfolio caught the eye of a Disney recruiter. Working for Disney was fun experience (shocker, right?) but I soon realized that it just wasn’t for me and just wasn’t what I was looking for at the time. After making the tough decision to leave Disney, I began working some small design jobs at different offices and real estate companies in Orange County untill I got a message on BēHance, a online portfolio community, from a lead UI artist at Activision saying that they liked my work and are currently looking for a visual designer. Pretty much after speaking with the lead UI artist and the team at Activision, things seemed to just take off from there.”

I got the job thanks to FIDM’s famous Student Portfolio show where my portfolio caught the eye of a Disney recruiter.

Can you tell us a little bit about your day-to-day responsibilities?

Jon: I am part of a pretty unique internal design agency in which handles the UI and UX design work for all the Billabong brands (Billabong, RVCA, Element, Sector 9, VonZipper, PlanB, Dot Dash, etc). We are in the process of a pretty major re-platforming in which gives us a unique opportunity to redesign all the websites, refine the digital identity for each brand, design for campaigns, create emails, in-store digital touch experiences, mobile apps, etc.”


Calendar app design. Project worked on by Jon Ezell.

Calendar app design. Project worked on by Jon Ezell.


Martin: “My responsibilities differ and are never consistent but in a way, that is just how I like it. I work with a great team at Treyarch and sometimes it blows my mind what this team can accomplish on a day-to-day basis and being able to say I am apart of that team is even cooler. Usually my day starts with a prioritized list of tasks and fixes to the games UI that I will work on through the course of the day. Naturally, some tasks take longer than others do but the main goal is always to create something cool that the players will like.”


XIOS mobile app. Project worked on by Martin Sandoval.

XIOS mobile app. Project worked on by Martin Sandoval.


For the readers who don’t know, how does being a UI or UX designer differ from being a traditional graphic designer?

Jon: “UI and UX is a pretty unique field because you’re not just designing the look of something but you design the complete experience a user takes through a digital medium. With an iOS app for example, in addition to designing the basic ‘look and feel’ you are responsible for designing a response to each time a user interacts with the screen. You also craft an entire digital journey, if you will, with multiple screens that the user takes through the app/website to get from point A to Z.”


Pulse product pricing page. Project worked on by Jon Ezell.

Pulse product pricing page. Project worked on by Jon Ezell.


Martin: “I’m somewhat new to UI design being that the majority of the work I have done in my career has only been graphic designer but I’ve always taken pride in my ability to learn fast and adapt. Working in video games things tend to always be fast passed and always changing so being able to adapt helped me out the most. In the end, personally I still use the same creative process for UI as I do for graphic design…”


XIOS website design. Project worked on by Martin Sandoval.

XIOS website design. Project worked on by Martin Sandoval.


Are there any common misconceptions about being a UI or UX designer or the field itself?

Jon: “Because the field is relatively new, most people (especially older folks) don’t really understand what exactly you do. Most people assume you design iPhone apps or websites but in reality you can design interfaces for: computers, phones, watches, car dashboards, car stereos, Smart TV interfaces, digital signage, interactive touch screen displays, medical tools, cash registers, self-checkout stands, movie ticket kiosks, soda machines, ATMs …the list goes on forever. Essentially every single device that has a screen has UI and UX design.” 


Graph interaction design. Project worked on by Jon Ezell.

Graph interaction design. Project worked on by Jon Ezell.


Martin: I’m not too sure what some misconceptions about being a UI or UX designer are but I do know that both are relatively new and many people are still trying to define them.”

What is your favorite aspect of the job?

Jon: “Because it’s digital, there is virtually no limitations and restrictions. Technology is moving so fast so there is a lot of freedom in what you can do. Everyday there are new tools to design with and new devices you can design for. Its an industry where creativity runs wild – if you can think it, you can build it.”

Martin: “I would say my favorite aspect of my job would be seeing fans of Call of Duty: Black Ops get excited about my artwork I created for the game. Going through all the positive comments about my artwork on twitter and social media when the studio design director leaks some game information always makes my job better. Also the occasional play sessions before dinner and free games don’t hurt either.”


Illustration by Martin Sandoval.

Illustration by Martin Sandoval.


What are some of the most common challenges you face when doing UI or UX work? 

Jon: “The most common challenge is creating a simple and easy to use design for a big complex app. It comes down to lots of design, iterations and testing.”

Martin: “For me the most common challenges I face when working with game UI would have to be the flow and making sure all elements are cohesive. Everything in a game UI has to not only look nice but also has to keep the players with in the same universe of the game.”

Are there any recent projects that you loved working on or are proud of that you can talk about? 

Jon: “At Billabong there have been a ton of projects we’ve been working on in which most I can’t talk about yet but I’m really excited about. We have a iOS app which will be available in the App Store in December and a new Billabong website launching soon.” 

Martin: “The most recent project would have to be the current one I am working on now, which is Call of Duty: Black Ops III. This is the first project where I am completely out of my comfort zone of the typical tasks of a graphic designer and taken into the world of video game UI. I love the fact that I can create something cool, whether it is a sick skull or some crazy artwork for players to unlock, on a daily basis is pretty sweet. I also love to draw so being able to put some of my illustrations into a game that was named ‘The Most Anticipated Holiday Game of 2015′ is freakin cool!”

Call of Duty: Black Ops III Trailer

What advice would you give to a designer thinking about specializing in UI or UX?

Jon: “Do it, or at least try UI/UX design. I believe its the best creative field to be in right now especially with how quick technology is advancing, its only going to get better.


Icons for email banner designed by Jon Ezell.

Icons for email banner designed by Jon Ezell.


Martin: “My advice to anyone who wants to get into UI specifically would be the same advice I would give to anyone who wants to get into any creative career, is to constantly create and design with feeling. I see tons of portfolios that all look the same and typically, the ones that stand out to me are the ones that show the artists’ style and their point of view. I feel a portfolio should not only show your skill set but also the way you look at the world.”


Sketches by Martin Sandoval.

Sketches by Martin Sandoval.

Thanks for reading!

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Author: James Peacock

James Peacock is a Digital Marketing Specialist at FIDM in Los Angeles, California. He received his A.A. in Graphic Design from FIDM and was hired as Social Media Assistant in 2013 by his alma mater in order to help grow the institution’s social media marketing efforts. James now combines two of his passions, telling stories and solving problems by managing data-driven marketing campaigns across multiple channels that ultimately result in a positive return on investment.

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