Spotlight On... Graphic Designer Caitlin Goodale

For this month's Spotlight On... article we caught up with BAFTA Crew Games member Caitlin Goodale. Caitlin is a graphic designer and UI (user interface) artist at Lift London, a Microsoft studio. This year she was included in Develop's 30 under 30, and will be speaking at GDC on “Internships- Bridging the Gap from Education to Industry.”

When did you realise you wanted to work with video games?

When I first got my Xbox, I bought Fable II which I’d wanted for ages because I’d seen the Fable box art in game like a year before and I thought it looked really cool! I had no idea what it was about but I’d always loved fantasy literature and when playing it you see all that stuff that you read about actually realised. I never had a SNES or anything like that and this was really enlightening moment were I thought, “Oh, games are actually really cool”. I also played a lot of Viva Pinata. It was playing these games that made me think “Why don’t I look at games as a career?”

Tell us more about your role as a Graphic Designer?

My title at Microsoft is Graphic Designer but it can vary between companies. The role might mean I’m heavily into the game design, it might just be the user interface or it could be marketing and branding, it depends. At Microsoft it’s been really great for me. We’re kind of shifting between projects at the moment, so this means I was helping out with the marketing when I first got here. So e-mail templates, images for prints, also screenshots and edits for images in newspapers and magazines, a great range of things.

What would you say to people considering graphic design as a career path?

One of the best things about the role is that it is very transferrable; you can work in the app space, the web space or for prints and advertising. If specifically in the game side, then think about the graphic design discipline but you also need to have the technical backup to those skills. As a graphic designer in games you really need to be passionate about the games industry. Play a lot of games, figure out what they’re doing with their UI and what the sort of trends are in game UI and games graphic design.

You’ve done some work with Minecraft haven’t you, can you talk about that?

Yeah sure, while I was studying at Abertay University in Dundee, I got this job working on Minecraft on the console editions. In the original version, everyone usually makes their own or downloads them from the internet, but due to the nature of releasing something to Xbox Live, we had to package them as small pieces of DLC. It was amazing! I was getting to work with all these IP owners and use their characters and make skins for their games.

How did you apply for your internship?

I have quite a long history of internships!  My first one was at the students association at Abertay, which was a lot of promotional stuff, not games at all.

The Minecraft internship was quite a funny one. My boss posted saying they were looking for interns in a Scottish Games industry Facebook group. I posted on it asking about the hours thinking I could let some friends know as I was already on the first internship. I didn’t think anything about it but the next day I had a call saying they loved my work and would I like to come in for an interview.

I’m currently an intern at Lift London as part of Microsoft. For Microsoft internships it’s a much more formal scheme. There’s an online application process, an online test, then a set of pre-recorded Skype questions where you record your response, then an informal Skype interview and finally an in person interview.    

So would you say an internship is a good way to enter the industry?

Absolutely, for me it’s internship number 3 and I’ve been working in the games industry for about 3 and a half years now. It was a totally different experience for me moving down to London and Microsoft is really great at providing support for that. They treat you as a regular employee as opposed to just an intern.

So you’re presenting a talk at GDC on internships this year that must be exciting! Can you tell us what the talk is about?

When I was writing my talk for GDC I realised that the most unique experience I have was doing these different internships at different companies. I know a lot of my friends and people around me find it really difficult to get internships, whether it’s finding them in the first place or just finding good ones that suit them. Whereas from my industry friends, I know they’ve hired interns before and they’ve been terrible, or they find it really difficult to hire the right people with the right skills. So the talk really focuses on the fact that internships are the bridge between students and the industry, and how it can solve a lot of problems. 

What are your top 3 tips for people who want to work with games?

Get connected. I only got that Minecraft internship because I was on Facebook, there’s no reason not to be connected any more. Get on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and look for some opportunities via them as well. I’ve had interviews purely based on my Twitter presence, so if you’re not putting yourself out there you won’t open yourself to these opportunities. You can do that from a very young age as well, so I would advise setting up a LinkedIn and clean up your online presence and keep it professional.

My second top tip would be: Make a long term plan. For me it’s really helped as it can be terrifying to look at the industry and think “I really want to be X, how on Earth am I going to get there?”

My advice is to make a 1, 5 and 10 year plan. For example:

1 year- finish indie game to release, secure internship for summer, volunteer as a CA at GDC
5 year- work on an AAA title, work at studio x, graduate with 2:1 degree.
10 year- move to another country, director level job, speak at international conference.

My final tip would be to learn your specialism. When applying for things you really need to tailor your portfolio to the area you’ve decided to specialise in as you’ll definitely be much more successful then.

How did you hear about BAFTA Crew Games?

I follow the BAFTA Twitter handle and followed a post from there.

What are you currently working on (if you can say)?

At Lift we’re currently working on innovation in general. So as a Microsoft studio we’re working on things with Windows 10 and Hololens, lots of exciting stuff so keep your eyes peeled!

The BAFTA Crew Games programme is funded by Creative Skillset and run in partnership with the Wellcome Trust

Interviewed by Sam Hughes