Today, our workshop was lead by Gemma, who is currently a ‘Freelance Designer’, although this label doesn’t cover her expertise. Gemma’s experience shows diversification, ranging between project management roles, games design for children, games accessibility and functionality roles, UX and human-computer-interaction, and more.

Gemma started her career after she graduated from UWE with a Business Studies degree. Interestingly, the degree did not necessarily represent the industry that she was to become a part of in the future. However her openness to opportunities and personality lead her to gaining respectable knowledge and expertise in the game and publishing industry. A point well made with regards to our post-grad search in networking and talking to future employers.


Gemma’s Career Path and Advice: ‘From UWE to Now’

The technology industry adapts all the time, which means consistent learning. Gemma was interested in design aesthetics and people in sociological and psychological sense. From this she found her career path in UX and digital production.

After graduating, Gemma found a job at Aardman – Bristol local design agency. She began in the production system management field which consisted of nurturing the online communities for Wallace and Gromit.

She performed lots of website and games testing, with primary focus on the correctness of content focus. Her role then progressed to Junior Producer, where she assisted bigger products, which meant more testing. Following, she became a Senior Digital Producer, which involved lots of pitching (to channel 4, BBC, Eden project). Testing, testing, testing.

First Successful Game – ‘Home Sheep Home’ Two: Gemma wanted to put something new on website to keep people interested and engaged, leading to the design of ‘Home Sheet Home Two’, which was Aardman’s first entry into games as a business model. It was cross platform  (IOS and Android) in the early days. They initialised a business model, as premium was the only business model that existed for games. Part of the process meant that they (going Gemma and Aadrman) needed to experiment with game models to see what would work. They got published by Duolingo, had a really good support network. A new look was created for the game (which previously only ever existed via stock frame). The created new look that was much cheaper and the new brand identity could be used on multiple items and products, like mugs and books, which was hugely successful. Ending on a high note, Gemma and Aardman accidentally created something incredibly successful and valuable.

‘Something Special’ game – The games main audience scoped kids with special needs. The game taught early sign language using symbols helping young kids to communicate. The brief was to come up with a suite of games that were super accessible to all kids. Gemma came up with simple ideas, leading to user testing which revealed changes that needed to be made.

Gemma then worked with Gavin Strange, who is a bristol based meticulous designer. He made  her realise that the design of the game needed to be crass, but not necessarily ugly. For example, the game needed an icon to represented the ‘games’ selection. At first Gemma and her team designed the button as a joystick icon. However after testing, they realised that the kids in their audience didn’t know that the icon represented ‘games’, and that a ‘puzzle’ icon was much more effective.

Through user testing, Gemma and her team also learnt that colour could be especially distracting to kids with autism, who found the game quite difficult. In response to this insight, the team created a mode that could be allow the background colours to be turned off , as well as installing adaptable contrast levels. Some kids don’t have motor response to touch movable objects, so the team designed a feature that could remove on-screen motion.

Gamma’s turning point in her career was her realisation that all kids have incredible abilities, but the technology of the time didn’t meet their needs. She became aware of how much an impact technology could have, but the hinders were that we make assumptions about audiences. Until we get into the users shoes and see what their life is like, we will then know what they need.  Ian Hamilton is a Consultant in Accessible Gaming, he creates guidelines on how to make successful games for all levels. He’s utilised how to make the best of ugly UI that works.

After 5 years, Gemma moved to London to work at startup Adaptive Lab, who model themselves on IDO. A people centred agency, using third party APIS to figure out things that work quickly and easily. Her role was inline with Service Design and UX end of digital production.

More experience at ASOS & Experian: Experian was actually the most interesting as she ran ‘Google Ventures – 5 Days Spent‘ way of working. She recommend doing this somewhere in public, and that it is an impressive way of working.

Fraggl and the ‘Three Layers of Curation’ Design Model

In the context of the design of the content in the Fraggl app, Gemma utilised the Three Layer Model. The first layer of collation was finding interesting people in field, second layer was to find everything the interesting people were talking about what was the most interesting topics, third layer was to prioritise the interesting statements made be the interesting people.

Gemma used the business model seen below for rapid ideation. She mentioned that the level of prototype fidelity always changes based on what needs to be tested. You must figure the prototype form, based on the testing objectives, and define who your audience is. Stuff must be tested i.e. don’t throw money at the wall (like the BBC trying to redesign Youtube).

Automate or be annihilated: use open source tech as a way of hacking a prototype or product together. Fraggl was based on open source algorithms, which were of course modified. Make research but keep in mind that there is always someone who has done at least a part of it.


Gemma also touched on the ‘2 Days‘ model whereby the designers rapidly get together for ideation. Their aim is to define, understand, explore, create and prototype their design. This usually consists of team meetings and lots of extra sticky prototypes.


After Adaptive, Gemma learned the elements to service design, research and moving with speed. But she missed kids, so she went to Penguin, which is the most known publishing house (who also look after Ladybird and Puffin and other identities). Gemma took the role of organising the top 20 children’s brands, following the ‘80% – 20% role’ (revenue etc).

In this role, Gemma had to figure out which brands had the most opportunity to be digital. She learnt that the world of publishing is slow and complicated, having to obtain ‘okays’ from many people, including brand owners.

Gemma’s involvement in the Roald Dahl estate was her main project. Her role was to maintain the finesse of what Roald Dahl was about (working with his grandson). Over the years, Dahl had become a dispersant presence in the publishing industry, so Gemma and her team wanted to hone in on Dahl’s internal brand and strengthen it.

Gemma worked on Roald Dahl’s ‘Twit or Miss App’ which was a  real success. Amazingly, she managed to get Quinton Blake on board, recreating Quinton’s look in a digital format at Aardman. They nailed it. As a result, a real nice relationship was formed between the Dahl estate, Blake,  Aardman and Penguin. The Reluanch of the Twits entered into new realm for the first time.

Current Freelance Life: Over the years, Gemma has become an accidental expert in terms of Kids UX, plus service design, research experience, new technology and moving rapidly. At present, Gemma has been building client base and honing in on who and what she does: being an expert in strategy, service design consultancy and UX.

Gemma also worked with CX Partners as one of her clients, who are the biggest UX partners – she recommended that we check them out. Their employers are really smart and incredibly well educated and experienced. They mostly come from a psychology background but know how to apply it to their strategic thinking.   

Another client is Cosmic Kids: Kids yoga, lovely adventure stories, kids love the yoga brand.

Usborne – Gemma works with Antonio Gould who was in last weeks workshop. They are currently looking into kids with obesity. She’s been speaking to NHS and other people who are in this space.  Sitting in schools and just watching surfaces design phases has been incredibly effective in terms of research insights. Lots of testing and prototyping in schools.

Advice for us: Gemma has been on a meandering journey with lots of opportunities, so be open and know what you want. Also, check out Gavin Strange who is an expert in selling his personality (he didn’t go to uni), and says yes to everything. He doesn’t neccessarily work for money, but works in kindness and favours which in turn has made him money.

Ian Hamilton is another guy to check out, he blogs about interaction design for children – check out his blogs.

Advice from Keir:

We sat down and had a really quick catch-up with Keir, going over how we went back to the drawing board in terms of rushing into ideation without user-centred research. We informed him that our mission statements and goals have been designed, as well as ideation for our street projector demonstration. In response he advised;

  • Observe people in Bear Pit, don’t necessity chat to them.
  • Think about the design space and how people react in it. (Kind or already done this).
  • Looks at the links in the draft blog – open source projecter software.
  • Will we need security as it’s going to be a gorilla project? What time of day (preferably night) so we need to observe the space at night.
  • Look into how we would design a low fidelity prototype.

Advice from Gemma:

  • We should look into what the point of the signatures are. The laser signature idea is a cool excellent idea, flashy, but what are we trying to achieve? Look in to case studies of similar examples of public signatures and how effective they are.
  • Would people feel wary about publishing their signatures to the world? A signature is personal and confidential, obviously their are identity theft issues involved. Perhaps we should look into in using their first name as opposed to there personal signature in order to feel united yet safe in regards to identity. Signing their names means they join up to the ‘people power movement’, they do not necessarily need to sign up to the Amnesty organisation as this means amnesty receives, whereas we want the user  to receive – if you get my concept. People will do something if it aids them or makes them feel part of something.
  • Instead of thinking super large at this point, consider how you would represent the project as a lo-fi piece. Perhaps on perspex and have people draw it up.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.