Justyna Fryczak 

From: Umeå
Alumni: Interaction Design Master’s programme at Umeå Institute of Design


What title or role do you currently hold? 

UX designer at Kinda Brave

Can you tell us about your background and how you got into the games industry? 

I grew up in Poland and got really interested in technology in my early teens. With my first computer I started experimenting with Photoshop and Corel. Once I got a dial-up internet I got into blogs and started translating my interest in graphic design into designing and coding blog layouts. I leaned more into web design and engaged with some communities that elevated my HTML and CSS skills. That also set me on a path of pursuing technical education in Computer Science (even though I was more of a designer than programmer).  

In 2011 I came to Sweden for Erasmus exchange at Linköpng University, where I first encountered Human-Computer Interaction. It was just a short course, but I fell in love with the concept! After the exchange ended I searched for further education in HCI at Master’s level, and even though I did not plan to return to Sweden, there were a few programmes in Interaction Design in Umeå, so soon enough I was back. It was during that time that I learned about game dev even being a career. 

Not knowing how to get into games, in 2014 I started an Industrial Design course, followed by the Interaction Design Master’s programme at Umeå Institute of Design. Even though the education had nothing to do with games it was a privilege to study at such a renowned school, which gave me the skills and confidence to be able to tackle any design challenge in front of me, be it product, service or games.  

Thanks to the UID network of companies I got an internship at North Kingdom in Skellefteå who were doing playful web experiences, and sometimes had game dev clients. Thanks to them I got to meet the game dev community in Skellefteå, and landed my first job with Mindforce Game Lab.  

What inspired you to pursue a career in gaming? 

Unlike many other developers I didn’t grow up playing games, as Poland didn’t have access to gaming consoles like most countries did when I was a child (at least not the general public). Games didn’t become a part of my life until I was 16, when I got introduced to Devil May Cry 3 (on PC). Then, I kept hearing from my family that “girls don’t play games” and “games are a waste of time” - so as it usually is in these cases, I doubled down on my passion, to prove them wrong. 

However, I haven’t realized games could be a career for a very long time. In 2013, During my studies at the Human-Computer Interaction Master’s programme at Umeå University I had a conversation with my classmate who said he wanted to be a game designer… suddenly something clicked - “wait, is it possible to work with games?! I love games!”. 

During that moment my ambition changed from working with web and app design to working with games instead - I had no clue where to start but I knew there must be a way, and as long as I keep my eyes on the target I’ll get there. It took 5 years, a lot of feeling lost, but I finally made it!

Can you share a project or accomplishment that you're particularly proud of in your career? 

In January 2015 I launched a Global Game Jam site in Umeå with support from Humlab Umeå University. To my knowledge it was the first Global Game Jam in Umeå and one of the firsts in the northern Sweden region. It was my attempt to get closer to the gaming industry. I did not find it then, but 8 years later, I reconnected with some of the participants from the 2015 and 2016 GGJ which felt incredibly fulfilling, especially seeing that some of them stayed in game dev.  
Thanks to being a site organizer I got a scholarship from GGJ to go to GDC 2016 and that was a life-changing experience. Still just as a student and not a developer it solidified my ambitions to work with games. 

Another thing that I’m really proud of is the work that I was doing at Mindforce Game Lab. I was working on Fig: A Playtient Journey, a mobile game that hopes to support people with depression and bipolar disorder. It was truly a profound experience being able to create a game and a character that has such a direct positive impact on people’s lives. I started when the project was in the early stages and shipped it to closed beta as one of the leads.

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