Working in gaming tech, career progression and building a community with King’s Lead Content Designer, Mario Ferrer
"You need to be 'curious'. Curious enough to not mind asking lots of questions about things. There is no such thing as a dumb question."
— Mario Ferrer
On this page:
- Career history, at-a-glance
- Starting out in UX writing at King
- Building the Content Design España community
- Mario is promoted to Senior UX Writer
- A move to Skyscanner in 2020
- A return to King - as Lead Content Designer
- Advice, recommendations and tips from Mario
- Mario Ferrer: Further reading, watching and listening
Mario Ferrer is a content designer, UX writer, conference speaker, lecturer, teacher and mobile game developer King's current Lead Content Designer.
We chatted to Mario about the world of UX writing and content strategy, and asked him to share some insight on his experiences to date. Mario was also kind enough to answer some of our quickfire questions, so you'll encounter lots of helpful advice and tips from him, later on in this article.
Career history, at-a-glance
- KingLead Content DesignerDecember 2020 - Present
- Content Design EspañaFounderFebruary 2019 - Present
- Shifta by ElisavaLecturer, UX WritingApril 2020 – Present
- DomestikaTeacher, UX WritingApril 2011 – September 2011
- SkyscannerSenior UX WriterMay 2020 - December 2020
- LCI BarcelonaLecturer, UX WritingNovember 2017 – November 2020
- KingSenior UX WriterJune 2017 – May 2020
- KingUX WriterJune 2014 – May 2017
- SoftonicCopywriterFebruary 2011 – May 2014
Mario is originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, but he moved to Barcelona, Spain in 2009 to kick off a career as an advertising copywriter; writing radio ads.
"There was a global financial crisis, and there were no advertising jobs; especially for a junior like myself. I was lucky that Barcelona was already home to a big start-up 'hub' around that time, and in the end, I shifted from advertising copywriting to brand and comms copywriting."
Mario recalls that there were not many opportunities to work in product from a writing perspective at the time. Eventually, an opportunity arose at King, and he soon took up the position of UX Writer there; working alongside a team of UX designers.
It's always a pleasure to work with Mario. He brings a lot of energy into any project he's involved in. He is highly creative in brainstorming as well as skilled in pitching and turning concepts into successful executions. Beyond that he's an exceptionally warm and friendly person, always helping out and adding to the conversation. Anyone would be lucky to work with him.source: LinkedIn
Starting out in UX writing at King
"To be honest, I didn't know exactly what I was going into, but I thought it was going to be fun because it's video games, right? I was going to learn, and I was going to be able to work for one of the biggest brands in the world at the time. So for me, it was a huge step up in my career."
Mario didn't feel as though he was going in completely blind to a new job, but he admits that he was not at all prepared for the huge challenge that King was. Nevertheless, Mario diligently set about starting to establish a UX writing practice during his first year there.
"It blew my mind. I saw there was a different way of approaching the work that I was doing. So I started reading, asking questions, and generally getting my hands on everything I could. I was just trying to learn."
Experience from an early internal project provided him with a Eureka moment. He was working closely with a senior designer to develop a basic onboarding flow for a new feature, and had begun writing in 'the story' for the flow. Having come from a copywriting world where the words and how you say things mean everything, this seemed like the natural way forward at first. But Mario was quickly called out by his colleague on this approach:
"When you work at a games company, there are two levels: there's a core level, with the game designers and the narrative designers, and they create the 'entity' of that game. But then the other level is that you need an app for it, and an experience. That's where the UX writer and that product side come together.
"So, I was telling this story, thinking all the narrative was important. And the designer was like 'stop, stop. If you want to tell a story, if you want to go write books, go home. You have to stop thinking about copy as a form of art or as a thing. Stop thinking about one message, and start thinking about the full flow.'
"And that's when I was like 'oh ok, that makes sense. At that moment, I realised that I had to change the way I tackled problem-solving."
Mario admits that it felt very tough at the start, but he was determined and driven, and sought out the right tools to upskill himself; reading up about what 'interaction' is, and what UX really means.
"I needed to understand what the principles are from a psychology perspective, so that I could work it into everything that I did, because in the end, you're solving design problems. Like Scott Kubie says, your unit of design is words instead of pixels.
"I remember reading a post by John Saito about 'writing in mocks, not docs'. And that was like a breakthrough for me, because - especially when you're new to UX writing - you can get so obsessed with learning the best tools and getting good at that, you forget you need to learn some rules first."
He spent a great deal of time 'learning by doing' - switching his use of Google docs for software like Sketch. Mario found though, that the more time he spent working in his role, the more unanswered questions he had. Worse, he didn't have anyone to talk to about it all (being the UX writer at King).
Building the Content Design España community
He felt the need to speak to people who were completely on the same wavelength as him about the writing aspect of UX:
"That's when I started Content Design España (formerly UX Writers Spain), which is one of the biggest meet-ups here in Europe. I realised that this 'craft' is something really interesting and that there are a lot of people interested in it, but they need some help or support to either come in brand new or shift across from non-UX writing or non-content design roles (like I did). or do a shift like I did.
"There's also the aspect of helping employers and recruiters understand what the content design role is, and how it differs from a copywriter or a content writer."
Mario soon started attracting enquiries from recruiters who, having heard about Content Design España, approached him to ask for introductions to people who might suit one of their live roles.
"I'm not an agency(!), and I sometimes joke with recruiters about it, like 'I should be a headhunter for this type of thing'. But the good thing is that, in 2019, after a group effort, we got six people a job. And last year (obviously a horrible year in many ways), we got four people a new job.
"It makes me feel like I'm helping. Obviously, it's still them doing their interviews, but just being able to help them out with that first initial connection - I think that's brilliant. Here in Spain, it's not easy to find a job like that."
Mario is promoted to Senior UX Writer
Three years into his role at King, Mario was awarded a promotion to Senior UX Writer. It allowed him to take his practice up a level. Along with his UX designer colleagues, he developed and ran meetings like 'lunch and learns' for teams, company-wide, so that he could spread the word about UX internally. He found that this work began to make UX into more of a tangible entity at King, with non-UX teams starting to appreciate and notice the value that UX was adding - and could be adding.
I managed a team that worked on a daily basis with Mario. It has been a real privilege to have Mario's copy writing and UX support. He is a very talented individual who thrives creatively when given the opportunity, and more importantly, his creative decisions drive positive impact for the business.source: LinkedIn
When Mario reflects on what he's most proud of in terms of his career, he remembers a time when a deep dive into tone of voice resulted in more people playing a new feature in Candy Crush Jelly Saga.
"When we launched Candy Crush Jelly Saga, we started thinking about the main villain - the queen. Normally, the way we would do things is that characters would have a tone of voice 'inside' the game, but it would never leave the game. It's very interesting within the game, but let's bring it outside. So I started doing some research on tone of voice. I started reading about things like how the queen from Alice in Wonderland was created. I was listening to Hamilton a lot during that time, so I thought of King George III, and how he communicates.
"We introduced an "I know better than you" kind of tone; introducing that through email and push notifications to users. People loved it. Or loved to hate it!
"It seemed like the first time we were getting some kind of 'fired up' response from people - they were actually thinking 'what the hell is this thing telling me? No, no! I'm going to go beat you!' And the numbers started going up. Not because we changed the words themselves - the strategy we were taking had changed things - from a 'comms' perspective."
A move to Skyscanner in 2020
In May 2020, Mario joined Skyscanner as a Senior UX Writer. He already loved the product, being a long-time user himself, and was excited to delve into the experience behind it all. He was also joining a team, which suited him well. Because Mario had come from the gaming industry, however, moving into travel felt like a completely different ball game.
When he started at Skyscanner, he knew immediately that he was amongst some amazingly talented UX writers, and was soon making a start on the company's 'Flights' product, where he was tasked with identifying and making improvements.
"I like having more people like me around me, so I'm more able to basically 'nerd' about stuff, but also learn about stuff too, because obviously, you can learn a lot from people that are around you. So for me, it was like, all these great writers were there and then they'd been doing this for years and I was like, 'ah, show me..!'"
Mario is one of the most talented people I know. He took me under his wing when I got my feet into UX design and helped me fly. Kind, creative, considerate, empathic, visionary… there aren't enough positive words in the dictionary to describe Mario but, rest assured, he is an asset to any design team and any company would be lucky to have him.source: LinkedIn
Alongside Mario's time in post, a global pandemic was now, unfortunately, in full swing. Mario now needed to collaborate with his teammates on a new workstream focused on adapting the copy within the Skyscanner product so that global events were taken into account for users. They needed to update the product to reflect Covid-19 safety measures and messaging; making sure that every step of the journey felt consistent.
"It was a huge responsibility. We had to get across to people that we understood that 'it's complicated, but here's the information that we can provide you'. And then we needed to get that translated through the whole journey.
"It was a huge, very interesting learning curve because I got to work a lot with the people from the 'Hotels' product design team, and I've now worked with people from Singapore, Japan, and China. So for me, it was understanding how the culture differences mix and match so I can understand how we can make everything work."
Despite really relishing the job and liking the company, unfortunately, his time there was relatively short. By the end of 2020, Mario had begun discussions with King again, as they had approached him to discuss a new opportunity.
A return to King - as Lead Content Designer
"The Head of Content Design told me, 'we're setting up this team, we would love you to become our first craft lead. Would you be interested?' And I thought, 'sure.'"
During his time away from King, the company managed to build upon what Mario had already started there in his previous two UX writing roles. They now had centralised teams in place, working directly with the product teams, and focused mainly on the Candy Crush franchise (which is the biggest set of games King has).
"My new role as a craft lead basically means I'm there to enable the team to do the best they can do, to help them, upskill them, whatever is it that they need. But also on the other side, there is the need to speak to stakeholders and show them why it's so good and interesting to work with this team - and what this team can bring to the table to benefit them, like solving certain problems, for example."
Mario is a force at King. When I started there I was impressed by his proficiency and dedication. That inspired me and took my UX-writing to new levels. One of his strengths is the way he gives constructive feedback - it brings out the best of his co-workers. It was a nice experience working with Mario and I wish him all the best.source: LinkedIn
Advice, recommendations and tips from Mario
What would you say are the key skills and capabilities necessary to be good at what you do?
"You need to be 'curious'. Curious enough to not mind asking lots of questions about things; questions you might worry sound dumb at first. But there is no such thing as a dumb question.
"You need to try to get your hands on all the information you can and process that, which means investing time in things like reading all of the books that you can get your hands on and selected posts on sites like Medium. And, right now, it's glorious because you can (virtually) attend meet-ups from all over the world and listen to how people are practising and what they're working on.
"As well as being curious, you also need to be open to speaking to different types of people. It might take you out of your comfort zone. I've found that most of the people that do writing for a living tend to be introverts, right? It can feel very hard to come in and start playing at a bigger team, so people need to take that into account and acknowledge that. It's about facing those fears, in a way.
"And lastly, you need to get into your head that you're going to make mistakes. A lot of them. It's not about 'failing fast and breaking things', it's more about just trying your best.
"Content design and UX writing are not about just writing. It's about research. It's about data. It's about information. It's about empathy, and it's about working together with others to create something better."
What advice would you give people looking to get more involved with the UX community?
"Right now, there are a whole bunch of communities; especially here in Europe. You've got Spain, Portugal, Italy, Poland, France... I know there are UK ones in Brighton and London too. Find your local community and reach out to them. Start being part of that conversation. If you can't find a UX community relevant to where you are, build one. It's not easy, but you can start reaching out to people and arrange a Zoom chat every month to 'talk shop'.
"The beauty of being part of a community like this is that you don't feel alone, and you soon realise that others are having the same problems at work as you are! Someone will have solved something in the past, or have advice on what you're doing - and then it's practice, practice, practice. It's the only way to do it.
"The more meetups you attend, the more you start moving along and gaining that confidence."
If you could go back in time and give yourself a piece of personal advice early in your career, what would you say to yourself?
"That 'done is better than perfect' for sure. Because that was a huge thing for me. I love the technical term for it, 'analysis paralysis'. I used to have that so much, but really, nobody's grading you. I mean, it's going to be okay. And there's always a chance to improve things too, so it's not like you just get one shot at everything you do.
"Also, learn about different things, not just the things that you do every single day. Because if you don't do enough of that, you just get tunnel vision. So even if you love writing, learn about film, photography, learn about design, learn about cooking. You never know when there's something you can use from that, for whatever it is that you're working on."
Which industry professionals should people be following right now on Twitter?
Is there a particular book you'd recommend to someone for early in their career?
Without words, apps would be an unusable jumble of shapes and icons, while voice interfaces and chatbots wouldn't even exist. Words make software human–centered, and require just as much thought as the branding and code. This book will show you how to give your users clarity, test your words, and collaborate with your team. You'll see that writing is designing.
It's such a good book, and the way it's written is brilliant because it covers whole processes.— Mario Ferrer
Is there a particular site or product that you think does content particularly well?
"Shopify. Their Polaris platform in particular is really well done. The beauty of it for me is that it is one of the few places that's public where you'll find code, design and content working together in perfect unison.
"It's like even with the error messages, everything is there and everything makes sense. It's been well thought through. And you're like, 'why can't this be the standard for all of us?'"
What should people expect when they begin a UX writing course?
"So for me, it always depends on the type of training course. And it depends on your background, right? But most of these courses are either for design or for people who want to make a jump from copywriting or blogging to UX writing and content design. So the first thing that you learn I think, is that there's no poetry.
"So forget everything you've learned about how words have to be 'the perfect copy'. There's no such thing as that here. It could include an introduction on how working in a productteam works, because most people will have probably never worked with that kind of team."
Are there any courses or workshops that you would recommend people look into?
"Yes, definitely. The two-day course by Content Design London I took a couple of years ago was fantastic. And I know that Andy Welfle and Michael J. Metts (mentioned earlier in this article) are developing workshops, so that's worth a look too.
I know that the UX Writers Collective has a whole bunch of very interesting courses as well, and if you're starting from scratch and want to listen to something in Spanish, I've got my own course over in Domestika (it has subtitles too). That's a very basic level course."
Mario Ferrer: Further reading and watching
- Mario's website A portfolio website, featuring case studies and photos.
- Mario's LinkedIn profile Connect to Mario on LinkedIn and follow his regular posts.
- Mario's Twitter profile Keep up to date with Mario's speaker slots, training opportunities and general thoughts on UX and content design.
- Writers of Silicon Valley: UX writing and content strategy outside the US Mario features on this podcast where he talks about UX writing communities on a global scale.
- UX Writers Conference A video interview by Joe Welinske of Welinske & Associates with Mario.
- The Crazy Skill Set of UX Writers for Games A UX Writing Hub interview with Mario - focused on his role at King.
- What the hell is UX Writing? A written interview where Mario shares more tips and advice.
- UX Writers Meetup: Mario Ferrer A video interview where Mario talks about 'surviving' as the sole UX writer in a large organisation.
- Introduction to UX writing: a course by Mario Ferrer This short video features Mario introducing his popular course for Domestika.
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