Board Game Graphic Design: A Chat with Brigette Indelicato

Graphic design uses a combination of art and visual communication – symbols, text, and images – to create an aesthetic and convey ideas. Have you ever gotten a feel for the type of mechanic, excitement, and mood of a game before actually digging into the rules? You’ve likely been influenced by the graphic designer’s magic.

Brigette Indelicato has worked on titles for several publishers, including Favelas, Dungeon Hustle, Santa Monica, and War Chest. You can see her latest work on Sea of Legends, currently on kickstarter.

What got you started playing board games? 

My friends and I got into the classic gateway games years ago, and fell down the rabbit hole of other games fairly quickly. Back then I lived in a big house with 6 other people, so there were always friends around for a game of Catan, a few rounds of Magic: The Gathering, or for keeping up a weekly D&D game. (Little did we know that would never be so easy again.) I love collaborative games and puzzle games, and have been really enjoying some of the more out-of-the-box themes that have been popping up recently as well. 

What inspired you to work in board game graphic design? 

After getting into playing board games, some friends and I were inspired to create our own storytelling card game, called The Plot Thickens. I really enjoyed creating all the graphic design for the game – logo, packaging, cards, web graphics – and it occurred to me that anyone publishing games would be in need of graphic design services. Through the connections I made playtesting and promoting our game, I was able to slowly take on more and more game-related freelance jobs, and eventually grow my client list to the point where I could quit my day graphic design job. 

What do you like most about the design process?

Part of what attracts me to graphic design as a career is the challenge of creative problem solving, and I think it’s what makes board game design and playing board games in general appealing to me as well. When it comes to board game graphic design, there are many layers of things to consider: How can the graphic design make the game more intuitive for players to understand? What ways will a person hold, move, or look at this component? How can we use materials in an interesting way? What accessibility issues could there be? These kinds of challenges get me really excited to tackle creative projects. 

Do you find the gaming community supportive? 

Absolutely. I wouldn’t have been able to make board game graphic design my career without the help and support of so many people in the industry – from a local game designers who helped us when we were first starting out making our game, to other graphic designers and artists willing to pass my name on to clients, to supportive online connections happy to share my announcement of going full-time freelance. Many of the people I’ve interacted with in this space are truly magnanimous about sharing their time and expertise. 

Whats been your biggest challenge to date?

As a newly-minted freelancer, figuring out how to best manage my time is an ongoing challenge. Having worked full-time jobs for the majority of my creative career, it is definitely a bit strange to have no external structure imposed on my schedule. I’ve been trying out different routines and schedules, so hopefully it’ll be a matter of trial and error until I find the ideal system. 

Do you curate what you work on based on how much you like the theme, or do you work on almost any project?

I haven’t run into a situation yet where the subject matter or theme of a game has given me pause about taking on the project, though there are themes or subject matter I wouldn’t want my name attached to creatively. I think that filtering happens naturally though – I wouldn’t feel particularly enthusiastic about working on dark, violent, zombie-themed games, but I also don’t think the style of my work would lend itself well to (or entice anyone to hire me for) that type of project. A piece of advice that has proven true for me is to “make the type of work you want to get hired for.” Even in terms of the personal projects you put out into the world, clients are more likely to hire you for things they can see you have experience in. I’m hoping working on one Star Trek game leads to more Star Trek related projects, for sure. 🙂  

How do you tackle a challenging design brief?

The biggest challenge for me on tough projects can just be getting started. I collect a lot of style inspiration on a pinterest board, and do the very smallest first step of opening an Adobe Illustrator file and putting some of the inspiration images in it. Once that’s done I can feel less intimidated by the blank “canvas”. I also start off sketching ideas on paper and get out as many rough concepts as possible, even if I think I’ve hit something I like already. Once that first messy creative stage of figuring out the visual direction of a project, the actual work of applying it to the various applications like the box packaging, card layouts, etc. tends to flow more smoothly. 

How would you describe the pros and cons of working freelance?

The unpredictable flow of income is probably the main con that many freelancers would agree on, which requires a decent amount more planning and thought to make work. A drawback for me personally as an extrovert is the lack of a big work community, though living in a city and having a number of other social circles (including my board game industry friends!) help with that. Having complete control of my time can be a pro or a con depending on the day – it means I simultaneously feel like I’m working all the time, and none of the time. But as far as I can tell, the benefits outweigh the challenges: having the flexibility to design my life in the most effective way possible for my personal strengths and weaknesses, the freedom to put my creative energy into what I feel most excited and inspired by, and the ability to prioritize my time based on my own goals and values.

Where would you like to see the industry in 5 years?

I’m really excited to see that many publishers and game designers have been making an effort to increase diversity in the themes of their games, the people depicted in them, and the individuals who work on them. I would love to see that continue to gain momentum to the point where it’s not even noticeable in 5 years, but just the industry norm. 

What would you share with someone looking to design for the game industry?

Connect with other people in the industry, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. My experience has been that the majority of people are more than happy to give feedback on something in progress, give you advice, introduce you to someone they know, or share out an opportunity. In a similar vein, going to conventions to meet people and network is extremely valuable, and one of the main places I make connections to other creatives or to clients. 

You can see more of Brigette’s through her website. Follow her on twitter and Instagram.