Design Principles Learned From Playing Halo

I have recently been playing a lot of Halo studying the design of the Halo series and have been struck with how the elements at play in a game like Halo can inform user centered design in any field.

The ultimate goal of any video game is that its users are enjoying themselves. This is what determines whether a game is good and if it sells any copies.

Imagine if everything we designed had this same goal? What if we designed everything with the mindset that if it wasn’t enjoyable to use, it would not be a success? As simple as it sounds, it’s deceptively hard to do.

Let’s look at how video games like Halo give it’s users enjoyable experiences and see how we can adapt those principles into our own designs.

30 Seconds of Fun

One of the lead gameplay designers of the Halo series, Jamie Griesemer, was quoted as saying:

“In Halo 1, there was maybe 30 seconds of fun that happened over and over and over and over again. And so, if you can get 30 seconds of fun, you can pretty much stretch that out to be an entire game.” – Jamie Griesemer

Griesemer wasn’t saying that Halo is literally the same 30 seconds on a loop, but rather that they created a feedback loop that was able to be rapidly recycled in 30 second increments enjoyed by the player.

That feedback loop being: there is a challenge that you need to overcome, there are a variety of ways it can be completed and you can do it in 30 seconds or less.

Challenge: Bad aliens in your way, you need to get through

Solution: Rocket launcher

Time: 30 seconds

Rocket Launcher is always a good solution.


Challenge: Bad aliens in your way, you need to get through

Solution: Blast through in a tank

Time: 25 seconds

Tank is usually a better solution.

In the same way, we need to give the users we are designing for the same enjoyable feedback loop to play with, no matter what we are designing.

Challenge: Checkout page, you need to collect your users billing information

Solution: Create intuitive form, with snappy feedback, collect only data you need

Time: 30 seconds

A checkout page being fun? AND taking less than 30 seconds? Get outta town.

It can be done. Take a look at the GoFundMe checkout flow. It’s only two screens, beautiful, and can be filled out in 30 seconds.


Many of our designs simply have to be more versatile than the typical Halo gameplay loop. Unfortunately, “Rocket Launcher” is not an acceptable answer for many of the problems we are solving with design (or is it?). But if we start thinking with the same flow, solving problems in a fast and fun way, our users will thank us.


Halo is able to be played by users with years of gaming experience or n00bs users with none at all thanks to it’s difficulty levels ranging from easy to “Legendary”. This has been a fundamental feature of video games since their beginning. Halo makes it’s accessibility just that little bit more fun by giving each difficulty level it’s own emblem and description.


The easy difficulty in Halo is perfect for easing in new players while Legendary difficulty is a punishing challenge, incredibly rewarding for experienced gamers.

The beauty of these difficulty levels is that they allow any user to have an enjoyable experience, regardless of skill level.

Imagine if we translated this level of accessibility into other realms of design?

What if the design of software like Photoshop was just as rewarding and accessible for new users as it was for experienced professionals? What if a website was just as enjoyable to use for a tech obsessed teenager as it was for a tech-illiterate grandmother?

Can you imagine if video games were only designed to be enjoyed by pro-level gamers?  It’s an absurd thought. So why do we design anything else this way?

Are we ramping our users up to legendary status or just expecting them to be there from the start?

Designing with accessibility is a priority a designer must embrace.

The Sandbox

A game like Halo has thousands, if not millions of moving parts. Everything in the game is working together to give you a cohesive, fun and issue free experience.

This concept in relation to games is called the sandbox.

Think of it as if you are playing in a literal sandbox. You can only play with what is in your sandbox. A shovel, a bucket, a toy truck, etc.

Literal Sandbox

With what you brought into the sandbox with you, is it fun? Better yet, do the things you brought into the sandbox with you work together? Also, do the things you brought into the sandbox with you actually work in the sandbox? You probably don’t want to bring a sandwich into the sandbox with you, it would get covered in sand and be rendered inedible.

In the Halo sandbox, you have things like weapons, vehicles and factors like your characters movement speed and jump height that make up it’s sandbox.

Halo Sandbox

What Halo has managed to do from the start is create a sandbox that is fun to play in but is also incredibly well balanced. No one tool in the box feels more valuable than any other and every tool feels like it is part of a cohesive whole.

Are we considering the greater sandbox with our designs?

No matter what we are designing whether it be a checkout queue for a deli or a website about dogs, are we making sure that there is cohesion and balance? Are the individual elements contributing to a enjoyable greater whole? Are there things we need to stop bringing into our designs outright?

Design for Users

Jason Jones, the creator of Halo, said this about game design:

“I think one of the most important attributes a designer can have is…not only the ability, but almost the unconscious constant experience of putting yourself in other people’s heads and watching them as they have an experience. Building an experience through the eyes of someone else is incredibly challenging. I think that’s what makes great designers. A bunch of my meta-points that I’ve drawn out over the last 20 years are about that, how you put yourself in other people’s shoes.” – Jason Jones, creator of Halo

We must be constantly thinking of the outcomes we are creating through the eyes of our end users.

Don’t be a designer focused on dollars, don’t be a lazy designer. Be a great designer.

Your website, restaurant, gadget or video game could be the next Halo.






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