Microsoft Game Designer Stays ‘Kinected’ to her Roots - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise Magazine January-March 2019 Issue

Some people like to play games while others choose to build them. Then there’s Karisma Williams, who does both. In addition to serving as creative director of, the Bradley University graduate works at Microsoft as a Senior Experience Developer/Designer for Xbox Kinect, which lets players interact with video games without the use of a controller. With Williams being one of the tech leaders in her industry, caught up with her to discuss the hurdles she faces as a double minority–a person of color and a woman–in the gaming world and how she excels in her craft.

What are your day-to-day duties at Microsoft?

I design and develop the various onscreen interfaces, which include menus, interaction models and onscreen elements. I work with various disciplines including artists and developers during the development process. Part of my job is looking at the overall interaction models and user experience. With the launch of Kinect we focused on removing the barrier of entry for people who don’t play games–something kids could use as well as grandparents. There’s an article where a guy who had an autistic son was able to go through the menus. My job is to interpret the creative vision and ensure the user experience is geared toward our target audience and highlights the benefits of new tech.

How long have you been in the gaming industry?

I’ve been in the game industry for six years and working on Kinect for over a year. My expertise has given me great opportunities to lead implementation wise. I enjoy the problem solving involved in implementing a high level design while remaining within given technical constraints such as memory restrictions.

How do you come up with your designs?

A lot of my design ideas come from my experience playing lots of games, observing user research sections, and observing how others interact with various technologies. My talents for design are largely intuitive but I do like to supplement that gift with various research and experimentations.

How did you gain that knowledge?

[Coming in to the industry] I don’t know if I knew what UI [user interface] design was, but all I wanted to do was make video games–the end product. You don’t know what goes into getting the product on the shelf you just know you want to be a part of it. I go back to a lot of my design sense being very intuitive, the first interface team I got hired on in the games industry was an easy fit for me. The rest of my knowledge came from experience; this is a fast paced industry where you learn a bit everyday.

Have you come across many minorities in your field?

There aren’t many minorities [within the industry]. We are a big part of the consumer group. There are games targeted to us. I don’t know if we don’t know about opportunities in the game industry, but there is a huge need for different point of views in the industry. The only way the industry can continue to grow and reach new audiences is to grow its source of ideas.

How would you suggest other minorities break into the gaming industry?

There are lower barriers to get into the game industry and then you move yourself around. A lot of people get in through engineering positions, but you don’t have to be technical to get in. There are entry-level tests, and management positions. If you want to get in through art, I’d say try learning proprietary art programs and you can always work your way around to other creative positions.

The best advice I can give is to network. There are various websites and groups where you can connect with those already in the industry. There are even organizations such as Blacks In Gaming.  Most in the industry are nice and willing to help someone who is looking to break in. Use LinkedIn and if you see someone with your dream job send them a note and ask them how they got in. I did this when I was first looking to get in myself and it was very helpful.

Have you found that there are less women in the gaming industry?

I think there are not a lot of women in the industry. Having a female insight is important. The more perspectives on the team [the better], which is what the game industry needs to do to continue to grow. Sony has a Women in Games scholarship. There are groups and people who are about diversifying the game industry. We’ve come a long way. My current Studio GM is a woman; women are infiltrating and influencing the industry more and more. I want to see more female developers in the future.

As a woman of color in gaming, do you mentor?

I’ve done mentoring for people who send me emails and ask for advice. I have mentors myself. You have to really be passionate and constantly want to improve. It’s a highly sought after industry. It’s right underneath movies. You have to work hard and expect to work harder.

What tips or words of advice would you offer someone trying to break into the industry?

Networking is huge. A lot of the chances and opportunities I’ve gotten have been through networking. Also, stay focused and do what you believe in doing. If you make sure you stay focused you’ll essentially get a chance to act on it. Always ramp up on technical skills, the industry rapidly changes and it’s important to understand the latest technology advances. Lastly, learn about the game engines, development processes and the programs. Learning how to talk to the various disciplines you will encounter in the industry is important. Remember ideas are good and a lot of people have them, the real question will be can you execute them–whether it be with a team or yourself. Continue to look for opportunities to execute on your ideas. Nothing can stop you from getting into the industry these days, the tools and the marketplace is wide open.

Additional reporting by Anslem Samuel

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of Microsoft.

Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.