Team Bungie brings together artists from a whole galaxy of disciplines. Some of these artists imagine the experiences that are poured into our games. Other artists design the graphics that are enjoyed by our community right here at Bungie.net. Who better to do that work than someone from that very same community? Bungie has a long history of recruiting passionate players of our games to make sure that the community experience stays vivid for the next generation of gamers. In fact, there goes one right now, trawling the snack bar for Swedish Fish. Before he can escape with his snack, let’s throw him up against the wall and make him reveal his secrets.
Who are you, and what do you do at Bungie?
My name is John Stvan. I’m a graphic designer who supports the Visual Identity team, Marketing team, as well as the Online and Mobile teams. My job is pretty unique in that I work on many internal-facing projects, as well as a lot of the things that our community sees. Marketing and VizID are responsible for the identity of our team and the games they create. My work focuses on web, motion graphics, print, and digital graphic design. I have a rare opportunity currently to work closely with the wizards of the web and mobile teams to help design the next iterations of Bungie.net.
Let’s see how many points of common interest you have with our readers. When you are not designing graphics that delight them when they come to Bungie.net, how do you spend your time?
I’m a gamer, so you’ll likely find me on the battlefields of some games. More than that, I love golfing, jamming on my guitar, going to movies, long walks on the beach, holding hands…
…wait is this Match.com?
Honestly, I’m pretty much your average fan of fun. I like hanging out with friends for a beer, grabbing a bite to eat at new places, and heading out to discover what Washington has to offer.
It sounds like you are a man of many interests. Has that wide spectrum of talents manifested in your career as well as your life?
I’ve had almost every job imaginable. I was a waiter, bar back, teller, telemarketer, journalist, but mainly a salesman. I worked at AT&T for a number of years, but found I was incredibly fond of making digital art. Halo 3’s screenshots were the perfect playing ground for new ideas, skill training, and art creation. I messed around with my own work and collaborated with people in the community. Just for fun.
There were a lot of unlikely stops along your road to working for Bungie. Before you began that journey through sales and customer service, where did you hope it would end?
I wanted to be an actor. I studied at Second City for a time. I’ve been in plays and small films, but that was just something to do. I like making people laugh. I’ve always wanted to be an artist. When I was young, I used to wish I could go into my drawings or see them move and interact with them.
As your goals shifted, did you shift the way you would prepare yourself to reach them?
I got as far as a few years of college. I tried, I really did, but I hated school. I did go back to online schooling up until my job here started. School is so important these days, and I’ve always had plans to finish. I really, really, lucked out with how things ended up for me. I left school and sold phones for 8 years. That wasn’t fun. I really wish I just sat down and figured out what made me happy a long time ago. I wouldn’t trade any of my struggles and experience for anything. I’m extremely happy with how it all worked out.
Tell us, then, exactly how it did work out. How does a purveyor of mobile phones make the jump to being a designer in the service of a developer of kick ass games? It seems an unlikely leap.
I’ve been an avid member of the Bungie Community for a long time. Urk was kind enough to feature some of my art on the Bungie.com main page. I made a few posters that got shared around the studio. Lorraine McLees found some art that I posted in her group and we talked about it for a bit – little did I know that she’d be my senior artist one day. Around the time of the Reach Beta, I noticed that Bungie was hiring for a content coordinator position and I applied. My stomach flipped when I got a call from Kirkland, but the message was that they found someone better suited for the job. The silver lining was that the person I talked to told me they would be looking at me again soon for some contract work with the same team.
As a graduate of Bungie Community College (not accredited), did your accomplishments as a fan give you the chops you would need to shine in your interview with Bungie? What was the hardest part about that final exam?
I hadn’t planned on having the phone interview that day and took the call from the golf course. I dropped the call four times, but still got invited to work for Bungie as a contractor. True story.
Congratulations on passing the test, even if the fairway was your classroom. Now that you have made the grade, what do you find to be the best thing about working here?
I think the best part for me is the fact that I get to do SO MUCH that people touch and see and use. From Xbox Themes, avatar shirts, web design, and box art to internal sites and events… our team gets to do it all. This is not to say that it’s easy. We usually have a very short turnaround time on a lot of the things we do.
Tell us more about those aggressive timelines. If you would, take us through a day in the life of a graphic designer at Bungie.
Well, I get in at 9… 9:15… ok 10 some days. It really depends on how late I worked the night before. Normally, I already have my coffee and get ready for the daily meetings. I try to hammer out first iterations by noon and get some feedback. We normally do a 1pm lunch. After that, I make changes based on the feedback. Coffee O’Clock is at 3pm, which always helps break up my day. After that it’s back to work until whatever hour at night when the project is done. Is it 11pm yet?
Is there something that Bungie does to make your long days and nights of hard work a little sweeter?
The Swedish Fish.
Editor’s Note: I can attest to John’s love of Swedish Fish. Asking for just one is met with violent protest.
What is your favorite accomplishment as a member of the Bungie team? When did you know that picking up and leaving home had been the right move for you?
My favorite thing that I’ve ever done at Bungie was an internal project that I can’t really talk about. I created a web solution for sharing project updates with the studio (despite not being a web programmer or developer at the time). It’s helped to keep a growing team on the same page as we create this new universe.
Externally, my proudest moment was creating the “Burn Bright. Burn Blue.” avatars for Xbox LIVE. We were able to sell that item to raise a lot of money for charity.
As impressive as those accomplishments might be, we can never rest on the laurels that we build for ourselves. How does Bungie make you better and better at what you do?
My boss is the best at teaching me how to enhance my skill. I’ve learned so much by rising to his various challenges. We all push each other on the VizID team. If we don’t know how to do something, we figure it out. Time and time again, you hear that Bungie is not a place for complacency. We are always challenging ourselves and our coworkers to do better and do more.
You know better than most that the Bungie Community is filled with artists who channel their creativity into expressions of their passion as gamers. What would you say to people who become inspired by your story?
Find out what you love to do, and do it. One of my favorite sayings is “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life”. This job is tough most of the time… but being successful in a tough environment is part of the fun. I’m not even close to as talented as some of the people here, but I work extra-hard to become valuable. If you love what you do, and work hard, good things will come.
Thank you for sharing, John. You have earned your Swedish Fish for the day. Before you tear into that snack and return to your drawing tablet, please tackle this final question: Experience, Work Ethic, or Talent? Rank them in order of importance to your role.
Work Ethic, Talent, Experience.
I had little experience before getting hired on at Bungie. I took full advantage of every opportunity I was given here. Because I have a thick skin (thank you Chicago), I persevered through some really tough times and gained the knowledge and experience I needed to continue doing great work.
There are many roads that lead to our studio. The one that John traveled is only one of them. Bungie still believes that our thriving community is a great place to find people with the passion to do what we do, assuming they have the right skills. You can find more of us profiled in a similar fashion in our Breaking In