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The Design of Xbox One

by Eric Frederiksen | May 31, 2013

When you’re designing a toaster or a movie player, it doesn’t need to look nice or make a statement. It just needs to look nice enough to sell to your consumers. When you’re building a console, you’ve only got one or two competitors, and everything about your system will stand out that much more.

You won’t see a reveal video for a new toaster here (unless you’re into that, let us know), but when pictures of the Xbox One hit last week and again when the PlayStation 4’s look is finally public in a couple weeks, pictures will be all over TechnoBuffalo and the Internet at large.

In an article posted yesterday, the designers behind the Xbox One go in depth about the reasoning behind the look and feel of the new console. As Kotaku notes, the article about the Xbox One’s design is, at the very least, partially PR fluff. But if you’re a fan of the thought that goes into the design of consumer electronics and user interfaces, there’s a lot worth checking out.

The design of the console itself and the UI, for example, are meant to visually complement each other, with both invoking the 16:9 ratio of the high definition televisions the console will be played on. That’s right, they didn’t just say “make it look like one of those VCRs all the kids have!”

XBox One - Controller - Front - Large

Most interesting, though, is the use of “Liquid Black” in the system’s core elements. Liquid black is the “blackest black create-able,” according to the article. This bit of PR fluff is paired with a bit of duh-level common sense: “This selection was motivated by the same guidance followed by high-definition TV manufacturers: dark colors accentuate content and bring the entertainment experience to the forefront.” Microsoft did the same thing every TV manufacturer does for the same reason they do it.

The controller, though, is black to enhance visibility, making the lettered buttons pop against the black background. The Xbox One’s UI is similarly dark to make the boxed content floating over it more visible, suggesting that we won’t be applying themes to our dashboards this time around. More likely there will be a set of subtle, pre-styled themes included, as was the case with Windows 8 and Zune before it.

The article also goes into the design process that led up to the current console and the huge number of prototypes that preceded the May 21st reveal:

“Before the team arrived at Xbox One’s final design, the team created 200 controller models, more than one hundred different versions of the Kinect sensor and “dozens and dozens” of console prototypes. Some prototypes reflected substantial design changes. Others incorporated subtle improvements…”

Sadly, there are no photos of the various iterations. Hopefully a few will escape in the night (it shouldn’t be hard to sneak out all that liquid black) for us to see what could have been. Prototype consoles and controllers can be demonstrative of dead ends the team ran up against during the creative process, ideas that were abandoned before they could fully mature or concepts that became impractical.

If this all sounds fun, check out the link at the bottom of the article for more detail.

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Eric Frederiksen

Eric Frederiksen has been a gamer since someone made the mistake of letting him play their Nintendo many years ago, pushing him to beg for his own,...Eric Frederiksen has been a gamer since someone made the mistake of letting him play their Nintendo many years ago, pushing him to beg for his own,...


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