A look at the design process of the new Microsoft consoles

A look at the design process of the new Microsoft consoles

Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S should not only be fun to play, but should also blend in well with our living room. We spoke to members of Microsoft’s design team about the importance of user feedback and what is behind the design language of the new Xbox generation.

Die Xbox Series S.

© Microsoft
Die Xbox Series S.

The current Xbox pad, Sony’s Dualshock, Nintendo’s Gamecube controller or Microsoft’s “Duke”? Almost every gamer has his absolute favorite pad. Anyone who believes that these preferences result purely from hand size are wrong, as Microsoft designer Chris Kujawski explains in an interview. Rather, there is also a whole range of different ways in which players prefer to hold a gamepad in their hands. As an example, Kujawski shows us “the claw”, in which the A, B, X and Y buttons are pressed with the index finger so that the thumb does not have to let go of the analog stick. There are also differences when pressing the shoulder buttons. While some gamers depress the shoulder buttons like the trigger of a weapon, others prefer triggering via a sideways movement.

Microsoft has repeatedly revised and tested the prototype of the new Xbox controller. (Photo: Microsoft)

When designing the new Xbox controller, not only different hand sizes, but also playing styles had to be taken into account. Microsoft has carried out countless tests for this. “It’s an iterative process,” says Kujawski. First, models of the controller were made by hand and processed until they reached the desired shape. The models were then converted into CAD models with a 3D scanner and then digitally adjusted and tested again and again. For the test process, the models were then printed out with a 3D printer, provided with the actual controller technology, and then tested by different gamers. Based on this feedback, the controllers were then changed again and again.

The Microsoft designers are satisfied with the result. An adult with large hands should be able to use the new controller just as easily as an eight-year-old child. Although the controller looks little different than its predecessor at first glance, according to Microsoft, hundreds of millions of people could potentially benefit from the changes to the controller design. The designer Erika Kelter, who is responsible for colors and materials at Microsoft, even compares the design of the controller with working on wearables, as gamers may interact with the device for several hours at a time.

Was the Xbox Series S inspired by the work of Dieter Rams?

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According to the Xbox Series S a number of blog and forum posts appeared, dealing with similarities between the console design and the work of Dieter Rams. When asked about this, Microsoft designer Carl Ledbetter dismisses it. The comparison is flattering, but the work of the German cult designer was not a direct source of inspiration. Kujawski also says no, even if Rams naturally influenced every industrial designer in some way. In the end, however, the design of the Xbox Series S is the result of the design language conceived for the new series of consoles, which Microsoft calls “Intelligent Geometry”, as well as of technical necessities.

The design language of the new Xbox consoles is based on simple basic geometric shapes. (Graphic: Microsoft)

“Intelligent Geometry” is based on simple basic geometric shapes that are used again and again in different sizes. According to the designers, this basic idea led to the circular fan, separated from the rest of the white housing in black, which gives the Xbox Series S its characteristic appearance. At the same time, a certain familiarity with the larger Xbox Series X should arise. This can be seen, for example, in the dimensions: The dimensions of the Xbox Series S are roughly what you would get if you cut off a piece of the basic shape of the larger Xbox Series X. According to the Microsoft designers, the design was therefore also called “Slice” internally.

Xbox Series X: Form follows function

Also in the design process of the Xbox Series X found the maxim already coined by the sculptor Horatio Greenough in 1852, according to which the form should result from the function. In the case of the more powerful of the two new Xbox consoles, it was the motherboard, which was laid out at right angles for cooling reasons, from which the later shape emerged. According to their own information, the Microsoft designers experimented with several possible housing shapes for the console. According to Kujawski, Microsoft also relied on user feedback for the final housing shape. Apparently with a very clear result: According to Kujawski, 70 percent of the gamers surveyed opted for a model that at least rudimentarily corresponded to the console announced for November 10, 2020.

A throwback to the early days of Xbox. (Graphic: Microsoft)

The circular green light that shimmers from the square fan shows again the design language based on simple geometric shapes, at the same time, according to the designers, it is a reminiscence of the beginnings of the Microsoft console. When the first Xbox was introduced 19 years ago, there was a green circle in the center of the otherwise black console. “It almost shows the soul of the Xbox,” say the designers.

Both new Microsoft consoles will be released on November 10th. We’ll tell you how they differ technically in our article “Xbox Series X and Series S: The new consoles from Microsoft at a glance“.


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