June 14, 2005
When the first images of the Xbox 360 were leaked prior to its official unveiling, the feedback was mostly positive. That's good news for Brett Lovelady, whose ASTRO Studios was tasked with designing the first of the next-gen consoles. We spoke with Brett about the design approach, appealing to Japanese consumers and more.
GameDAILY BIZ: When did Microsoft first approach ASTRO Studios about the next-gen Xbox and what kind of initial design guidelines did they give?
Brett Lovelady: ASTRO started working with the Xbox team in September 2003 after interviewing for the gig in August '03.
Regarding initial guidelines, we were given a brief describing the user and desired marketing attributes, as well as an overview of earlier attempts to satisfy the program needs.
BIZ: What was the main design goal for the 360? What kind of style were you specifically aiming for?
BL: We were challenged to create a memorable product, unique to Xbox, authentic to gamers, yet inviting to a broader digital entertainment audience. From the beginning ASTRO encouraged Microsoft to embrace an iconic character for the new Xbox 360. We wanted them to take the path to being memorable and confident in who they were as a world leader in video gaming and not play it so safe. We want people to have a strong opinion on the design over ambivalence. Microsoft agreed with this approach.
As for style, it was to be a progressive home entertainment product; it needed to look good to in a multitude of environments without being shoved in a cabinet or drawer every time your relatives came over.
BIZ: What was it like collaborating with Osaka, Japan-based Hers Experimental Design Laboratory Inc. on the project?
BL: ASTRO developed the original concept and form language, and then we reviewed and critiqued it with Hers for their input and perspective for the Japanese demographic and for their professional design opinion, resulting in detail refinements to certain features. It is very much an ASTRO product, from beginning to end, but working with HERS helped us tune it for a broader market.
BIZ: Do you believe the design influence of Hers will make the Xbox 360 more appealing to the average Japanese consumer's aesthetic?
BL: Yes. HERS supplied cultural and environmental insights we wouldn't know without living in the culture. Also, in "general" terms, American design is often bold and iconic in the first read of the product, where Japanese design is typically subtle and very detail, craft oriented. The Xbox 360 is an interesting blend of these cultural design perspectives, boosted by gamer angst and energy.
[ "We wanted to shed some of the dark, black, science fiction heritage of
console history to appeal to a broader digital entertainment audience" -- Lovelady on the 360's white color scheme ]
BIZ: What would you say were the biggest challenges during the design process for the 360?
BL: There were many challenges in the program. The product had to be powerful, so like most electronic products we had to balance power, heat, size, features and cost to achieve the right level of power and performance.
It also was a challenge was to design a product that relates to a global gaming culture, yet extends the appeal into broader markets and room environments.
Finally, developing a memorable, product icon that Xbox could confidently own in the market place [was a difficult task]. We feel the "inhale" gesture of the product in both vertical and horizontal orientation and its implied "X" in almost all viewing angles created a product with a sense of purpose and individuality.
BIZ: How much did it cost in the end to design the next Xbox? Did budget constraints ever affect the project?
BL: I only know what was spent with us, but based on other programs we've been involved with, it was large of amount of time and capital on many fronts. Once the decision was made to create a high impact product, time became more of a constraint than budget. But to answer your question, budget was not one of the constraining factors.
BIZ: One of the "problems" with the original Xbox is that it's quite hefty. Although the 360 is clearly smaller, it doesn't appear to be significantly smaller. Does this concern you?
BL: Yes, as it's typically desired to be smaller and lighter, but in order to achieve maximum performance and pack in all the new features, you have a lot of physical constraints and tradeoffs, so we had to balance and blend how far to push certain elements to achieve size and weight improvements and make cost goals.
BIZ: Is there a reason why you decided on a white color scheme? Some hardcore fans have said it reminds them of the Sega Dreamcast.
BL: We wanted to shed some of the dark, black, science fiction heritage of
console history to appeal to a broader digital entertainment audience. The 360 needs to look good to in a multitude of environments without being shoved in a cabinet or drawer every time your relatives visit. Nothing is really white in production, and when you actually get the final product, you'll see more color richness in the parts than prototype photos can convey.
BIZ: You guys have designed Alienware PCs as well. What would you say are the key differences between designing for a PC and a videogame console?
BL: The key difference is in the approach to the target market and end gamer. PC and Console gamers have a huge overlap with many similarities, but with Alienware they target the hardcore PC gamer who is interested in ultimate power and performance, with pure gamer attitude and irreverence. They are the hot rod racers of the gaming industry.
Although expectations are starting to blur, console gamers have a lower expectation of performance, speed and power, and need to appeal to a broader market both in terms of age, gender and overall digital expectations-at least for now. In addition, play environments are different; living room vs. computer or bedroom, possible group use via controllers vs. keyboards, etc., but again things are blurring.
BIZ: There were reportedly more than a dozen different prototypes created for the 360 before the design was finalized. When you're at that stage of design, how do you narrow it down?
BL: Dialog and Decision. Before we were involved there were a variety of concepts that were created and reviewed with varying results. Once we were involved we created a range of new ideas that we thought met the criteria and our own design
With a certain amount of dialog with the Xbox leadership and our recommendations we narrowed the offering to a couple of our favorite concepts and then reviewed them with a variety of people around the world. The results were then factored back into the dialog and the Xbox team leadership chose the direction in which to build.
BIZ: Is there anything missing from the final design that you wish you could have included?
BL: Fewer wires, vents, smaller power supply and a bit less size and weight.... like most consumer electronics.
BIZ: Was it ASTRO Studios' idea to include the option of customizable faceplates? Are you designing extra faceplates for consumers to purchase?
BL: The faceplates were an idea we proposed and it immediately got traction because it had been talked about prior to our involvement. The faceplates add to the product on many levels. They can provide a use to enhance personalization, limited edition specials, upgrade options, co-branding, etc. People love to make things special for themselves, so this was just one way we could help.
BIZ: Anything you'd like to add?
BL: Sure. In creating the Xbox 360, we followed our basic ASTRO philosophy. That is that people are our ultimate clients and we want to give them as much as possible in the design-as much function, fashion and fun as we feel is appropriate for the brand and marketplace at the time.... and sometimes just a little bit more.
BIZ: Thanks very much for your time.
BL: Thanks for the opportunity.
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