Xbox: How It's Designed To Thrill

Designers from the U.S. and Japan collaberated to create a console for Microsoft with an appeal it hopes will reach beyond gamers

The Xbox 360 went through several iterations (above), before a new console that melds Western power with Asian grace emerged

If you ask Jonathan Hayes, design director for Microsoft's (MSFT ) Xbox 360, to capture the soul of his video-game console, he'll say "Bruce Lee." Hayes wants the machine to convey power and grace, hallmarks of the martial arts star. It is the most powerful video game console available, and its white color with hints of green and hourglass curves give it élan.

The first Xbox in 2001 was more like the Incredible Hulk -- a black, industrial box that bulged at the top and burst with power. It fared poorly against Sony's (SNE ) PlayStation.The brute force of the Xbox played well in the U.S. but left consumers in the gaming mecca of Japan unhappy. The Xbox was deemed too big, too garish, too American.

Hayes hired Astro Studios, the San Francisco firm that designs the high-testosterone gaming PCs from Alienware Corp. Then he brought on Hers Experimental Design Laboratory of Osaka, which designs PCs and cell phones for the Asian market. The Hers designers spoke no English, and the folks at Astro spoke no Japanese.

No matter. Astro talked to gamers old and young, watched people set up consoles, and played a bunch themselves. This proved critical to designing the new box. And while it hasn't sold well in Japan, Microsoft still believes the Xbox 360 will win over consumers who want to use it to show photos and play DVDs as well as games. In short, it needed to be elegant as well as powerful. With its color and sculptural lines, the Xbox 360 has the feel of an iPod. Enough said.

By Jay Greene

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