The PS5 was just revealed and Sony went all in on the design of the system, rather than the internals and technical side. This brought to mind, does design matter anymore with consoles?
While consoles have been around since the 70s, design language was never really a thing. In fact, I’d say, design wasn’t a thing until the Xbox 360. The white, concave “Inhale” box was a stark contrast to the utilitarian style of the original xbox and far sleeker and sexier than the original PS3. But, as we all know, consoles sit in your entertainment cabinet. Never to be seen again until the extra peripheral or dusting needs to be done. And arguments could be made that the industrial design of the 360, led to the Red Ring of Death outbreaks. The big question is, did the design help sell the 360?
Design Vs Function?
The 360 was popular because of the library and Xbox live. The price was also a huge factor that made it win the war between that console generation, coming in at $399, while the PlayStation 3 sold at a whopping $599 at launch. But before launch, the design was what people talked about. Check out this chart by twitter user EvilBoris HDR and you’ll see, white symmetrical design was not a thing in 2001 or in 2020. One can even argue, on design alone the Slim Xbox 360 is the best-looking console in that line up. But design is nothing without form and function. Something I’ve said over and over again.
The 360’s design caused the Red Ring of Death, just like the Nintendo’s VCR style cartridge system caused the games to not work. So, while the 360 looked more defined, with a better design language, the PlayStation 3, had far fewer issues. In the end, it was the infrastructure and price that won. Even with all the issues, including ones I experienced myself, having gone through 8 Xbox 360s’, I still enjoyed that console more than the PS3. Even though the PlayStation 3 was arguably more powerful, the Cell processor was hard to develop for, making the 360 the lead console.
A traditional home entertainment system is set up for horizontal hardware, not vertical. While they do show a horizontal formation, the console is clearly made to look and act like a PC tower. Something started with the Xbox 360. While one can say the Wii handled this the best, the way the PlayStation 5 is showcased, is not how you’re going to have it situated. It was also clearly designed for the digital only version. From the two systems, you can see the diskless version being the reference console, while the disk version was a last-minute addition. What’s up with that hump?
Design as a Statement
Some people have argued that it looks like a router or the eye of Sauron. But I think it’s a statement. Much like the 360, meant to get people talking about it. From what I hear, it’s less powerful than the Xbox Series X and Sony has gotten some flack from the recent “let’s reveal just the logo” press conference. So they needed a wow factor. This is basically the “One more thing” game-play tactic of Apple.
The video reveal was more than just a reveal. They wanted it to be an experience. I do applaud Sony for the visual representation of how the controller works. Which shockingly resembled the Wii controller reveal, the presentation resembled those early PlayStation 3 commercials, minus the creepy laughing baby. This harken-back to those early PlayStation one and PlayStation 2 advertisements. A statement.
This looks to be a design language change for Sony. Something which I’m excited for. While I enjoyed the PlayStation 3 and 4 experience, they just seemed stale. Other than a few exclusives, the two systems (Sony and Microsoft) seemed almost the same with, arguably, a better user interface and online infrastructure with Microsoft. This is Sony’s way of doing a Nintendo move (hopefully). With a new radical design language, which may translate into new software and infrastructure.
You can compare this to the GameCube to Wii move. Sony needs something different. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One were too similar, design wise. They didn’t have their own personas. While they each had exclusives, the lines between consoles were very blurred. To a point where one game, Spider-Man made me want the PlayStation 4. But if that came out on both consoles, a console sale would have been the defining choice.
Design Without Innovation?
Much like that original console generation – Xbox 360 – PlayStation 3 and Wii, I went with the Xbox 360 and Wii. Not because of the cheaper price of the Wii, but because the experience was like no other console on the market. And while Nintendo has not yet shown a successor to the Switch, the Switch is still unlike any console on the current or future market. Something Sony has to deal with, as the Switch and mobile devices killed the VITA.
The PlayStation 5 reveal, does the design matter? Yes and no. Yes, because people will talk about it more than just revealing a brick with specks. But also, no, because the only time you’re really going to see the console, is if you’re cleaning it or adding something to it.
What do I personally think of the design? It’s an interesting look at what Sony thinks really matters… the digital only future. And I do think it looks more striking than anything currently on the market. In the end, it’s not industrial design that will shape the future of gaming, but UI, features and internal hardware. If we look back at the 360, we saw how industrial design ruined that console. And the Wii was successful because of how it radically redesigned user interface with the games. Hopefully, form won’t destroy the function of the PlayStation 5.