When designer Bryan Sparks explains the inspiration for the look and feel of the modern Xbox, he says he and his team went back to 1968, when a certain landmark Stanley Kubrick film hit theaters and changed how the world saw science fiction. “We had this vision in our minds of a monolith,” Sparks says, referencing the black, slab-like machine of extraterrestrial origin in 2001: A Space Odyssey. “In the movie, every time you see the monolith, it signifies this point of advancement.”
An industrial designer by trade, Sparks has long hair and a penchant for t-shirts, jeans, and sneakers in the workplace. Couple that with his tall wiry frame and he looks more like a professional skateboarder than the aesthetic mastermind behind Microsoft’s gaming hardware. The way he sees it, the signature look of last year’s gleaming white Xbox One S spoke to that idea of technological progress. It’s a look that the design team knew they had to keep when they designed the new, much more powerful Xbox One X, even more of a monolith with its matte black finish. Still, what Microsoft didn’t want “was for this to be a big block,” Sparks adds.
When discussing how he and his team designed the Xbox One X, Sparks says the process revolved around one pivotal benchmark. The new console had to be compact, more so than any comparable PC. In fact, it would need to be even smaller than the Xbox One S, itself a slim version of the original Xbox One. There was one big issue: the new console wouldn’t just have to be smaller, it also needed to be 40 percent more powerful.
To tell the story of how its Xbox team accomplished such a feat, Microsoft invited us up to its Redmond, Washington headquarters to give an inside look at the design process behind the Xbox One X. But the company was also willing to go beyond the question of how and into the question of why — why make such a device, and why now?