Xbox 360's design manager Jonathan Hayes on the design of your hands' new best friend, the Xbox 360 controller
How do you actually make the controller? Is it solely on screen via an art package or do you make physical models of the designs?
Jonathan Hayes: The controller is our most intense effort, in terms of studying the biomechanics of long-term play. We made many models, probably three dozen distinct designs, and we tested them repeatedly with gamers around the world. The challenge is always that we're getting input on a device that is - by definition - not nearly complete. The art of research in this situation, is knowing how to factor out the noise and gather all the really important input we need to further improve each model. We believe this is the best game controller ever.
How long was the design process for the Xbox 360 pad? Was it a purely internal Microsoft operation?
Jonathan Hayes: By the time the Xbox 360 controller is on shelf, the design development will have lasted for three years. During this time, we worked with several research/design partners, both in the US and around the world. My role was to orchestrate this collaborative process and ensure that the design became simpler, more intuitive and more comfortable with each prototype.
Did you take on board the original Xbox pad design when creating its successor or start with a clean slate?
Jonathan Hayes: We kept everything that worked and improved everything else with input from Xbox gamers. The problem changes when you add wireless: no room for a battery pack and a pair of MUs on the same controller. We were hearing that the Black and White buttons were hard to get at, so we turned those into 'bumpers' above triggers. The Xbox 360 guide button was added to give gamers easy access to key controls and a consistent place to find stuff. Then we flanked the guide button with Back and Start so they'd be accessible also. Even with these changes, we were able to bring size down a bit - which will be better for most gamers.
Did you look at other controllers (PlayStation, Dreamcast, even the SNES) for research purposes? How did you choose your end design?
Jonathan Hayes: We are very familiar with the competition, but only use that as context in optimising the Xbox experience. We knew the Controller S was a solid first step on the path to the ideal controller and we think the Xbox 360 controller builds on that success.