I didn't realize it until I started seeing a bunch of posts about it that this past week or so was the 10th anniversary of the launch of the Xbox 360. Even a decade later I'm still immensely proud of having been a part of that team and the work that we did.
Many of my former colleagues and I reminisce about those days and how we were somehow at the right place, at the right time, with the right people. It wasn't perfect, but it felt like magic.
Work didn't feel like work even though we worked amazingly hard over an extended period of time. We would burn off steam by waging 16-person Halo warfare on the original Xbox via LAN, screaming at our colleagues who were crammed 4 at a time in offices down the hallway.
Through this intense experience, I made some great friends and learned a ton along the way.
I learned how important it was to have design values to help guide the decisions we made every day. For Project Xenon, the codename before the product name was decided upon, these values were:
- Open – Expansive and inviting, Xbox will accommodate your need to make adjustments.
- Clear – Purposeful, bold, and never more complex than it needs to be.
- Consistent – Across all expressions of the brand: plastic to pixels to packaging.
- Athletic – Reconciles power with grace and acts as a catalyst to raise the level of play.
- Mirai (Japanese for "future") – Surprises you with innovation and thought leadership.
The hidden sixth value is the acronym that those spell out: OCCAM, referring to Occam's Razor which can be interpreted to mean that the simplest explanation is usually the right one. In other words, simplicity.
A bit too clever for our own good, but internally we would refer to OCCAM as a way to get us back to what mattered when debating something about the product. It gave us a good foundation on the brand experience we were trying to build. It may seem corny, but it worked.
There were many other lessons learned along the way that are still worth remembering.
Lead with design, validate with data. We did a lot of up front user research as well as ongoing evaluation and user testing. In the final 18 months of the product development cycle, we did over 60 expert evaluations and 25 different concept and usability tests. All this informed the decisions we made as a product design team.
Don't sacrifice clarity for depth. We tried to make everything no more than "2 clicks away" but weren't prescriptive about it. If something was clear and usable but had depth, we felt okay about it.
Keep the engine underneath the hood. We were building a full OS for a game system that did much more than previous generations. It was amazingly complex, but we didn't believe that our users needed to know that it was.
Embrace your constraints. We had a hard schedule we wanted to meet for competitive business reasons. We had a very small memory footprint in which to store the entire system UI - less than 3MB! In the end, we met our launch date of November 2005 and were able to fit the entire UI in 1.5MB. Don't get me wrong - we pushed back hard on the constraints that we had, but once we understood why they were there, we embraced it fully.
Teams are as important as products. The wrong team can't build the right product.
Go for magic, not perfection. Design magical experiences; perfect products never ship. And here we are, 10 years later, celebrating one of those moments where we felt like we achieved it, even just for just a little bit. Happy 10th anniversary, Xbox 360!