A visual history of Xbox interface design

Analysis and evaluation of the Xbox 360 and Xbox interface design One

Few of the interfaces have changed more often or more radically than the Xbox interface. Most platforms with a large user base are incredibly slow to make significant changes, but this is not the case with Microsoft game consoles. History shows that their strategy for working with new features and services was to abandon the previous interface. Basically, they asked you to re-learn how to search for content and use the console.

Microsoft deserves credit for experimenting with its interface for years, even if many of them were unsuccessful. With the upcoming Xbox Series X launch in late 2020, it looks like it’s time to review the history of the Xbox One and Xbox 360’s interface design, which will allow us to speculate on its possible future.

A visual history of Xbox interface design
Microsoft

Some updates were better (or worse) than others, but they all have one thing in common: each time they presented a new vision. Some of their ideas are visible in modern iterations of the dashboard and will probably remain in future generations of consoles.

XBOX 360

https://youtu.be/TEae7dgAMMg

Blades (2005)

Okay: fast and neat

bad: similar to Winamp skin

The Blades interface debuted on the Xbox 360. It organized every major console feature into a separate section. This interface had a lot more options than the original Xbox interface. He was neat and easy to understand. Plus, fast switching between sections was responsive and items loaded quickly (even with the XBOX 360’s 512MB of RAM). And the sound effect from switching sections will forever remain in my memory.

If you look closely enough, you can find inspiration for this dashboard in future updates.

A visual history of Xbox interface design
Kotaku

New Xbox Experience (2008)

Okay: Avatars! More customization options than Blades

Bad: not as fast and enjoyable to use as Blades

Three years after the release of the Xbox 360, Microsoft decided to start from scratch with an update to the NXE interface. And with the advent of Netflix and other entertainment apps, the Xbox 360 interface began to plunge into frenzy, combining games and other forms of entertainment on the dashboard. It began to resemble a set-top box.

The remains of the beloved Blades dashboard can be found by pressing the Xbox button on the controller. But the dashboard itself has been changed. Sections are now stacked. Navigate to the desired section, then all its content will be displayed in the form of tiles, which you can scroll from left to right. The new dashboard looked more polished and mature than Blades, but was not faster or easier to use. Perhaps some people liked it, but not everyone.

There are several important updates under the hood for the Xbox 360, such as avatars that rival Nintendo’s Mii. Plus, you can stream HD videos on Netflix, throw parties on Xbox Live, and install games to your hard drive for fast downloads.

Kinect udate (2010)

Okay: a more refined version of the NXE dashboard

Bad: even more confusing interface, Kinect support

The avatars were just part of Microsoft’s plan to replicate the success of the Wii console. They wanted gamers to use the Kinect camera for movement, and thus the design of the new dashboard made the Kinect its centerpiece.

In reality, it was a minor visual update for NXE. The dashboard still had the same general look, structure, and navigation as the 2008 update, but Microsoft paid attention to being able to navigate the dashboard using Kinect (RIP). If you didn’t like NXE, you probably didn’t like this version either.

A visual history of Xbox interface design

Metro (2011)

Okay: nice looking, in a sense brought back the main Blade-style navigation

Bad: the simplified interface did not help to quickly sort a lot of content

A 2011 update that introduced the Metro design showed that Microsoft was trying to experiment with the look more than ever before. The design language felt less is more, but in fact it proved that less is less. Microsoft is still trying to get rid of some of the Xbox One dashboard ideas that came with this update.

There were only a few tiles on each screen, and you had to delve deeper into individual folders to find other content. Some of these features have been deprecated and started showing the age of the Xbox 360.

In a way, this dashboard update merged the Blades design with NXE, allowing you to use bumpers to switch between Blades-style categories and navigate the colorful tiles in each section, just like in NXE. And of course, it was compatible with Microsoft Kinect, so if you had a camera, you could navigate between menus by waving your hand or using your voice to search for Bing.

This update brings several important features. For example, cloud storage for game saves.

Xbox one

A visual history of Xbox interface design

The launch dashboard (2013)

Okay: wide customization possibilities

Bad: congested and confusing, rather slow, one-sided focus towards TV

The Xbox One was released just after Windows 8 in 2013, so it’s no surprise that the Metro desktop OS design was used as the basis for the interface. Unlike the Xbox 360 interfaces discussed above, which use a similar style, this is a mess of navigation. The reason for this is the mixing of games with TV and everything else on the home screen. Discovering new content takes precedence over discovering content you already have.

The first Xbox One interface was ambitious, but contained a number of misguided development directions. For example, Microsoft overlooked the coming wireless revolution, so their bet on TV-on-demand and DVRs did not pay off. In addition, the conceptually great “snapping” feature that Microsoft believed so much that it had a dedicated button for it on the controller was canceled in 2017. (They’ll get rid of the button entirely on the new Xbox controller coming in 2020).

The new Xbox One Experience (2015)

Okay: it became much easier to navigate

Bad: faster, but still not fast enough

The first major redesign of the Xbox One dashboard brought with it a much needed focus on gaming. It also got faster, but still not fast enough. Microsoft just launched Windows 10, so, just like on PCs, they began to actively promote their voice assistant Cortana on the console. With this update, Microsoft was on the right track.

FLUENT DESIGN (2017)

Okay: further emphasis on pins for sorting content

Bad: too much content is out of sight

The next update from Microsoft brought Fluent Design, a look Microsoft already used in Windows 10. The new home screen was aimed at displaying your recent activity and giving gamers quick access to community features.

It also improved the use of pins, which allow you to split apps and games into sections. Instead of scrolling through tiles and menus looking for content, scrolling vertically across multiple pins was much easier, though still not perfect. Game Pass debuted in 2017, before this dashboard update came out, but until the service gained popularity, it remained too far out of sight.

A visual history of Xbox interface design

The Refinement process (2018 – present)

Okay: with every update it gets better and (finally) lags less.

Bad: everything changes too often

Gone is the interaction with the Cortana voice assistant. FastStart allows you to download games before they finish downloading. Xbox Game Pass has its own section in the main navigation. Microsoft is redesigning the Xbox One interface faster than ever, and is committed to speeding up the process, fixing flaws in early interfaces, and making games easier to access.

Regarding the latest update, released at the end of February 2020, my colleague Tom Warren says that it “focuses on a complete overhaul of the Xbox One dashboard home page, with commonly used games and applications immediately available. The new home page design also includes the ability to add or remove lines for further customization, as well as quick access to Xbox Game Pass, Mixer, and the Microsoft Store. ”

It is now more obvious than ever that Microsoft is trying to quickly solve an identity crisis with an interface. The Xbox One is undergoing significant dashboard redesigns more often than before, and the stakes are getting higher as we get closer to the Xbox Series X release in late 2020.

A visual history of Xbox interface design

Xbox series x

Launch dashboard (2020)

Okay😕

bad😕

Microsoft will release the Xbox Series X at the end of 2020, and it is unknown if they will decide to start from scratch with a new dashboard for the new console or take the latest update to the Xbox One dashboard as a basis.

Given that Microsoft is touting backward compatibility with games from all previous generations of Xbox, it’s easy to imagine they’ll decide to use a slightly modified version of the Xbox One interface in Series X. We’ll have to wait and see what they choose.

Author: Clark Douglas

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