“It looks weird,” said my six year old when I showed him the PS5 at the crack of dawn this morning. He may choose the timing, but I still set the debates around here.
Obviously he’s no expert,we’ll come to one later, but it’s close to the consensus on the PS5. After three consecutive black boxes – one stacked, one curved-off and one raked – Sony has changed tack with the new device and gone with something relatively radical. A black central stem with two white wings, or collars, that fan out from it.
While some immediately compared it (somewhat unkindly we think) to a Wi-Fi router, we can see their point. We thought it looked more architectural, following the trend for extravagant, high-rise apartment buildings, complete with the kind of grand flourish required to pull in the big spenders.
We reached out to Tris Keech, previously of Keechdesign, and now creative director at the London-based The Imagination Factory, to get the benefit of his 20+ years of product design experience.
“To my mind, form is a function and if the new PS5’s function was to divide opinion then it certainly does that,” he began. “I’m no gamer and not the target audience but my perceptions of the PlayStation and Sony brands are generally positive and stem from memories of an incredible heritage. But I am left with questions firing off in my head as to what function they want the form to perform.
“Based purely on looks vs perceptions of the brand I ask what visceral response does the new PS5 want to evoke, provoke or elicit? My response is a furrowed brow and pained grimace.”
“PlayStation has generally felt more pragmatic and more democratic than this design, its best consoles have always felt understated, a little industrial…”
Our initial joy at a design that at least isn’t dull, has been tempered by Keech’s thinking, it might be different but what does that design mean? No one is suggesting that Sony has committed the ultimate crime of form over function (surely it can’t be louder than my PS4 Pro), but Keech is correct in questioning how this form relates to the function, or if it’s just a flourish without reason.
And that thinking is further compounded by the fact that the cut-down, digital-only version of the console is the better-looking of the two, with the disc drive of the main device looking to be an afterthought when it comes to the design.
Then we have the high-contrast look. Black and white are well established as the colours of globalised wealth, the ideal of perfection, from yachts to Range Rovers, and interiors that require almost constant cleaning (and cleaners) to look their best. Again we’re back in the world of Dubai’s (and now even London’s) ego-driven apartments.
Maybe that high-end luxury look is aspirational but it doesn’t sit right for us. PlayStation has generally felt more pragmatic and more democratic than this design, its best consoles have always felt understated, a little industrial, with the glossy finish of the PS3 standing out as a low point amidst the rest. Instead it was the games that inspired, that brought incredible ideas and beautiful experiences into our living rooms, not the box.
The unfurling collars are also reminiscent of fabric, and Sony looks to have done a lot of texture work on the inside of them, again giving it a luxurious feel that we haven’t seen before from the brand.
One potentially worrying conclusion from that is Sony is setting the market up for a higher-than-expected retail price to match all of this luxury-looking design. That’s pure speculation of course, but one thing’s for certain, unless your living room is sparking paean to globalised wealth then the PS5 is likely to look a little out of place.