At the start of Sony’s June “Future of Gaming” event, Yujin Morisawa was shaking. As Senior Art Director, Morisawa was responsible for designing the PS5, which was about to be revealed to the public for the first time.
“There was so much pressure on me,” Morisawa said.
With its striking white and black color scheme and blue lighting elements, the design of the PS5 was a radical departure from previous PlayStation consoles. The unveiling sent the Internet into a tizzy, as Twitter and Reddit users couldn’t help but poke fun at the PS5’s likeness to routers, humidifiers and even the Eye of Sauron. But Morisawa was not fazed by those playful comparisons — he was encouraged.
“When you design something, you want to make it feel comfortable. Sometimes it looks like a plant or some animal or some object. I think that’s more comfortable than something that’s weird, or something that they’ve never seen before,” Morisawa said.
As more information about the system came to light, something else became apparent. The PlayStation was huge, significantly larger than the Xbox Series X or any previous PlayStation console. But originally, Morisawa thought it needed to be even bigger.
“When I started drawing, it was much larger even though I didn’t know what engineering was going to do," Morisawa said. “It’s kind of funny that engineering actually told me it’s too big. So, I actually had to shrink it down a little bit from the first drawing.”
Morisawa sat down with The Washington Post to discuss his inspirations and the design process behind the eye-catching PS5.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Is there is a particular word or phrase that you use to describe the design of the PS5 console?
I tried to sculpt the invisible mass in between the player and the mechanical engineering. That’s how I describe it. There’s something in between hardware and the player, and that should be expressed.
As far as the aesthetics of the design, what inspired you?
I came up with the term “five dimensions.” When thinking about the experience we have, it’s kind of, you are living in a parallel world or you’re jumping around time or space. This is the PlayStation 5, so five dimensions really fits.
When the console was revealed, there were a lot of kind of playful comparisons to things like household objects. What were your reactions to seeing those memes?
[Laughter] I think it’s a good thing. When you design something, you want to make it feel comfortable. Sometimes it looks like a plant or some animal or some object. I think that’s more comfortable than something that’s weird, or something that they’ve never seen before. I think there’s a balance there.
I think it’s funny, though. I’m not offended or anything. I really like what people are playing with. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I think it’s good energy.
Do you think ‘divisive’ is a good way to describe the public’s reaction to the PS5 reveal?
Well, that’s something I want to achieve all the time, so I think it was a good reaction. If you look at something really new, you react and say “what is it?” You don’t know how to react to it. When you look closer, you actually see some familiar structure to it. You kind of understand afterwards.
It’s really something beyond what we had already. But the skeleton was always square shapes and circles. There’s a precise measurement to it so you feel comfortable when you actually look at the object.
The look of the PS5 is such a departure from the previous four PlayStation consoles. It was a very bold leap in direction. Can you talk about how you arrived at this decision?
I wanted to build out the design concept as the player’s energy or emotion, and try to conform to that. I think that [design] expressed the aura of a powerful machine. It looks organic maybe, but it came from a very precise measurement.
The PS5 is quite a bit larger physically than other PlayStation consoles as well as your competitors. When you were designing the console, did you feel the need to find ways to make it smaller?
I didn’t know what to expect in the beginning. I knew it was going to be larger because I know how much power there was going to be, so I knew how much air flow you would need and how much space for a heat sink. In the beginning, when I started drawing, it was much larger even though I didn’t know what engineering was going to do. It’s kind of funny that engineering actually told me it’s too big. So, I actually had to shrink it down a little bit from the first drawing.
We wanted to get it much smaller, so it’s the perfect size right now. If I made it thinner, there would be less air flow to it. It would disturb the player while they are playing. Form-factor wise, I drew a perfect line around it and tried hit the perfect size.
How much did the internal components of the machine dictate the design of the console?
In the beginning, I didn’t know how engineering was going to achieve what we were trying to do. I started thinking about the design concept as an experience. But I started talking with the engineers and how they want to achieve the power we have to show. I used to design personal computers and other electronics, which is working with the heat problems also, so I tried to think about the air flow inside the machine. I didn’t want to really disturb anything. I tried to maximize the space inside and I tried to form and sculpt around what’s needed and what’s not needed on the outside.
It was kind of a tough decision in the beginning. Should it look like the PlayStation 4’s successor or should we go beyond whatever we designed before? We decided to go beyond, because everybody’s trying to achieve something beyond what we had.
Do you have a preference between a vertical or horizontal orientation, aesthetically speaking or otherwise?
I don’t have [a PS5] yet. [laughter] If I could get one, personally, I would go for both. I designed both [the standard and digital editions of the PlayStation 5], so I would buy both and place one vertically and one horizontally.
One of the iconic things of the PlayStation brand are the shapes of the face buttons and the colors associated with them. I believe this is the first time that each of the face buttons didn’t have the green, red, blue and pink colors on the buttons.
Yes, except for a special editions, we’ve always used those colors. For the PlayStation 5, we tried to eliminate what was already there. I wanted to simplify it and make it universal. The shape’s pattern already shows what the button is going to be. You really don’t need a color for the buttons. So I made it one tone.
Are there any small details of the design that you really like? For example, the pattern on the controller with the distinctive PlayStation shapes was already discovered.
Yeah, when I started designing the PlayStation 5, I told designers that we should be designing everything we do. Even the texture, or color, or small details. We have to spend time on it.
I came up with this picture of shapes or patterns hidden inside. My intention was to hide something like an Easter egg or something that the player can find after they buy a PlayStation 5. But people already found out about that, so I can talk about this.
Texture should be functional in a way. For the controller, it acts as a grip. For the [console], it gives you a different lighting effect to the form of the design. The shapes represent users’ energy or emotion. Think about a microorganism gathering to build a larger design. I wanted to say that the player’s energy and power and emotion are building to make this form. That’s how I came up with this texture.
Were there any other hidden details like that one?
You’ll have to find out.