Meet Tetsu Sumii, the man behind the look of PS4

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There has been a huge amount of discussion across the media about the inner workings of PlayStation 4 since its unveiling back in February. You’ve heard about how much memory it holds, what graphics chips it uses, how many GB of storage it boasts, and so forth. And in many cases, system architect Mark Cerny has spoken candidly about why these decisions were made.

However, there are of course two sides to hardware design: a system’s innards, and its exterior, and until now there hasn’t been too much talk about the latter. Duly, last month I spoke with Tetsu Sumii, the chief designer of the UX Platform Design Group – the man responsible for PS4’s external appearance – to learn a little bit more about the design principles behind the new system.

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“When we started the product design for PS4, we didn’t start by thinking about what the shape would be. It was more about how we were going to create a new brand identity through the product,” he explains.

Without offering details, Sumii tantalisingly admits that his first concept was “totally different” to how PS4 has eventually ended up. That said, his core philosophy for what the PS4 should be remained consistent and is clearly evident in the bold, striking lines and contours of the launch model.

“I just wanted to make a simple object for the living room. Sometimes products are a little too exaggerated. It should be simple. That’s my thinking,” he states.

Moreover, Sumii-san explains that he put emphasis on ensuring the machine looked good from every angle, whether gamers chose to display it flat on its belly or upright in its stand.

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“I think about the horizontal, not just the vertical,” he says. “I think about the 360 degree view. The reverse should be beautiful too.”

While PlayStation heritage certainly wasn’t thrown out the window (veteran PlayStation gamers might be able to spot some PS2 DNA in PS4’s look), it’s a brand new hardware generation, and accordingly warranted a fresh approach. Sumii-san, who joined the project from Sony’s mobile phone division and is a newcomer to console design, duly brought with him a new perspective.

“One of my tasks is to create one single PlayStation identity. I wasn’t just thinking about the console but also about the DUALSHOCK 4 Wireless Controller, the DUALSHOCK 4 Charging Station, the Vertical Stand, the Mono headset, PS Vita – everything,” says Sumii-san.

“I think the PlayStation brand image needs to be changed a little bit, as it’s a new console, and we have to show what we’re pointing towards for the future. So I thought it should be one of the most smart, cool, and intelligent products from Sony. Not just from Sony Computer Entertainment but the company as a whole.”

“This should be one of the best, coolest, most sophisticated products we’ve created. That’s what we were striving for,” he reiterates.

Handling the striking, compact PS4 hardware immediately after our brief conversation, it’s hard to disagree that he’s pulled it off. And with launch now less than two months away, it’s not long until you’ll get to decide for yourself.

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