HP's new global VP: The secret of designing a good gaming laptop is to cater to the needs of Chinese Gamers

Not so long ago, HP had a new leader in its consumer electronics department.

Josephine Tan, one of the most prominent veterans when it comes to computer engineering and design has stepped up from her previous role of Lead Designer, and became HP’s new global vice president of product management. She will oversee all operations when it comes to HP’s new consumer PC and laptops in the upcoming years.

 During her time leading the HP design team since 2014, Josephine was responsible for many interesting laptop models, including the leather-covered Spector Folio, the very distinctive Envy series, and the dual screen HP Omen X, establishing HP’s reputation when it comes to innovative designs.

We recently had a conversation with Josephine, talked about the shifting trends in personal computers, how some of HP’s laptop ideas came into being, and surprisingly, why many of today’s HP gaming laptops are so good, because HP chooses to cater to the needs of Chinese gamers.

Here’s a summarization of the interview.

Superpixel (SP): When it comes to laptops, we’re always fascinated by some of HP’s design choices. Can you tell us a little about what inspired you to create something like the leather-wrapped Specter Folio, among other models?

Josephine (Jo): That was an interesting story. I was having a meeting with my product managers, some of them told me about this problem they had of not having a good looking laptop to be a part of their “professional look”, because laptops on the market all look rather similar and boring. So we started to design a laptop that is unique and fashionable.

One way to make something stand out is to put more effort into its material. In the case of laptops, there are not many tricks we can play with metal finish, plastic is more flexible but very difficult to look and feel premium and fashionable. So I thought:  hey, why not give the leather a shot?

There’s a good reason why you don’t see many leather-covered laptops. We want the body structure to be as thin and light as possible, we do not want venting openings for heat sinks because that’s almost impossible to do with a leather finish. At the same time, we want decent performance and a folding mechanism that allows users to touch and feel the leather all the time. It took three years for us to make this happen, all because we saw the need for a sleek laptop that can double as a fashion gadget.

 SP: So you mean many of the design choices come from the needs of actual users?

Jo: Exactly. Talking to consumers is very important to us. Before the pandemic, I always go face-to-face meetings with the front-line designers and product managers to understand what’s going on. Seeing what people actually do on their computers really helps us understand why some people value some features in such a passionate way. 

Seven years ago, when I was just back at HP, my first product was a gaming laptop. Everyone told me that a gaming laptop needs to be light and thin and flashy and cool. We tried very hard on those parts, at the cost of having sub-par performance – which was not the ideal solution we were looking for.

 One thing that is particularly interesting is the dedication and endurance of Chinese gamers when they play games on their laptops. In North In America and Europe, an average gamer spends 45 minutes on each gaming session, but Chinese gamers can sometimes double that.

Chinese gamers also prefer to play very performance-intensive games like PUBG, big MMO or some other AAA titles, eventually demanding better CPU and GPU with a very strong heat management system.

Nowadays, we actually design our global gaming laptop models based on the needs of Chinese gamers. Once they’re happy, gamers anywhere else would be happy.

Also in recent years, we noticed a trend of female gamers growing rapidly, that’s why you see some design changes we made on the Omen series.

SP: Would you elaborate on making changes for female gamers?

Jo: Right, that’s why the new Omen series doesn’t look like the traditional ‘flashy gaming laptop’, it looks more subtle and neutral. We still want it to have some personality, so we have a tattoo style decal on the C-side. We still have the Victus series that maintains a gaming laptop look, but you can tell the market for Omen series has shifted over the years.

SP: What’s the reason for the growth in female gamers in your opinion?

Jo: From my perspective, I think female gamers have always been there, they just don’t feel comfortable expressing their interest in video games. That’s very similar to many male-dominated sports and entertainment. Since we have more female gamers doing live streams and content creation, some girls might saw this and think: ‘Oh so I’m not alone and not the odd one out, and will feel more confident showing their real passion. 

The world is always changing. I’ve been in this industry for over thirty years, at the beginning laptop computer was really not a popular idea. Personal computer was not a thing, and companies prefer bulky big computers so they can lock them in a drawer and not worry about them being stolen (haha). I took part in designing some of the earlier motherboards, their size still renders me speechless. Nowadays everyone wants their computers, tiny lightweight and fast. Everything’s changed.


Recently the pandemic happened, everyone has to stay at home and some of them become what I call “popcorn gamers”, they are not so dedicated to gaming as the core gamers, but they also play big titles and occasionally long hours. And many young people are becoming video editors, content creators and game commentators, these are the trends we’re trying to keep up.


SP: Speaking of which, the high-performance laptop has become the fastest-growing segment of PC market, do you believe this is going to be a long term thing?


Jo: Absolutely. Like I said many people are choosing to be live streamers and video content creators. High-performance laptops are the most versatile and convenient tool out there.


SP: What is there for gaming laptops to improve in the future?


Jo: There are so many aspects to think about when it comes to designing a gaming laptop. For example, the heatsink needs to be big and capable, but also not cooking the palm resting areas. The fans need to be good as well, but you can’t let them always spin at maximum RPM, otherwise, the noise would be so irritating.


Taking the Omen series as an example, we adjust and improve the cooling system on every generation. On the D side, you can see the vents are actually different on each generation of models, this is not because we just want it to look different.


We also scramble to fit all the IO sockets inside the body. I think in the future, everything would eventually be wireless, we can get rid of all the IOs and save m

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