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Lance Barr, designer of the NES and SNES, has retired from Nintendo

May 9, 2019
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Lance Barr, the man who famously designed the NES and SNES consoles, has retired from Nintendo.

Barr has made the announcement via his personal LinkedIn account, stating that "after almost 39 years at Nintendo, I am retiring and moving onto 'other' projects." He has served as Design & Brand Director since 1982. According to Tim Santens, one of Barr's first assignments was creating arcade cabinets for the North American market – which would make sense as Nintendo had no home console in 1982 and wouldn't launch one in the U.S. until 1985.

Barr was instrumental in reshaping 1983's Japanese Famicom for the North American market, developing the unique front-loading VHS-style mechanism which made the console so unique when compared to previous examples of the hardware, like the Atari VCS.

The North American console market was in tatters following the crash of 1983, so Barr's work was of vital importance – the NES needed to look like something new and different, and it's fair to say that his efforts were successful – when the console arrived in North America in 1985, it quickly became the dominant system; over 60 million units of the Famicom / NES would be sold worldwide, and a great deal of those were in America.

Speaking to Nintendojo's Chad Margetts and M. Noah Ward in 2005, Barr had this to say about the redesign:

"The original design of the NES was worked out over several months including a stay of a couple of months while I worked in Japan at NCL. The design was conceived as a wireless, modular system, designed to look more like a sleek stereo system rather than a electronic toy. After the first public showing in the US at the Consumer Electronics Show, I was asked to redesign the case based on new engineering requirements. To reduce costs, the wireless function was eliminated, as well as some of the modular components such as the keyboard and data recorder. But the biggest change was the orientation and size requirements to accommodate a new edge connector for inserting the games. The new edge connecter was a "zero force" design that allowed the game to be inserted with low force, and then rotated down into the "contact" position. The case had to be designed around the movement of the game, and required the shape and size of the NES to grow from the earlier concepts. Many of the features remained, such as the two-tone color, left and right side cuts, and overall "boxy" look, but the proportions change significantly to accommodate the new edge connector."


Barr's design for the NES remains legendary. He later designed the top-loaded update of that console (Images: Nintendo Life)

Even today, the NES remains one of the most iconic console designs of all time. Barr also created some of the console's more unique peripherals, such as the NES Zapper, NES Advantage and NES Max, and was responsible for the top-loading NES redesign, complete with its 'dog bone' controller. You can see a rare video interview with Barr here.



His next venture would be the North American redesign of the SNES, which recently turned 30 in that particular region. While Europe retained the more rounded shape of the Japanese Super Famicom (which Barr felt was "too soft and had no edge"), America got a more boxy system. Debate rages on which design is best, even in 2021, but Barr's design clearly has a lot of fans (he also designed the 'SNES Jr'.)

More recently, Barr was responsible for designing the Wii Nunchuck.

Thanks to Tim Santens for the tip!

 
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May 9, 2019
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NES north american redesign was amazing, but SNES was a trainwreck, SFC/EU-SNES design is waaaay better.
Well, I'm pretty fond of the SNS-001 model since SNES was my first video game console. The purple power and reset buttons look good. But I also really like the purple GameCube so I think that color just works really well for Nintendo.
 
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MrA

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I love the idea of having different designs for consoles. It's so weird to think about these days.


Also, those designs are amazing, and I won't hear otherwise.
ps5's design is nice and unique, especially the disc version. Xbox series x isn't bad either as it has a nice tower design. series s on the other hand.
plus the vcs and intellivision amico might have a lot of problems, but at least they look unique
 

Trimesh

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NES north american redesign was amazing, but SNES was a trainwreck, SFC/EU-SNES design is waaaay better.

The cartridge loading system was terrible. By the time the NES was designed it had been known for decades that zero insertion force connectors that didn't engage with a wiping action were unreliable because there was nothing to remove contamination from the contacts.

Sure, you might not expect an industrial designer to know that - they aren't an EE, after all - but they should have at least known to ask someone that was familiar with the subject about it.
 

01011001

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The cartridge loading system was terrible. By the time the NES was designed it had been known for decades that zero insertion force connectors that didn't engage with a wiping action were unreliable because there was nothing to remove contamination from the contacts.

Sure, you might not expect an industrial designer to know that - they aren't an EE, after all - but they should have at least known to ask someone that was familiar with the subject about it.

the design of the NES was dictated by tha fact that US retailers were distancing themselves from game consoles at the time.
that design was specifically done so that it does look more like other common entertainment systems like a VCR.

so in that sense it was a decision made that was purely marketing driven, which is kinda shit tbh but was most likely part of the reason the NES was such a hit in the US.

now, that SNES tho... he has no excuse for that.
 

Trimesh

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the design of the NES was dictated by tha fact that US retailers were distancing themselves from game consoles at the time.
that design was specifically done so that it does look more like other common entertainment systems like a VCR.

so in that sense it was a decision made that was purely marketing driven, which is kinda shit tbh but was most likely part of the reason the NES was such a hit in the US.

now, that SNES tho... he has no excuse for that.

Yeah, but you could have made it front loading while still allowing a wiping action on the contacts - it would have made things a bit more complex, but it should have pretty much eliminated the "blinking light" problem.
 

Orta

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Apr 26, 2018
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The NES remains the most iconic looking console if all time. The US snes however, guy must have been pissed as a fart when he came up with that monstrosity.
 

GeeseGoose

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So glad I grew up in the UK for many reasons but at this moment primarily just to know we had the superior SNES.
 
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Trimesh

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Out of interest, does anyone here know why EU SNES was designed differently?
Thx in advance 👍

The EU version of the SNES is practically identical to the Japanese Super Famicom except for the printing on the plastic bit at the front of the case. My guess is that they looked at the US and Japanese versions of the console and simply preferred the Japanese styling.

There is another consideration - which is that US and Japanese games are electrically compatible and Nintendo US probably felt they had to make at least some mechanical changes to the console to discourage the use of imported games. They didn't have to be anywhere as near as drastic as they were though. This wasn't an issue with the 50Hz EU consoles because they have a different lockout chip.
 

NeoIkaruGAF

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I always wished they would have left the multicolor face buttons on the controllers.
Ironically, the colors of the JP/PAL controller were still tagged on the inside of thr US model:



In retrospect though, they probably did the right thing. 30 years later, we still have the “Fisher Price toy” moniker being thrown at Nintendo stuff, and the original colors would probably give edgy 90s American teenagers a stroke. The concave buttons were also nice - I don’t really care for stiff concave buttons, myself.
 
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KungFucius

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I loved the US SNES. Probably would have loved the JP/EU one if they gave us that instead. I was not really a fan of the dimples on the lavender buttons though. They felt shitty.
 

BabyYoda

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I respect the designer of the internals, controllers and of course the games, but imho, Nintendo didn't have an attractive console until the N64. It's a shame they weren't able to deliver the Delorian design of the Western release of the NES because of technical reasons, because what we ended up getting was a horrible grey box. Nothing comes close to the ugliness that is the US version of the SNES though, yikes, looks like it was built by someone that was colour blind, or perhaps was a fan of garish looking fisher price toys, the European and Japanese versions were bland compared to the MD, but didn't cause woman to faint at least!

Sorry for being so harsh, I don't make it a habit of dishonouring people that played such an important part of gaming history, but I'm not a liar either!

I'd have been up for this (the original prototype for the NES) \/\/
 
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bit_blaster

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People here hating on the US designs need to remember that the NES had to look like a VCR for marketing reasons to impress retailers after the game crash.
 
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YoshiMadness

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Maybe I'm just a heathen, but I much prefer the NA SNES over the Super Famicom. Super Famicom looks boring and generic, like it could have been any other unremarkable console on the market. North American SNES looks distinctive, quirky, and fun, and I love the purple and gray color scheme.

Famicom, on the other hand, is far superior to the monstrosity that is the North American VCR NES. I'll agree with you guys on this one. NA NES is one of the worst console designs ever.
 

Trilobit

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Wow, is there even a debate whether the gorgeously sleek soft Super Famicom model crushes the abhorrent purple sharp nightmare that the Americans got? That's like saying there's a debate whether water is better to drink than sand.
 

p_xavier

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The concave buttons on the SNES were a great improvement,that's about it. The NES was a failure in every way with its bac connector and fake cartridge blowing.
 

Claus Grimhildyr

Vincit qui se vincit
Jan 30, 2018
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I love both versions, JPN and US.

People need to let go of their needless hate/vitriol. Going to end up balding faster than they already are. Not to mention its pathetic to insult/demean someone who contributed so much to gaming because they made a design they don't like? Good lord.
 
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Old Retro

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I didn't know what an ugly/monochrome version of the SNES we got in America until I saw a Super Famicom in an issue of EGM in the early 90s.
 

RoadHazard

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Was he the one that decided the US SNES should look like an absolute abomination with a sickening color scheme instead of looking good like the Japan/EU versions?
 
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