- May 9, 2019
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!