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.
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!
[source linkedin.com, via talesfromthecollection.com]
Ah, so he’s the one who made the US’s bad looking SNES then…
This man's work hasn't gone unnoticed. SNES is probably my third favorite console of all time after the first two PlayStations and the design oozing a unique charm for the time is part of why, even if I prefer the color scheme of the Japanese Super Famicom
@noobish_hat to be fair to the man, his Wii Nunchuck wasn’t bad.
Nintendo should have Nunchucked that US SNES in the bin though.
The toaster NES is an example of a design that is absolutely gorgeous and iconic yet from a utility standpoint is god awful. Same thing with the original Xbox 360. Timeless design but the thing was on its last legs when you pulled it out of the box.
By comparison the top loader looks gross, but it at least functions as intended.
Bro just retired, now's not the time to roast him over a design decision made like 30 years ago folks
I don’t blame him for the Toaster’s faulty ZIF slot. That was a decision that came from above him.
It’s a gorgeous console, in my top 5 favorite designs. It just doesn’t work most of the time. But that isn’t his fault. He was told to design a console around the ZIF mechanism and he did as he was told.
As for the SNES, I like the US and JP/PAL designs equally.
I find damning with faint praise very amusing.
@Kienda That's certainly a hot-take. I love the way the US SNES looks.
Well, it is a Design to avoid the Fear of the US Console Crash and to match a Design of US Entertainment Machines.
I am really glad that we have the same Design as Japan in Europe.
I really love the Form and Colors.
My absolutly favourite Console of all Time.
How the heck did he stay employed after the US SNES!? Hee hee. Hope he enjoys his retirement and good luck with his future endeavours.
Iconic designs, beloved by a generation of kids. My friends and I put our consoles through hell and they kept on ticking.
Wishing Mr. Barr many Thanks and a very Happy Retirement!
@meijin3 Admittedly my comment was purposely provocative to spark a reaction from the US audience. Sorry.
I think whichever we grew up with will be the best in our eyes. For me the curvier design with the colourful controller gives me a massive nostalgia hit every time I see it.
Its so ugly that I like it
I loved the SNES design. My third favorite hardware after Wii and Switch. NES...eh, it's definitely iconic. At any rate, godspeed to a legend.
Don’t understand the defense of the super famicom design: put a stick on it and you’d have a manual vacuum from the same period!
Hey i like the Nes and Snes design! They were like two boxes of joy that i Could play all my favourite games on! Feeling pretty old now that the guy who made them is retiring. I remember the first commercials for these things. Now scuse me some hooligans are on my lawn again. Why those whipper snappers!
I simply love his NES design!
Both classic designs.
NES still looks great to this day.
Both amazing designs, love the nes and snes. Personally prefer Jap/UK design. But the American snes is still fantastic. Both iconic systems that will to me always be the best consoles ever!!! Kudos to this guy for his great work in the industry.
Anyone slamming Mr. Barr's North American NES and SNES designs needs to remember context. The article correctly points out how important it was that Nintendo marketed the NES not as a video game console, but as an "entertainment computer", to win over skeptical retailers and parents. If the NES had just been a repackaged Famicom, it is entirely possible it would have flopped. (The Famicom has its own set of problems, such as the hard-wired controllers.)
I agree the North American SNES design is inferior to the Super Famicom / PAL SNES, but again, it was the '90s. Nintendo had very tough competition in the sleek, high-tech-looking SEGA Genesis. Barr's answer was something distinct and different, that really stood out and just looked "powerful." The marketing was aimed at boys age 8-14 (I was 11 when the SNES launched), and the design spoke to that demographic. I imagine I would have rolled my eyes at the Super Famicom had I seen it in 1991.
Barr's genius was that he understood the market at the time, and he was an indelible part of Nintendo's international success.
For what it's worth, the NES-101 (top-loader) is my favorite console design of all time.
Oh, i also have to share a Memory from back in the Time.
When the Super Nintendo was still a Thing here in Europe, i went often with my Father to Flea Markets to search for Games.
Some People had US Games and it was so strange.
They where different in Shape and Color Scheme, but strangly similiar, as they came from a paralell Universe.
My first Thinkings were about Knockoffs, but the Plastic and Build Quality seemed to similiar.
The Internet teached me many Years later what this alien Design truly was.
TIL who designed the NES and the SNES.
Wonder what else he did to stay employed for 40 years? Designed the NES, designed SNES... then what? 16 years to design the nunchuck, then nothing for another 15 years?
"I think I'll retire now..."
Lucky that the Wii Nunchuck didn't follow his NES/SNES design aesthetic. I don't think a cube with a control stick on it would have worked.
Good thing he’s retiring, 40 years of experience and the latest controllers had severe drifting issues. One would think Nintendo would know how to make them by now
Any idea on what he actually worked on since the NES/SNES era?
Removing the colored face buttons on the SNES pad always seemed a bit unnecessary to me.
Although, NOJ itself ditched the colors on their diamond button layouts just one console later.
I wonder if this guy has a story about why none of the subsequent systems were redesigned for the US market.
Maybe they were just cool enough as they were? cough GameCube cough
The man designed two of Nintendo’s icons… as well as some of the early arcade designs. That should garner some respect on numbers alone. My question is… he was almost to 40 years… like months away… why retire before you hit that number? The service awards there are crazy good… the 40 year plaque hanging on the walls there would have gotten his name on it among the other few folks that made it that long. That’s like stopping just shy of the line in Mario Kart for 10th place. That kills me that after 39+ years, he won’t be on that plaque.
Never heard it heard of this person before but it seems like his work was incredibly important.
Hats off to a successful career.
@Kienda I knew it was a troll, so I’m glad I scrolled down to see that you admitted as much. Cheers
I don't know why anyone wouldn't love the NES and SNES designs. They're truly iconic and defined a decade of gaming in the US. They absolutely fit the aesthetic of the time and seemed right on point. I can only assume most of the people bagging on it didn't live in the US during the 80's and 90's where these designs both fit their time and felt futuristic. The follow-up versions that followed the Japan versions always felt cheap and generic in contrast, in their own time.
Those looked amazing idk what y'all are talking about.
With a name like Lance Barr, he should open a pub that pops zits.
I know there are fans of the Boxed snes .. but it really is subjectjvely ugly in my personal eyes
@Kienda It was the classy look of the NES that helped get noticed in the US.
Nobody complained about the SNES design untll a few years ago when millenials and zoomers like you think is cool to revise history and make fun of it.
The Wii was elegant and classy and gave it a great look.
So be more respectful next time, ok Kiddo?
@DK-Fan Okay Boomer!
I didn’t know there was a big controversy about the design. I just know I liked the European/Japanese one and was surprised a couple years ago when I saw the US version and thought it didn’t look at nice as the one I owned.
It’s nothing to do with my age or trying to fit into the crowd and it was only meant as a joke comment.
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