A Look Into The Nintendo 3DS’ Mechanical Design

By Ishaan . February 3, 2011 . 4:02pm

Why is the Nintendo 3DS three-layered? How is it different in feel from the DS Lite? These are questions that are posed fairly often, so a little insight into the design of the hardware is most welcome.


Yui Ehara of Nintendo’s Research & Engineering department, who was responsible for designing the 3DS’ exterior, addressed these questions in a recent Iwata Asks interview. Ehara revealed that he listens to music to inspire him while working on hardware designs. The DS Lite, DSi and 3DS all have their own songs, although he didn’t mention what they were.


The top layer of the 3DS, Ehara pointed out, is reverse-tapered. This is so that the system is easier to open. It houses the 3D screen and the 3D depth slider on the side. Because the top layer was designed to be glossy, it was coated with an anti-fingerprint coating that makes wiping fingerprints off easier.


The second layer below it is indented, which is intended to complement the reverse taper of the top layer. The second layer houses the volume slider and LED lights on the system. The third layer is reserved for icons and lettering that explain what the different sliders and lights are for.


As far as the system’s controls go, the analog Circle Pad is designed to be rubbery to give it a better grip, while the face buttons have been made to feel metallic to complement the rest of the system’s look and to help the Circle Pad stand out. The design team revealed that the Circle Pad’s design was only finalized after the 3DS showing at E3 last year and that the design was changed numerous times at the behest of Nintendo’s software developers.

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  • Zero_Destiny

    All I hope is that the joystick is responsive and works an the old DS games. Haven’t held a 3DS yet but where the D-Pad is makes me worry that someone with bigger hands like me might have trouble using it. Plus I’d take a joystick any day of the week over a D-Pad lol

    • thebanditking

      Thats a good point. The joystick won’t work with DS games unless they have an emulator in the system OS to recognize both inputs no matter which type of game you play for example PS3’s PS1 emulator doesn’t let you use analog sticks in games that did not support them originally. Also if its straight BC the DS games would not fill even the bottom 3DS screen. Due to the differences in resolution, you would be playing a box with in a box (which I find annoying, especially since I feel the 3DS screens are already too small). Also do we know anything about the sound quality that 3DS games will have, or how about the average cart size and video compression methods? The last thing I want is more macro block filled videos with less then youtube quality sound again. These are the questions I want answered.

  • It’s a great read that everyone should check out! It seems with the body of this system. They did everything they wanted to do. So it may be the only version for a while. Unless the plan to make a bigger XL version which can only happen wants cost goes down.

    • It’ll be the only version until they want more money. $300 3DSi coming Fall 2012.

    • I believe Iwata already said he “perfected” the 3DS so Nintendo won’t be making a 3DS Lite or whatever for awhile. =/

      • NeoTechni

        Considering the small viewing angle, coupled with the large size and battery life, I doubt that. There is a lot of room for improvement.

        • thebanditking

          Thats not true, the NGP is estimated to have a battery life similar to the 3DS and PSP. That system has a lot more power and a bigger screen (OLED aside). There is no way that with some more time Nintendo can’t improve the viewing angle, battery life, and form factor. Chip sizes shrink, power consumption goes down, and tech like with the 3D screen change rapidly. It has nothing to do with Nintendo, its just the natural process of manufacturing and design.

          • NeoTechni

            Doesnt matter if it has anything to do with Nintendo, it still can be
            Same for battery life, and 3DS’s size.

      • If they say they’re going to make a newer version, no one will buy the first version. No one will ever say they’re designing a new machine.

        They probably have design ideas for a new 3DS and will wait to sales of the original slow down and technology prices come down.

    • thebanditking

      There is no way this design is sticking around for longer then 18 months. Almost every aspect of it could be improved including the power consumption, so you can bet they will have plenty of revisions lined up.

  • It’s interesting how Nintendo have taken completely different approaches to the design of the DS series and now the 3DS series, compared to the Sony PSP and now PSP2. Apparently Iwata reckons it’s because the two systems are fortwo complately different types of portable console gamer.

  • Now he needs to explain why Nintendo isn’t releasing one encased in orange-colored plastic on launch.

  • Well that is awesome to know that he is inspired by music to design! I wonder what songs I would use to design a system…

    • Zero_Destiny

      Naruto Opening? :P
      Personally I’d pick the second opening but I haven’t seen the show in years. Stopped caring even before Shippuden started so maybe I missed out on some of the cooler songs. lol

  • Guest

    I’m left handed. Can we make a model with the analog on the OTHER side please?

    • Ren

      I was wondering how left handed would play games like Kid Ikarus, which relies on both analog and touch screen control. Will the game come with some other playing control, or will the lefties have to control the touch screen with their right hands? That can’t be easy, even if you rely on your fingers instead of the stylus.

      • kylehyde

        I am left handed and us don’t have any problems on using fingers in touch controls for devices like iphone.

        • Guest

          Well, that’s different than resorting to use of crappy face buttons over a comfortable analog nub thingie when playing a 3D game with all these directions.

        • Ren

          Well, I mostly use my fingers on touchscreens, but the DS touchscreen wasn’t particullary responsive when it came with fingers and games that needed precise control were pretty much only playable with the stylus unless you were gifted with magical fingers. But then comes the question, do you use your ight or left hand on those touch devices?

    • NeoTechni

      Not a chance. Though if you’re willing to post it on acidmodz, they may be willing to help you.

  • alundra311

    Has the awkward analog pad placement been explained?

  • vadde939

    I hope that anti-fingerprint coating is good.
    The DS Lite was way too much of a fingerprint-magnet.

  • thebanditking

    I really just don’t like the design for this system at all. There are too many seams and the top over lapsing the bottom in width is not appealing. When closed the system looks like 3 separate pieces and the bottom screen surround bump up is ugly and looks very “proto type”. Also there are way too many re used parts from DSi’s imo. Much like the original DS this does not look like a finished product, its a shame really as I thought Nintendo would done better considering the redesigns for the DS. I had hoped that when the final console was shown it would be as sleek as a DSi, oh well hopefully the eventual revision will correct this.

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