The Nintendo 3DS XL

Apparently there is no crash course for learning to evaluate the design of things aside from actually practicing it, so I had to get going and find things that are around us. I ended up approaching a friend who was on his Nintendo 3DS XL and inquired about his experience using it while taking the opportunity to have a go at trying out the console myself. 


The 3DS is a handheld gaming console runs off the trademark dual screen design by Nintendo, with the lower screen being a touch screen. The two screens are separated by a hinge which allows it to close together in a clamshell fashion. Also, the screen display incorporates stereoscopic 3D viewing capabilities, which allows players to play games in stereoscopic 3D without having to wear 3D glasses.

At First Glance

20160906_1654521 The 3DS XL at first feels very well made for my hands. The buttons and switches are very discover-able and are placed in easily understandable manner, especially for people who have tried at least one iteration of handheld consoles by Nintendo or Sony. The power switch uses the standard power symbol as a signifier which is commonplace nowadays as it fits into compact round buttons nicely. The experience is made fool-proof with the seemingly redundant physical ‘POWER’ description next to it, which might have been for the accommodation of people who may have not been accustomed to the power switch symbol. There is also the fact that quite a number of previous consoles utilize a slider design power switch on the sides of the consoles, so adding the ‘POWER’ description on the power switch should help ease the transition into the relatively newer 3DS.

It has to be noted that there are two shoulder buttons (‘Left’ and ‘Right’) situated on the top edge of the console, which can be difficult to discover for a new console gamer. This is not helped by the fact that the color of the buttons themselves are same as the ones on the edge they are situated on, resulting in relatively low discoverablity. Yet, this is not a huge problem as the size and structure of the console would easily allow the index fingers to rest or hover on them by default.

The software interface of the 3DS has good discoverability too as it displays all of the possible default software functions in a grid interface. However, the perceived affordances of some of the buttons (the ‘X’ ‘Y’ ‘A’ ‘B’ buttons) becomes rather difficult to understand for a new user as it is unclear what the signifiers (the letters on the buttons) is supposed to mean and do. Over time, as I progress with some of the games I learned that the buttons have different priorities, with ‘A’ typically being the standard action button for almost all games, while ‘B’ is commonly used for back or cancel, then ‘X’ and ‘Y’ are often meant for other miscellaneous utility actions. The affordances are not clearly communicated on the standard interface, and requires the user to assume ‘A’ being the default button, which can lead to some confusion as the pressing of the wrong buttons often leave no feedback which can be confusing. However, being aware of the presence of the touch screen can reduce quite a lot of the confusion.

Touch Screen

If one does not read the packaging or watch others play on the 3DS, at first glance one might not notice that the bottom screen is actually a touch screen (which is incidentally the selling point of its predecessor). With the device off, there is absolutely no indication or signifier that the screen is a touch screen, although almost every compatible game and software will introduce the player the touch screen through the early tutorials, often prompting the player to prod the screen with the stylus to perform a certain action.



The 3DS also comes with a stylus, which is easily discoverable due to its distinct color from eh shell. However the actual utilization of the stylus can be quite uncomfortable.


This is due to the fact that the 3DS is meant to be held with both hands, and the utilization of the stylus requires the user to hold the console with the commonly less dextrous left hand while using the stylus with the right (note that the placement of the stylus is also meant for the right hand), which can make the experience a little awkward and uncomfortable. After the action requiring the stylus is done, the user will have to reinsert the stylus or place it somewhere else in order to alternate to using the default physical buttons, which may be potentially troublesome when playing games that require both forms of affordances (button and touch) simultaneously in a short time frame.

Movement Control


One good aspect of the 3DS is that it actually have two methods for movement: one being the classic cross-shaped 4 way D-Pad, the other being a flat analog stick. This allows the 3DS to accommodate two forms of conceptual models respectively for users: a 4 way key press model and an omnidirectional drag model. The former utilizes the 4 way D-Pad through pressing down the directional buttons to give up to a combination of two directional inputs and the latter prefers analog movement that can control more than 8 directions in a single input through dragging the button shaped analog stick. Some games that requires both conceptual models to be utilized simultaneously or integrated together to complement each other to complete game objectives.



The 3DS utilizes autostereoscopy 3D display as its main selling point, however users seem to not even utilize the function at all as many (myself included) do not appreciate the visual fatigue induced my the autostereoscopy. A study (Wang, Wang, & Liu, 2015) showed that individuals who suffer from phoria experience heavy visual fatigue when viewing 3D contents. This results in the 3D function being an under utilized affordance (despite being its most notable one), which is a problem from a buyer’s standpoint as the price point cannot really be justified if its main selling point is not appreciated and may induce undesirable effects on health. This can be considered bad design, especially if a large majority of the games do not require the 3D to be played normally.


Overall, the Nintendo 3DS XL on its own is an above average product among the handheld gaming consoles featuring a rich diversity of gaming titles and unique dual screen design, but some aspects of its design (the 3D and the stylus) could use some improvement. The stylus in particular can be rendered unnecessary if the touch screen capabilities support finger touch, resolving the trouble of having to reach for the stylus and keep in again while retaining the touch screen interactions.


Zeldes, N. (2008, May 7). The evolution of the On/Off power switch symbol. Retrieved September 29, 2016, from

Wang, Q., Wang, Q. H., & Liu, C. L. (2015). Relationship between phoria and visual fatigue in autostereoscopic 3D displays. Journal of the Society for Information Display, 23(6), 277-283.


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