Atari Design

“Atari Design rescues the coin-operated arcade game from 1970s nostalgia. Featuring interviews with pioneering if little recognized designers from a range of disciplines, Atari Design offers an expansive sense of what arcade games meant and how they operated in the world.”
Peter Lunenfeld, Vice Chair and Professor, UCLA Design Media Arts, USA

“By demonstrating that industrial and graphic design was as important to Atari’s success as engineering and programming, Guins’ detailed, densely researched history represents a contribution to design history generally and to the history of game design in particular, which has tended to focus on narrative and visual effects and to dismiss the physical enclosures of the early games as a cosmetic afterthought.”
Barry Katz, Professor of Design, California College of the Arts, USA

“By merging the words ‘Atari’ and ‘Design’, Guins throws down the gauntlet for future historians, curators, and interpreters of interactive media. His lucidly argued book demonstrates why an electronic game is not just the sum of its hardware, code base, motion graphics, or interfaces, but also encompasses the housings that stage interactive media in the built environment.”
Jeffrey Schnapp, Carl Pescosolido Professor of Romance and Comparative Literatures, Harvard University, USA

“Atari Design is a major contribution to design history and to our understanding of the phenomenal culture of video game history. It is scrupulously researched and breezily erudite. It is a tale free of design heroics which instead brings alive the distributed labours of designers who until now have remained anonymous. It is also a supercharged ride of a book.”
Ben Highmore, Professor of Cultural Studies, University of Sussex, UK

“What is extraordinary about Atari Design is the provocative way Guins argues that we should pay more attention to the material apparatus of early video games, notably the cabinetry of these products designed for amusement. He provides a unique examination of the exterior – and interior – of these designs.”
Elizabeth Guffey, Professor of Art and Design History, State University of New York, Purchase College, USA

Drawing from deep archival research and extensive interviews, Atari Design is a rich, historical study of how Atari’s industrial and graphic designers contributed to the development of the video game machine.

Innovative game design played a key role in the growth of Atari – from Pong to Asteroids and beyond – but fun, challenging and exciting game play was not unique to the famous Silicon Valley company. What set it apart from its competitors was innovation in the coin-op machine’s cabinet. Atari did not just make games, it designed products for environments.

With “tasteful packaging”, Atari exceeded traditional locations like bars, amusement parks and arcades, developing the look and feel of their game cabinets for new locations such as fast food restaurants, department stores, country clubs, university unions, and airports, making game-play a ubiquitous social and cultural experience. By actively shaping the interaction between user and machine, overcoming styling limitations and generating a distinct corporate identity, Atari designed products that impacted the everyday visual and material culture of the late 20th century.

Design was never an afterthought at Atari.

Video review of Atari Design courtesy of the Video Game Book Club
An early talk on Atari Design at Stanford University in 2015.