As part of its week-long series of articles dedicated to the original PlayStation, David Shimomura of Kill Screen has written an interesting post examining the design of the original PlayStation controller, the same controller Sony has been using in slightly altered form for the last four iterations of its gaming console. For those who have always questioned why PlayStation controllers featured little colored shapes on the buttons instead of little colored letters, this article is for you.
The answer involves Teiyu Goto, the man who designed the PlayStation controller. He wanted to imbue the buttons with meanings in a way that would distinguish Sony’s controller from those used by then-dominant companies like Nintendo and Sega, both of which put letters on their buttons like a couple of nobodies. “I gave each symbol a meaning and a color,” Goto said in an interview with Famitsu Magazine in 2010. “The triangle refers to viewpoint; I had it represent one’s head or direction and made it green. Square refers to a piece of paper; I had it represent menus or documents and made it pink.”
Meanwhile, the ‘O’ and ‘X’ buttons were meant to represent ‘yes’ and ‘no’ decision-making respectively. As Shimomura explains, the Japanese have a cultural understanding that a circle means ‘good or acceptable,’ but Americans threw a wrench into the works when they continually positioned their fingers over the ‘X’ button during play testing, since apparently we instinctively think that a button with an ‘X’ on it must be the do-something button. As a result, many Japanese game designers switch the functions of the ‘O’ and ‘X’ buttons for their game’s overseas release, and vice versa.
In conclusion, putting letters on buttons is probably the least confusing option for everyone.