Playstation ButtonsIf you've picked up a game controller any time in the last fifteen
years, the chances are pretty good that its face buttons were marked
with a square, a triangle, a circle, and a cross.
Instantly recognizable, the symbols have appeared on every standard
Sony game controller ever since the birth of the Playstation in 1994.
But why did the machine's designers opt for such an odd set of labels,
instead of the then-standard set of capital letters or numbers?
A few reasons spring to mind: the shapes are culturally neutral, so
no matter what alphabet or writing system you know, you'll always find
them familiar. They're recognizable for very young children, and for
the colorblind. The circle uses one stroke, the cross two, the triangle
three, and the square four. And they're unique to the Playstation's
identity -- so much so that the quartet of simple symbols has become an
instantly recognizable brand.
But although those all help explain why the symbols became such a
success, or why they're a cute choice for a set of four buttons, none
of them are the real reason behind their creation. Japanese video games
magazine Famitsu spoke to the man who created them, Sony designer Teiyu
Goto, who explained the thinking behind one of modern design's classic
"The triangle refers to viewpoint; I had it represent one's head or
direction and made it green," he said, in a translation posted at 1UP. "Square refers to a piece of paper; I had it represent menus or documents and made it pink."
"The circle and X represent 'yes' or 'no' decision-making and I made
them red and blue respectively. People thought those colors were mixed
up, and I had to reinforce to management that that's what I wanted."
Seem backwards to you? American and European gamers are indeed more
used to the cross button representing a "yes," and the circle button
being "no," "cancel," or "back." But in Goto's native Japan, a circle
is sometimes used in place of a check mark to indicate correctness, and
a cross is associated with negative or incorrect responses. During the
process of adapting a Japanese game to Western markets, the circle and
cross buttons are usually swapped to better suit our preferences.