From the launch of the PlayStation 1 back in 1994 (in Japan) the winged controller with its iconic buttons is still the basis of Sony’s peripherals and has barely changed in 14 years. Analog sticks, rumble and most recently motion sensing have been added but we’re still holding onto fundamentally the same design. The man behind all three PlayStations and their controllers is Teiyu Goto who recently sat down with Famitsu (via 1up.com) to regale his reasonings labeling buttons with shapes instead of letters and why the controllers have those palm-fitting wings. Similarities between the SNES and PS1 pads aren’t coincidental as Sony wanted gamers to upgrade from Nintendo’s little grey box to their flatter grey box but the handles of Sony’s controllers were almost scrapped: “[management] said it had to be a standard type of design, or gamers wouldn’t accept it,” said Goto. He continued with how then-boss Norio Ohga preferred his design featuring the wings over Sony’s flat version. If he hadn’t been so persistent, we may have had a very different looking gamepad.
The idea of using shapes in place of letters or numbers on the buttons is far more logical than you might imagine. I always thought they were part of an elaborate promotional campaign that Sony are becoming infamous for but in fact, it’s really quite simple. The X represents no or cancel and O is yes or a sort of confirmation. That’s why a lot of Japanese games at the time had you pressing O to proceed through menus. Speaking of which, Goto said: “Square refers to a piece of paper; I had it represent menus or documents,” and Triangle at the top is Goto’s icon for the player’s head representing their viewpoint. Simple really.
Four shapes that started off a mere iconography have now become a key part of the Sony brand. Let’s tip our hats to the genius of Teiyu Goto.