What Do The Buttons On The PlayStation Controller Mean?

The buttons on PlayStation controllers have always been a bit of a mystery. Why those weird colours? Why those wacky shapes? PlayStation designer Teiyu Goto explains.

Goto, who designed not only the PlayStation but the PS2 and PS3 as well, has told Japanese magazine Famitsu that it was all about keeping it simple.

"That was... pretty tough," he says. "Other game companies at the time assigned alphabet letters or colours to the buttons. We wanted something simple to remember, which is why we went with icons or symbols, and I came up with the triangle-circle-X-square combination immediately afterward. I gave each symbol a meaning and a colour."

"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. The circle and X represent 'yes' or 'no' decision-making and I made them red and blue respectively. People thought those colours were mixed up, and I had to reinforce to management that that's what I wanted."

Before you ask, in case you didn't know, the circle meaning "yes" is a Japanese thing (most functions in a Japanese game performed by it), whereas over here, we contradict this by predominantly using the X button, which despite intended to mean "no" is in a more logical position for Western gamers (who associate the bottom button as the "main" one).

All About the PlayStation 1's Design [Famitsu, via 1UP]


    How bout puttin' them there buttons on a shiny new controller? One where ya left thumb falls naturally onto the left analog stick, dagnammit!

      Could get an xbox instead? One of the only yet pretty major reasons why I have gone xbox over PS3 is because I hate the PS3 controllers.

        Now look here sonny, i gots me an x-box. And the controller contraption wuz wot made me mind up about whether to git a playin' station or an ex-box. Which is a darn shame, coz i'm a hankerin' for some GeeTee 5, dagnammit.
        I'm off back to me porch.

      Yes and while they are at it this genius made the L2 and R2 triggers convex, what was the philosophy for that? Your fingers slip off.
      This dumb idea has altered many games instead of using R2 to shoot they now use R1.

      Sticks are too close together, thumb knocking happens especially with large hands.

      The handles are too short for western hands.

      Ohh well, Sony 1 step forward 2 steps back.

      Yes I have a PS3.

        Games probably choose to use the L1/R1 instead of L2/R2 because they are in a more convenient position when using the analogue sticks.

        If I hold my thumb over the D-pad, then my index finger naturally sits over the L2 button. If I move my hand so that my thumb is over the analogue stick, my index finger now sits over the L1 button.

        I'm glad when developers pick a more ergonomic control scheme rather than just trying to match the layout of a different controller.

          It's funny but when I just a PS2 the buttons never bothered me, but now owning a 360, the controller is such a natural fit for my hand that the Dual Shock seems small by comparison.

      So your telling me to buy an ergonomic mouse and keyboard?

      I like PS controllers much better than Xbox.

      I still think Gamecube was the best controller. It pretty much melted into your hand. A second analogue stick instead of the stunted C stick would have made it perfect.

    Another on of lifes mysteries answered. I did always wonder as to the circle being the 'main' button in most japanese ports.

    I've always hated how they swap the O and X buttons over in games. It was massive pain in the butt to get my US version of Silent Hill Homecoming to work on my Japanese PS3 because it kept jumping between the system and game region controls so I couldn't navigate menus and stuff...

    I think 'o' could also mean 'yes'/'correct' because over in Japan instead of a tick, they use 'o' to mean correct. I

    Ahh, so a deliberate morsel of design gets lost in translation, if not ignored by developers. Typical.

    I always assumed that SONY went for branding over functionality, until now the shapes seemed arbitary. I still have problems with quicktime prompts! What a shame that the buttons werent swapped along with the functionality for western release ;(

    Remember that PoP game everyone hated? That used the buttons with aplomb, the (upward pointing) triangle was double jump, and the circle button was 'grab ring'. Both of which were good control metaphors.

    I was fond of the gamecube controller buttons, they made a lot of sense to me. Surprisingly not to noobs though.

      Assassin's creed was quite good like that too, the face buttons were pretty logically assigned to head, legs & hands

    Doesn't matter what controller I am presented with. Strap on some gerbils and fireworks, I will eventually find a way to make it work.

    Circle = One continuous line
    Cross = Two lines
    Triangle = Three lines
    Square = Four lines
    That's how I always remember it. I'd assumed it was deliberate.

    Dreamcast baby. Dreamcast.

    They Xbox controllers got their designs from the dreamcast controllers.

    For me, that was the best controller.

      If only more controllers allowed you to play GBA games WHILE you played games

    Circle and Square were terrible choices. When I first got my PS3 earlier this year I kept stuffing on Heavy Rain and God of War because I kept forgetting which was which.

      Oh and the sticks are to close together. My thumbs keep hitting each other when I play a fps.

        Are you sure you aren't wearing hams on your hands? What kind of ungodly behemoth are you?

    This guy gave us the dual-analogue control system that as well as incorporating the (N64s) rotating camera system, made FPS a viable option on consoles. But at the time, surely the driving game was more prominant, and the convex triggers were more like accelerator and brake pedals? Finally after having to steadily tap buttons to get a steady speed we could hold a trigger in part of the way.
    But then again, I prefer the PS controller setup anyway. For FPS I use both analogues (obv), with applied input forces symmetrically applied to the controller. To fire I press R1- an oldschool button- rather than a graduated trigger like R2. I prefer it this way as I find it more responsive.
    BTW there are trigger extensions available for negligible cost for all the Neanderthals whose poor fingers slide off their inadequate triggers... but then again you probably prefer your X360s anyway...

    circle : 1 line
    cross : 2 lines
    triangle : 3 lines
    square: 4 lines

    buttons 1,2,3,4 just mapped as other pads

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