One of the things that make the various generations of Sony’s PlayStation stand out compared to its rivals is its controller, the Dualshock. Not because it has some fancy tech or flashy lights (though it’s got both of those things). No, it’s because of its use of coloured symbols rather than letters for its four main buttons.
Sony’s decision to use a square, circle, cross and triangle for the Dualshock was considered strange when the PlayStation was first released in the 90s because almost all video game controllers up to that point in time had used some combination of A, B, C, X, Y and Z.
But as it turns out, there was method to Sony’s apparent madness as each of those symbols actually mean something and not just a bunch of random shapes the designers picked out of a hat.
PlayStation designer Teiyu Goto explains (via Kotaku) that they wanted something simple for users to remember yet also something distinguishable from the letters everyone else was using:
“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 colors were mixed up, and I had to reinforce to management that that’s what I wanted.”
Just to clarify the circle and ‘X’ thing Goto mentioned, using a circle to mean yes is a Japanese thing whereas Western gamers tend to go the other way and use the ‘X’ button for yes.
While the button functions on a Dualshock ultimately don’t really differ from its competitors (except for Nintendo), the use of symbols wasn’t just gibberish and it ultimately turned out to be a great marketing tool for Sony
When you think of the square, triangle, circle and cross all together, you immediately associate that with PlayStation. You definitely can’t do the same had you went with letters of the alphabet.