controllers, design, design techniques

periodic systems revisited

It seems to be an obvious inner wish of people to get things straight in order, making systems and defining relations. As it happens here a certain Mike from Port Jervis is trying to map the evolution of game controllers. I think he did a good job on this, even i do not really see the system of family ties behind. What is amazing, the names of the developers next to the first date of market appearance. Here you have Mike´s first version and the second reworked one


version one


version two.five

I read these approaches of a system in a manner of historical change. It´s amazing how the interactions evolve, the buttons layout varies. The reasons my be a position to other controllers from other companies, they seem to be like a face of the game consoles. Still it´s funny that navigation is translated in a steering cross, mostly posted on the left and action buttons on the right -  both interactive elements to be used with thumbs. For me – and I´m not and have never been a typical or notorious gamer -  the upcoming “shoulderbuttons”, that had to be used with the index fingers were an enormous enrichment for the gaming experience, because it brought a new physical challenge to the gaming, made it more complex…. The Wii is a chpter on it self.

Anyhow… game controllers are iconic parts of youth and pop culture. It would be interesting to have deeper research on it.

To gaming there is this nice illustration to be mentioned, that deals with the complexity of using controllers.


At first sight it´s overall funny. But while looking on the details, several nice facts occur:

1. using fingers, in this case two thumbs, enables people to controll and steer complex embodied actions

2. these actions are enriched with powermoves and fantastic actions, that are not programmed into the real physics of a human, but can be interpreted with the same interactive paradigms as kicking, punching or ducking

3. you can not play piano with your thumbs.

When it comes to talk about the importance of thumbs, I recommend this book “Daumenkulter / Thumb culture”. It mostly looks at the dominance of the thumb in interaction design from a cell phone studies point of view. Nice one and worth having a look at. The masterpiece still might be this one, “The Hand” by Frank R Wilson. Highly recommended!!