The image below shows the controllers of the three eighth-generation consoles (Xbox One, PS4, Wii U).

Eighth-gen controllers

As you can see, both the PS4 and Wii U controllers have symmetrical analog sticks, which seems like a very natural design choice. The Xbox controller, however, has non-symmetrical analog sticks.

What is the reasoning behind non-symmetrical analog sticks and are they intended to offer increased usability over their symmetrical counterparts?

  • Really this is more an industrial design question than a UX one. – Jimmy Breck-McKye May 25 '13 at 9:38
  • Interestingly, the original PS controller didn't even have analog sticks! So Sony's design decision to place both sticks on the bottom may be more historic than anything else: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayStation_Controller – Chris Nolet May 26 '17 at 20:58

The asymmetrical design of the analog sticks is based on ergonomics and the typical use case. The left stick is at the neutral position for your left thumb, while the buttons on the right are at the neutral position for your right thumb. The vast majority of the time, you will be using the left stick and right buttons, so it makes sense that they are positioned for the most comfortable thumb position.

If you were to make the sticks symmetrical, you would have one of your thumbs out of a neutral position for the majority of the time, which is likely to increase fatigue and possibly cause cramping.

I'm not arguing that the xbox controller is necessarily better than the others, just that there is solid reasoning behind the design. Personally I prefer it, but many others disagree.

For the record, Cyborg sells a reversible xbox controller for those that really hate this, so that you can have a symmetrical version.

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  • I'm not complaining about this answer (it's correct), or JohnGB (who writes good answers), but I don't understand why this answer gets up votes, whereas mine (which says the same thing and more) doesn't receive any at all. – Jimmy Breck-McKye May 25 '13 at 18:59
  • Great points; I'd never thought of it as a matter of comfort before. I wonder if PlayStation users experience cramping after long sessions of analog stick-heavy gaming, but that would be another question altogether. Thanks. – FThompson May 25 '13 at 19:15
  • @JimmyBreck-McKye I had to leave the computer for urgent matters, so I only read John's answer (and upvoted it), and hadn't read (and upvoted) yours until just a few minutes ago. My apologies. – FThompson May 25 '13 at 19:16
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    @JimmyBreck-McKye John's answer has a number of features that make it awesome easy to read: a picture (instant bonus), short sentences, short paragraphs, and key words are emphasized. Also, it is more focussed on answering the question without going into secondary information. So yeah, +1's ensue. – Koen Lageveen May 27 '13 at 20:23
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    Jimmy. I'd recommend a writing class. Because you need to write in shorter sentences if you want to be understood. – PhillipW Apr 27 '17 at 22:04

The answer is simple. There is no "ergonomics", "fatigue" and other speculation. When Sony made a gamepad for original PlayStation - its design was patented. Therefore, Microsoft had no choice but to change the design a little in order not to get a lawsuit. That's all. The PlayStation console exists for 7 years longer than the Xbox and no one has complained about "fatigue" during this time.

Personally, I'm extremely inconvenient to use the original Xbox gamepad, after an hour my left palm starts to hurt because of the fact that the thumb is forced to reach for the stick. This does not happen to me on the PlayStation gamepad, I can play for hours.

Perhaps this is a matter of habit, but the fact remains that the design of the Xbox gamepad is the result of preventive measures to prevent patent infringement. It's good that you can buy gamepads with symmetric sticks compatible with the Xbox.


It's an ergonomics matter.

The upper control faces are the fallow areas where the thumbs rest, and the contain the most important controls - controls for movement (which need analogue stick control because of the prevalence of 3D environments) and controls for core player actions (which involve discrete events that map directly to buttons).

Meanwhile the lower faces, which require flexing to reach, can be used for less important, less common actions like refiguring camera angles (which demands fine analogue controls) and an unknown set of tertiary actions that might be movements but might instead be commands - both of which are served by digital direction buttons.

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