Play is a triangle, reminding me of moving in some direction. Fast Forward and Fast Rewind are usually double triangles which somehow remind me of their intensity in their directions. Stop is like a block of concrete. I think of a dead-end seeing it. But each and every time I see Pause icon, I fail to understand it visually. Of course we all recognize Pause button immediatly everywhere we see it. But I think that's just because we're used to it. Is there any visual reasoning behind Pause icon?

3 Answers 3


Relevant discussion here and here

Play symbol symbolizes moving forward. Fast Forward symbol is thus moving forward more. Rewind symbol is a backward play symbol, as it represents moving backward. The Pause symbol indicates no movement either forward nor backward. The stop symbol shows that there is no action of any sort.

Another good explanation from same link trying get into history of symbology

the pause button indicates the two rollers beside the read OR write magnet on a tape deck that push the tape up against the head. the single vertical bar with triangle indicates one roller retracted faster play in that direction... basically other than the "play" symbol, which simply means "go" the rest of the symbols are based on the state of the controlling rollers. Record was a red circle, indicating the red shelled "studio in use recording" light outside the door.


The vertical lines represent the sides of frames on a reel. Pause means you are stopped between two frames, play means you are moving through the frames left to right (hence the arrow), fast forward is moving through the frames at some multiple of 1x, and the scene skip button pushes you forward to some preset "hard" frame edge.

This one talks about how and where it originated

The symbols for play, stop, pause and record — the original media control symbols — were first introduced by Swedish Engineer Philip Olsson. Olsson was working in Japan while finishing his studies at the Royal Institute of Technology, having also earned a degree from a Swedish design school.

and this

It is likely a symbol derived from the caesura sign used in musical notation to indicate a pause. But it's origin is not known for sure.

And here is an interesting comment from someone who claims to have seen the transition of this symbology.


The PAUSE icon was created at the Ampex Corporation’s Consumer Products Division in Elk Grove Village, Illinois about 1968. F. Arden Farley, the director of industrial design tasked Harry K. Matsuda to create a new icon to better communicate in the international market, The letter “P” or the word pause did not translate well in French, German, Japanese etc. With tape recorders, “STOP” turned off the mechanical tape transport and the electronics which resulted in a slight “pop” when recording was resumed and “PAUSE” did not suffer this “pop” as the electronics were left in operating mode. Semantically speaking, “PAUSE” is a stutter or sorta stop so Matsuda started with the black “STOP” icon. The square was divided into three equal vertical spaces and the middle section was removed resulting in two vertical lines of equal sizes. All of the “PAUSE” icons we see today are not the original design as they are simply two vertical lines of any proportion.

  • Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Commented May 16 at 6:30
  • If you're the real Hari Matsuda, could you please post an image of a prototype or patent? It's a really interesting story and I'd love to hear more. BTW, your answer is correct and it can be found at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_control_symbols#Symbols , I'd just like to know more a a musician and UXer
    – Devin
    Commented May 16 at 17:44
  • Ampex did not copy write the PAUSE icon but they did patent product design. Here are a few examples of Ampex consumer products as well as some design studies never produced. flickr.com/photos/jonhari/albums/72177720317184228 Commented May 22 at 2:44

A simple metaphor with no historical provenance is that pause is a partial stop hence being a partial square. (It allowed a quick restart.)

This makes less sense when used in many digital applications now.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.