Ideogram of a Play button (Part 1)


Cassette player was among the original devices that motivate the design of symbols that we are now so use to in modern media players.

We all use the media player controls to listen songs and watch videos and movies. We have taken the symbols for granted in our subconscious mind. Each icon represents certian action and we do not need to be told what it means, to a point that most players do not even explain the meaning of the symbol.

But I felt the need to look back at the origin of these symbols. More rightly put, pictograms. So what are pictograms? they are pictorial resemblance of physical objects (Wikipedia). But then, there are no physical objects that get signified here. Correct, actually they are ideograms, which are graphical symbols that represent an idea or a concept (wikipedia). Thats more like it. So now to figure out the concept that gets its representation in the symbols that we so frequently mention as icons. 

The Origin
Modern media (audio and video) is almost completely digital. But if you travel back in time, you realize that most media originated on tapes and disks before moving on to digital. Remember the cassettes and LP’s? Then came the era of CD’s, DVD’s, LD’s and Blue Rays disks. While the later were physical devices carrying digital for of information, the former carried pure analog data.

How Cassette’s were controlled?
When playing a cassette or a LP in its respective player, there were functions that a user could handle. These included playback of a track, pausing the track, stopping the device and ejecting the cassette. The technology also allowed a user to re-write onto the media (cassette) and hence also came the record option. Also unique to the analog players was the forward and rewind button.

The Symbolization Concept
Physical buttons were provided on the cassette players for controlling the cassette playback. These buttons were given symbols, which we know as ideograms, for identification.

So how did the symbols come into existence? Let’s look into the following functions that we are all aware of –

The Play symbol
So why is a arrow head shown for the play action? Simple, it had to do with the movement of the tape. the direction in which the tape moved was indicated with an arrow head. The arrow was directed towards the right as the spool of the cassette on the right side was the one getting wound and the other spool was getting un-wound as the tape moved from left to right.


Movement of tape in a cassette inspired the symbol which we all identify as the ‘PLAY’ icon.

The ideogram for this action was the arrow head pointing in the right direction. This is the indicative symbol of a play action.

I will further elaborate each ideogram for all the functions that we see on a typical media player, each one has a interesting reason that requuires a bit of explaination. I think if I mention them all in one article it would become too long. So I will be breaking them down into a series of articles to explain each one in detail. If you are interested, you can read through the next few articles in the series title ‘Ideogram of the play button’


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