Well, I've become quite an opinionated old poof, haven't I?
Don't worry, I won't overdo these "in my oh-so-gay opinion" pieces--I just have to get a few of them out of my system before I return to the status quo.
Anyway, the focus of this one is pretty straightforward, don't you think? For those of you who don't think that, here's the deal: The five controllers below are the ones I consider to be the most iconic in terms of design.
Atari 2600 Joystick--If you're, say, under 30, you likely looked at the image above and thought: What in the hell is that? The rest of you, on the other hand, probably thought: Oh, yeah, I remember using that to play Crystal Castles! The latter response is reason enough to add the Atari 2600 joystick to this list, but it isn't the only reason. Another: It's the definition of sleek simplicity, which makes it the ideal bookend to the last controller on this list.
NES controller--If I had decided to put these controllers in order of iconicness (I know, not a real word) instead of in order of release, I would have placed the NES pad in the pole position. After all, it's pretty much a perfect storm when it comes to controller design--what with its understated, rectangular shape, its subdued black-gray-red color scheme, its game-changing (literally and figuratively) d-pad and its Konami-code-capacitating A and B buttons.
Super Famicom controller--In a way, Nintendo's designers didn't take all that many risks while developing the Super Famicom's controller. Basically, they added a couple of colorful buttons to the standard Famicom/NES pad and called it a day. Still, those colorful buttons and another seemingly simple change--which involved replacing all of the NES controller's sharp corners with ergonomic, eye-pleasing curves--were enough to secure this pad's place in the hearts and minds of gamers around the world.
PlayStation Dual Shock--I'm sure some will squawk that I decided to include this controller and not the controller that inspired it (the analog-enabled one that shipped with the Nintendo 64). The fact is, although I fully acknowledge that the folks at Nintendo were first to bring the analog stick to the table, I think Sony's staffers took the idea to the next level--from a design standpoint, at least--with the slick, sexy Dual Shock.
Wii Remote--Earlier, while describing the Atari 2600 joystick, I used the words "sleek simplicity." Well, those words ably describe the all-white Wii remote, too. Sure, Nintendo's designers may have stolen a few ideas from the folks at Apple, but you can't really blame them, can you? Plus, although it's easy to call their design choices "safe" today, they were considered shockingly risky when the controller was unveiled at the 2005 Tokyo Game Show.
See also: 'In my oh-so-gay opinion: The five most iconic systems designs of all time'