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A Kit To Build Your Own Computer Controls

What if you could snap together a customized desktop of knobs, sliders, and buttons as easily as building with Legos?

Touch screens and gesture technologies can seem like the end-all-be-all of interface. But they aren’t. You only need look so far as MIT or Disney Research to see that in the digital age, tactility still matters.

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That’s the philosophy behind Palette, a new Kickstarter project by Calvin Chu and Ashish Bidadi. It’s a collection of knobs, buttons, and sliders that snap together like Legos–and even glow on command–so that you can build a tactile interface of your own devising.

“Our finger tips are one of the most sensitive areas of the human body,” Chu tells Co.Design. “With touch pads and gesture technology, these senses are blinded.”

This helps explain why touch screens can be inconvenient at times. One reason the keyboard has so effectively survived from typewriters to desktop PCs to laptops is that your fingers can work reliably without the attention of your eyes. It’s the power of muscle memory, coupled with the tactile feedback of an analog object. So a skeuomorphic slider rendered on an iPad screen is nearly useless to a sound editors, who must to look down from the computer screen to double check that their fingers are tapping in the right place. A real slider, on the other hand, becomes a tool of mindlessly heightened efficiency.


Palette controllers snap together in any arrangement you’d like. They plug into a computer via USB, and the magic happens when packaged software–like the Adobe Creative Suite–actually detects the knobs and dials sitting on your desk. Their arrangement is duplicated on your screen for you to easily map controls to your software.

The question remains, though, why go modular at all? Modular design is often better in concept than it is in practice. But for Palette’s target audience–creative professionals who have strong preferences for custom controls–dragging tools around your real desktop as easily as your virtual desktop could have a strong appeal. And in this regard, the Palette team feels like their platform’s 2.0 release will be to double down on platform capability. “Our biggest challenge was designing for the future,” Chu says. “By that we mean, we want to support so many other forms of input such as jog wheels, motorized faders, joysticks, and even trackballs.”


The Palette platform has been designed to support such expansion into the future. But for the present, the young duo needs to get funded on Kickstarter first, where four-module “starter kits” start at $99 CAD.

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started Philanthroper.com, a simple way to give back every day

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