Mixing boards have long been the domain of DJs and music producers, but why haven’t hardware interfaces caught on with designers and creatives? If Calvin Chu gets his way, they will. Chu is the inventor of the Palette, a snap-together mixing board that connects over USB to control all sorts of creative apps, including Adobe’s CC suite. And he thinks every designer should be channeling their inner DJ.
“The audio world has really had interfaces figured out for decades,” Chu says by phone. “It’s been under our noses all along. Mixing boards allows you to be hands-on in a way that translates very obviously to photography, video, design, and other types of media.”
First launched on Kickstarter in 2014 and now available for sale to everyone, the Palette comes as a series of dial-, slider-, and button-based modules that can be snapped into a central core which then conntects to your computer. The look and feel of the physical interface is only limited by your imagination (and workflow requirements), supporting up to 32 modules at a time. And once you’ve designed your own physical controller, you can use it with anything.
By default, the Palette is a fully functioning MIDI controller for, meaning it’ll work with GarageBand and almost any other audio app for music production and performance. But it’s also built to work just fine with non-audio apps. For example, if you spend a lot of time in Photoshop, you could use a dial to saturation levels, a slider to adjust hue, and a button to the select tool. You could even configure the controller with video games, web browsers, movie editing apps, and word processors. All you do is map a keyboard shortcut to the physical control you want to use for it in Palette’s companion app.
According to Chu, the idea to create the Palette came to him while he was a student studying human computer interfaces at the University of Waterloo, Canada. “One day, my friend was DJing at a party, walked away for five minutes, and someone stole his deck,” Chu remembers. “I was going to make a custom DJ controller for him, but at the same time, I was studying all these different interfaces, and the thought process collided. I was like, why not take the fundamental building blocks of our interfaces and just strap them together so you can use them for anything?”
Chu thinks taking a DJ-style approach to the apps we live in is a natural fit for designers and other creatives, because it allows them to be expressive in their body language as they work.”Everyone has a unique style, a unique way of working, and when we’re in our zone, that’s when we work best,” says Chu.
You can order a Palette starter kit starting at $200 here.