Top photo: Ryan van Stralen, Palette’s Head of Marketing and Community, holds the UX Design Awards trophy in the University of Waterloo Velocity Garage.

Waterloo Region’s Palette has won the top prize at the UX Design Awards in Berlin.

Fighting off nine innovations presented by a diversity of companies –from flight management software that accounts for passenger stress to a digital coach for spinal health –Palette was named the best user-oriented design of 2015, beating out brand names like Fitbit, Virgin America, Siemens, MTV, Krups and Miele.

“Receiving the UX Design Gold Award from IDZ provides us affirmation that our product design–a personalized peripheral–is a disruptive force in the way users interact with computers,”said Ryan van Stralen, Head of Marketing and Community for Palette. “We felt especially honoured considering the size and calibre of the competition, and appreciate that the award is international.”

The world of hardware inputs tends to be obsessed with the future: companies search for ways to let people use gestures, voice commands, sometimes even brain activity as a technological controller. Palette shocked this industry in 2013 by designing a product inspired by the past.

They created a suite of retro-inspired inputs —dials, buttons and sliders that would make a mixing board from the 80s proud. Then, they outfitted them with magnetic connections so users could create a custom setup with the modular pieces. Designed to give digital creatives hands-on control of their software, Palette has been turning heads ever since.

The UX Design Awards are presented annually by the International Design Centre Berlin (IDZ), which has fostered user-friendly design innovation for more than 45 years. IDZ has been issuing the awards since 2008, and the prize is juried by a panel of industry leaders and academics.

Steve Blank Palette

Silicon Valley startup guru Steve Blank (centre) with Palette’s Ryan van Stralen (left) and Calvin Chu. (Communitech photo: Anthony Reinhart)

“Surreal”is how van Stralen described accepting the award earlier this month.

“We were up against large established companies and compelling products from other international startups. Initially I thought we may be in the top 10 at the awards, but when our name wasn’t called I thought I must have misunderstood. Then the presenter shifted gears, and in German started talking about a disruptive user experience, and parsing out a few key words (“Canadian,”for example). I finally understood we in fact had won the top prize. We were delighted.”

This is Palette’s first design award and a major honour for the young company, Kickstarted in 2013.

“Calvin [Chu, Founder of Palette] submitted Palette for consideration knowing we were up against some big-name competition, but confident in Palette’s user experience from our own early customer feedback,”said van Stralen. “That being said, we had no idea we would receive the top award.”

A couple of weeks after receiving the award, Palette caught the eye of Steve Blank – Silicon Valley serial entrepreneur and startup guru – as Blank toured the University of Waterloo Velocity Garage, where Palette is located. Blank was in town for the Waterloo Innovation Summit.

Blank examined Palette’s hardware and had a long conversation with Chu, then tweeted, “I want one!”