I&P: Translating a Digital Tool To a Physical One

I struggled to choose a digital tool to translate but ended put choosing a tool that I use a lot at work: the Adobe XD color palette. Though it’s a very complicated tool with lots of affordances, I chose to focus specifically on the color gamut depiction. An assumption I made was that these models were not 100% analog; a user would be able to connect the object to their computer and the computer would be able to “read” the color the user had created.

Screenshot of color palette & my initial notes

I had 3 ideas from observing physical affordances around me for a few days:

1) Sketches for ideas, 3, 4, & 5) pictures of physical items and their affordances relating to selecting a color from a palette.

I started off with the easiest ones: the makeup palette and the watercolor palette. I thought that the digital affordance of seeing the colors translated well across both physical palettes. In my mind, I imagined that you could physically mix the colors within each container to make the color you were thinking of. Additionally, if people were in two different locations with different lighting, they would still be seeing the same colors (similar to Pantone’s purpose).

Makeup palette-inspired model
Watercolor palette inspired model

These two models had tuned out a little bigger than I had intended; ideally, they would fit in your palm and have a cable to connect to a computer. As a side note, the user would even be able to disconnect from the computer and take it with them to create colors on the go if needed!

The last model I attempted was the joystick-inspired color selector. This was based of the Nintendo Switch pro controller, but really all video games controllers could work. I thought it was quite neat how precise you could be with these controllers on digital interactions and was curious to see how a physical interaction could work.

Joystick prototype

I wasn’t completely in love with this solution, but I decided to leave it and reflect on what I would do next time. I’d definitely make it a lot bigger to be able to better secure things (the two clear crossbars kept popping out because they weren’t locked in to the sides at all.) Also, while I had been inspired by a joycon, I wasn’t able to incorporate angle of the controller’s joycon; mine was mostly based on change of position. I still thought it was an interesting take!


This was an oddly difficult project for me. Although I had a personal investment in it, I wasn’t thrilled with my models. I am absolutely biased because I love digital things; I think that even though I can’t do things with my hands on digital interfaces, digital benefits (such as undo/redo, sharing online, and portability) far outweigh the negatives (such as needing to be connected/battery powered, cost, data, etc).