East London technology start-up ROLI has come out on top in the Designs of the Year 2014 awards. Their entry was a keyboard with soft keys that allow musicians to alter the pitch, volume and timbre of individual notes.

The Seaboard by ROLI replaces the distinctive black and white keys of a typical piano with a continuous surface made from moulded silicone, fixed on top of pressure-sensitive controls.


The raised keys provide a tactile representation of the notes, which can then be manipulated by wiggling or sliding a finger across the surface.

ROLI’s CEO, Roland Lamb, first had the idea for the Seaboard while still a student at London’s Royal College of Arts, on their Design Products course.

The pressure-sensitive surface enables musicians to produce different effects, by combining intuitive movements with tactile feedback that mimics traditional musical instruments.

Sliding a finger over the notes changes the pitch in a way that’s quite similar to playing a string instrument, while changes in pressure alter the volume.

Smooth channels along the top and bottom of the playing surface make it easier to transition between different pitches by sliding from one note to the next.

A touch-operated dial controls the different sound settings, which can be customised by the user and enable the Seaboard to simulate various instruments.

Lamb and his team at ROLI have spent five years refining the Seaboard and are currently supplying orders of the full-sized Limited First Edition keyboard, while preparing the smaller versions called Stage and Studio to be shipped.