Apex M800 Keyboard with RGB Back-lighting

My Role - Design Lead
Supervision - Reina O.
Development - The R&D Software Development Team

A Special, Highly Customizable Keyboard

The Apex M800 Mechanical Backlit Keyboard is the ultimate combination of usability and coolness. Gamers like pretty lights - a fact known to both industry insiders and regular folks alike. The Apex M800 Mechanical Keyboard was the first SteelSeries keyboard with an LED behind every keycap. In addition, the SteelSeries Engine 3 application allows gamers to customize the lighting of keys crucial to gameplay and design unique dynamic lighting effects to fly their nerdy flag with.

Challenge Accepted

Each PC game has its own set of default key bindings, sometimes many key bindings. Our app also allows gamers to remap keys on their keyboards for easy use. It's hard to remember every keybinding for every game. Another fact about gamers is that they like to play in environments that simulate dark caves to get the best picture quality (and possibly because it makes them feel cool, but this is speculation). It's easier to see your keyboard in the dark if it's backlit. Gamers don't need to see all their keys, though - just those critical to their current game.

The product allows our users to set the color of any individual key. This can be used so that, with a quick glance, users will find the key they are looking for. For example, I can set spell keys to a color that reminds me of their function, like blue for water or red for fire. On top of changing colors, we added animation. We created a set of preprogrammed animated lighting effects and gave users robust customization options through the user interface.

As the design lead, I had to figure out how to pack all of these customization options into a UI, make the experience as intuitive as possible, and make it fun.

My Role

I handled every aspect of the user interface except for code. I started with wireframes and flows, and performed usability testing. Next, I broke the project into stories with detailed acceptance testing criteria. After that, I designed the UI, created design specs, and produced graphical assets for the software engineers.


I always start a challenging new project by sketching, mainly by hand with pen and paper. This allows me to brainstorm and get input from developers. After that, I start wireframes and share them for more feedback.

Usability Testing

The team initially needed help to decide on a direction for the primary method of interaction, so we ran usability tests. We used a paper prototype to simulate interactions with the interface and ran through several essential tasks with test participants. Through testing, we discovered that users intuitively clicked on keys to select and customize them.


Over three months, I produced dozens of sketches, over 250 files and assets, and over 20 Agile stories with extensive acceptance criteria. Transparency and collaboration between design and engineering were crucial to the project's success. As a result, when the M800 Keyboard launched in the spring of 2015, many reviewers praised the software's usability.

Praise For the Experience

“I didn't think I'd ever hear myself say this, but SteelSeries has finally nailed it. It's the easiest customization interface I've personally used for a keyboard and they’ve managed to do it without hamstringing the functionality. Good job.”

— Linus Sebastian, LinusTechTips

“Their software really sets things apart with more lighting control that I could ever imagine. You can really do anything you want with the backlighting to make the M800 match your style.”

Lanoc Reviews

“Overall, the software is a lot easier to use than its counterparts from Razer and Corsair packed with features that will please almost anyone.”

— Ian Miles Cheong, Gameranx

“Overall the software for the Apex M800 was easy to use and had everything you need to fine tune your keyboard with multiple Macros and fantastic lighting. I had many hours of fun going through all the lighting templates and creating my own lighting patterns and colours.”

Iain, pcgameware.co.uk

“[You] can get extremely creative with the incredibly deep color customization process afforded by SteelSeries Engine 3.”

— Jeff Benjamin,

“Big props to SteelSeries for making the software extremely easy and simple to use for the consumers.”

@randomfrankp, YouTube Personality + Tech Reviewer