Lewis Ridden and the Story Behind the Iris
So first off, my name isn’t Lewis Ridden, I’m Danny, better known as Bakingpy, the person behind Keebio. I’ve received a few emails in the past referring to me as Lewis, but alas, that isn’t me.
“So if you’re not Lewis, then who is he, and why is his name plastered on every single Iris PCB out there?” Time to open the storybook.
Origins of the Iris
Just over a year ago, I had just finished up with releasing the Nyquist keyboard and started working on another split layout, with the goal of doing something like a split Atreus50. But right at that same time, I came across this post on Reddit by /u/GAMING_FACE, trying to gauge interest in a new ergolumnar layout. It looked a lot better than what I had been working on, so I offered to design a PCB for the layout, and he sent me the KLE for it.
After spending a day on whipping up a PCB design, we needed to come up with a name. We quickly realized that having a “-dox” suffix on a board name was silly, as “Dox” is the username of the person who designed the Ergodox. Also, if “-dox” meant ergo, then the Ergodox would mean Ergo-ergo. </end rant> Anyhow, we tossed around a couple names, researched if they had been used already, and then settled on Iris.
Contrary to what some may believe, Iris does not refer to the part of the eye, but instead, refers to the goddess of the rainbow and messenger of the gods.
For the silkscreen art, I let Lewis pick that out and requested that his name go on there, which was when I learned of his name. After that, I did an initial design of plates using PCB material and sent them off to be made.
After doing tweaks to the PCB, trying out various test builds, and redesigning cases, I released the PCBs for sale about 6 weeks after the initial post. Ever since then, it’s been an ongoing battle to keep Iris parts in-stock and redesigning the PCB some more to make builds easier. Coming soon™ is the Iris Rev. 3.0, which will sport an on-board controller (yay, no more Pro Micros!) and a USB-C connector.
But enough about the keyboard, what about the person who dreamt up the Iris and christened it?
Meet Lewis Ridden
Despite having worked on the board together, I never really talked much with Lewis, so I figured now was a better time than ever to find out more about him. All I knew was that he was halfway across the world from me. I took some time to talk with him about various things this week.
Who are you, where are you from, and what do you do?
I’m Lewis Ridden, I’m from Perth, Western Australia :) When I’m not tinkering with things from game modding to headphones, fountain pens and MKs, I’m into writing and photography :) I’m not currently employed due to some personal hardships, but in future I’m hoping to be a youth counselor :)
Oh, headphones and fountain pens, I know a fair number of people in the community into those as well, I’m sure they’d be curious about what you use.
Certainly! As far as HiFi goes, I’m using a set of Edifier R1700BT speakers, and for headphones I’ve got a HRT Microstreamer DAC going to a Massdrop x Cavalli Tube Hybrid amp, running Sennheiser HD700s I stuck a modmic on. For fountain pens, I swap between a few, but my current daily is the Brass variant of the Monteverde Invincia, but my favourite of my collection is my 1977 Pilot Long Murex.
How long have you been in mechanical keyboards, and what kinds of keyboards were you using before?
I’ve been into mechanical keyboards for about 7 years, my first board was a Cooler Master CM Storm Trigger with MX Blues I got second hand, then it was a Leopold FC660M with blues, an Atreus with blues (I was real into clicky), a V60 with Gateron Browns that I later swapped to Vintage Blacks, and now my daily is my BOX Jade Iris :)
Considering your username is GAMING_FACE, what games are you into playing?
I made this username when the whole SHOUTY_CAPITAL_UNDERSCORE sort of username trend was a thing, and I was an unoriginal 13 year old. I’m really into Fallout 4 at the moment, but my series favourite is still New Vegas, other games I’m into presently are Rainbow Six: Siege, Smash Bros (any and all), and Borderlands 2!
What was your thought process behind the Iris layout?
Well, for me, I kept seeing boards like the Ergodox and really finding that split ergonomic design to be really interesting and definitely something I’d pursue in the future, but the layout was the biggest dealbreaker for me. In some aspects, it was really great and effective, such as the thumb clusters, but in other spots it just seemed to be too big with not much happening. I couldn’t reliably fill up an entire board with things I’d want to use that couldn’t be comfortably put in a function layer.
On top of that, key sizes and compatibility ended up being a huge reason for me, alternative boards were full of keys that didn’t really have an easy way of being filled by most keycap sets unless they specifically designed a compatibility kit, which, for the Ergodox for example, were often rare and not particularly cost effective at times.
I’d been tinkering with my own ideas of a single handed gamepad for ages but wasn’t quite sure where to take the design, so I spent a while drawing versions and thinking about different key sizes and such. It really helped to know what I didn’t want, what was too inefficient and big, and what would be too compact, for example I knew I needed a number row. I also wanted to be able to outfit a board easily, even with sets not specifically made for it.
Iris has a great claim of being able to be fully outfitted, minus some legends being inaccurate, with a standard full size keyboard layout, and even better compatibility with simply any available ortholinear kit, whether it’s for the Planck or otherwise, so there didn’t need to be any fuss about it, it just slotted right into existing formats for sets. I’d say it’s ideal for many uses, from a daily typist, to even as a macropad for a gamer or digital artist, left or right handed since the PCB ended up being reversible.
Yeah, I remember when I was doing the first build, I realized that you could put 1.25u keys at a couple of the thumbs, and thought, wow, you had really thought things through. What’s your Iris build look like?
So my daily Iris is something of a Frankenstein honestly, with some DIY tenting made from a 5 cent coin and regular keyboard feet, and some added Aviator plugs for durability, and not needing to worry about bending a TRRS plug. The cable is honestly ghastly to look at, so in time I’ll probably upgrade it to something sleeved and pretty, but for now it just works. I’m using BOX Jades for the delightfully crisp click and the amazing feeling actuation. On top of that, I’ve got DSA Evergreen, a set I designed and ran some years ago now. I’ve got some photos of it pre and post modding :)
How’s it like seeing such a positive response to your layout? Did you ever expect to see it get this popular?
To say I’m positively rapt would be an understatement. I’m stunned that it’s gotten as big as it has, and I’m immensely proud. I’m seeing Iris boards every other day or so, semi-consistently and it’s amazing. Whether it’s an RGB, or an OG, or with custom cases, or vintage caps, there’s really so much people are doing with the board, and it’s fantastic! Hugely amazed by the community’s uptake of the layout, I’m stoked to have been able to design a platform that people are really getting into and finding their niche for the split market.
How many Iris boards do you think are out there?
I’d say given I see a new one pop up on my feed every week or two during this first year, and I’d guess there’s probably about an equal ratio of those who post on /r/mk and those who post on other forums or don’t post at all, and I know the AU discord had a group buy a while back, I’d guess maybe a hundred? But I’ve really no idea, I’d love to know how many there are out there.
Well, there’s about 1,500 of them out there so far, I have a hard time keeping all the various parts in stock.
I’m absolutely STUNNED at the number of Iris boards out there, far out. That’s absolutely mindblowing!
Do you have a favorite build you’ve seen?
This is a fantastic question, there seems to be so many takes out there, and it’s hard to choose just one, so I’ll pick two that have vastly different appeal to me, for example this build by /u/Playing_advocate with wooden plates is gorgeous, it’s rustic and a great looking piece, but it’s a totally different aesthetic to something like /u/rojovelasco’s sleek, glowy iris.
I recall sending you something like 3 sets of PCBs, how many Iris boards have you built?
You sent three pairs of PCBs, two OG [blue PCBs], and a limited edition white, the original boards have been built (one unfortunately sacrificed due to extremely amateur soldering so alas I have one assembled pair), the white limited edition is sitting quietly in a cupboard until I can make a frame for it, and then I’m going to frame it :D, so currently 2.5 halves built.
Is there anything you’d change with the layout, like more/less keys?
The layout as it stands is my optimum form of the layout, but if I had to change it, I’d add an additional column of thumb keys, as I’d imagine some people would like more than just 4 or so keys for their thumb.
Any other comments in general about anything?
ANY comments about ANYTHING? I could go all day, it wouldn’t be particularly coherent or interesting though. I’d say, be true to yourself and look after your mental health.