Windows Central Verdict
Xbox Design Lab has returned for the latest generation of console gaming, and it's better than ever. With an improved website design, a new controller foundation, and a growing number of options, Xbox Design Lab is an excellent way to secure a custom controller (if you're willing to pay the cost).
+ Endless possibilities from dozens of customization options
+ Identical to Xbox Wireless Controller in features, design, and cross-device compatibility
+ Optional rubberized grips are a practical upgrade
+ Base price isn't much more than a standard controller
Optional upgrades and options quickly raise the price
Long wait times for delivery, and no refund options
Still unavailable in some regions
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The controller you use to play games is almost as important as the platform on which you play, and there are endless options available for those looking to up their gaming abilities. While many controllers can provide practical or financial reasons to choose them over a competitor, one service stands above the rest for those looking to express themselves through a custom controller — Xbox Design Lab.
Microsoft's official controller-customizing platform returned after the arrival of the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S duo of current-gen consoles with a new controller foundation and color options. Since then, it has expanded with many more customization options and upgrades, a redesigned website, availability in a greater number of regions, and more.
Xbox Design Lab: Price & availability
To secure an Xbox Design Lab controller of your own, you'll have to be willing to pay the price, and be residing in a supported region. For the former, Xbox Design Lab controllers begin at $70 USD, only $10 more than a standard Xbox Wireless Controller (and $5 more than many of the official Xbox Wireless Controller colorways), which still lets you customize the body, back, triggers, bumpers, D-pad, thumbsticks, and face buttons with various basic color options.
These prices can quickly go up, however, with optional upgrades like metallic triggers and D-pad, unique colorways for the body, rubberized grips on the rear and sides, and engraving. With all the extras added, a fully customized Xbox Design Lab controller is priced at $110, a substantial increase over even Special Edition Xbox Wireless Controllers, and approaching the price range of "pro" controllers that boast more practical upgrades and additional features.
Xbox Design Lab is available in far more regions than at launch. Just bear in mind that Xbox Design Lab orders, being custom-made, can take 3-4 weeks to be delivered (and refunds are not available for the service). The Xbox Design Lab supported regions include:
- New Zealand
- South Korea
- United Kingdom
- United States
Xbox Design Lab: What's good
Xbox Design Lab's greatest strength is also its most prominent selling point, and that's the practically endless possibilities afforded by its in-depth customization options. Xbox Design Lab allows you to customize to your heart's content an Xbox Wireless Controller, with a plethora of options available for the body, back, triggers, bumpers, thumbsticks, D-pad, buttons, and beyond.
No two Xbox Design Lab controllers are alike, with the wide assortment of colors and options enabling players to create a truly unique controller. These controllers can be inspired by your favorite game, sports team, movie or TV show, character, and beyond. The Xbox Design Lab website even features a collection of "reference designs" to peruse, which give you a peek into what the service is capable of delivering.
On this front, Xbox Design Lab is genuinely exemplary. It can actually be intimidating to land on a finalized design because of the breadth of options available, but there's no end to the directions you can go to find the controller that's perfect for you. If you value expression, even in your video games accessories, Xbox Design Lab is practically unchallenged in the space.
It also helps that Xbox Design Lab is built using official Xbox Wireless Controllers (yes, the exact model that debuted alongside Xbox Series X|S), so it benefits from all the same features and improvements. This is one of the greatest controller designs of all time, and the latest iteration features improved ergonomics for smaller hands, a superior D-pad, better trigger and button actions, grippier sides, and an integrated "Share" button. It also features dual Xbox Wireless and Bluetooth radios, meaning you can use this controller on Xbox, PC, and Bluetooth-enabled mobile devices.
Endless possibilities for customization and a tried-and-true design that excels at cross-device play is a recipe for success, and Xbox Design Lab doesn't disappoint. I observed fantastic build quality in both of the Xbox Design Lab controllers I had available to test, with no concerning creaking, gaps, or drifting. It remains to be seen how well these controllers hold up over time, but they should be essentially identical to the standard Xbox Wireless Controller.
There's a lot to love about Xbox Design Lab, but the vast majority of its customization options are, understandably, purely cosmetic. However, there is one notable upgrade that is functional and well worth the added premium — the rubberized grips. Available for the back and sides of the controller, the rubberized grips are a drastic improvement over the textured plastic "grips" of the standard controller, and genuinely make the controller more comfortable to use for long periods of time.
After comparing and contrasting, I even found the rubberized grips to be superior to the excellent grips on the Forza Horizon 5 Limited Edition Xbox Wireless Controller that was my previous daily driver. You're looking at an additional $12 to install both grip sets on your controller, and they only come in black, but it's easily worth the consideration if you want a custom controller that looks and feels better than a standard Xbox Wireless Controller.
Before I move on to the few negatives that weigh down Xbox Design Lab, I want to touch on the much-improved website for the service. The old website was confusing to navigate, and was prone to crashes, freezes, and other errors. This newly redesigned website not only looks much cleaner, it's also significantly easier to use, and has never stuttered while I've used it.
If you sign in with your Microsoft Account, you can save designs to purchase or edit later, making it easy to explore the creator without committing to buying the controller. There's even a community gallery filled with awesome creations by other Xbox players, so you can still find something that fits your desires if you're not confident in your creative abilities.
Xbox Design Lab: What's not good
Fortunately, Xbox Design Lab isn't beset by many cons. Not only is it one of your only options for acquiring a truly personalized controller, it's also genuinely great at delivering. Still, there are a few things that may deter potential customers, or that need to improve in the future.
For one, several popular color options from the first generation of Xbox Design Lab are still nowhere to be seen, like the gorgeous gradients. Microsoft has added a plethora of new options to the second generation of Xbox Design Lab since its debut, including some brand-new additions like the beautiful Xbox "Pride" controller and the return of other fan-favorite additions like metallic triggers and D-pads. Still, there are still some older colors that players would like to see appear as options in the new Xbox Design Lab.
Budget-conscious consumers may be dissuaded by the swiftly rising price of an Xbox Design Lab controller, as well. While the majority of controller options are included in the base price, it's easy to increase the cost with optional, purely cosmetic upgrades. I personally don't believe these options are overpriced, but shelling out $110 for what is effectively a standard Xbox Wireless Controller with some rubberized grips may be a tall order for some.
If you're considering an Xbox Design Lab controller, evaluate how much you value owning a unique, personal accessory, and whether those optional upgrades are worth it. You can still make a fantastic, special controller without nudging the final price higher.
Finally, Xbox Design Lab suffers a little when it comes to speed of delivery and availability. For the former, buyers are looking at a 3-4 week wait to receive their custom controller, and won't be able to refund the order after a certain point post-purchase (since each controller is built to order). This is understandable given the nature of the service, but can still be annoying if you're in need of a new controller or you change your mind.
As for the latter, Microsoft has considerably expanded the availability of Xbox Design Lab to additional regions, with the most recent expansion adding over 10 new countries (you can see the full list above). Thailand is also gaining Xbox Design Lab support later this year, opening the service to more potential players. This issue is much smaller now than it was at launch, when Xbox Design Lab was limited to a handful of regions. Still, South America, Africa, Mexico, and many other regions are still absent from the list, so interested buyers in those places are out of luck.
Xbox Design Lab: The competition
Simply put, Xbox Design Lab doesn't have a ton of competition. If you're looking for a highly personal controller, especially one built for Xbox, PC, and mobile platforms, there aren't many places to look. Some manufacturers like PowerA offer controllers with various colorways and designs, but these controllers are often more affordable entries and still limit options. Some "pro" controllers have swappable faceplates, which can be a great alternative if you also value added features on your controller, but this requires additional work and shopping on your part.
ColorWare is likely the closest competitor to Xbox Design Lab, as the company specializes in a wide array of custom products. You can grab an Xbox Wireless Controller from ColorWare in an impressively wide array of colors, but you'll be limited to the body, back, D-pad, and engraving. ColorWare controllers are also more expensive than Xbox Design Lab, making it hard to recommend unless the company offers a colorway you can't find or replicate at Xbox Design Lab.
Xbox Design Lab: Should you buy?
You should buy this if ...
- You desire a unique, fully personalized controller
- You want a custom controller that matches the feature set of the Xbox Wireless Controller
- You don't mind waiting or paying extra for a custom controller
You should not buy this if ...
- You value practical features and upgrades over cosmetic additions
- You need a controller right now or are shopping on a tight budget
Video games and personal expression go hand-in-hand, with many players' setups and accessories reflecting their identities and personality. From RGB lights to themed products and collaborations, this effort to personalize is everywhere. Xbox Design Lab makes it incredibly easy to own an Xbox Wireless Controller that perfectly matches you, and it's continually getting better over time.
Built using what is widely considered as the best overall Xbox controller for the majority of gamers, Xbox Design Lab is simple and easy to recommend. If you don't understand the value in purely cosmetic expenses, however, you can easily pick up a more technically capable controller for a similar price to a fully specced Xbox Design Lab controller. On top of that, you likely won't be met with the same weeks-long wait time to actually receive your new controller.
Xbox Design Lab is an excellent addition to the Xbox ecosystem, and I hope it continues to improve moving forward with new options and greater availability. There are nearly infinite possibilities to explore inside Xbox Design Lab. Regardless of what you create, it'll be truly "you," and it'll be able to follow you wherever you game, across Xbox, PC, and mobile devices.
Zachary Boddy (They / Them) is a Staff Writer for Windows Central, primarily focused on covering the latest news in tech and gaming, the best Xbox and PC games, and the most interesting Windows and Xbox hardware. They have been gaming and writing for most of their life starting with the original Xbox, and started out as a freelancer for Windows Central and its sister sites in 2019. Now a full-fledged Staff Writer, Zachary has expanded from only writing about all things Minecraft to covering practically everything on which Windows Central is an expert, especially when it comes to Microsoft. You can find Zachary on Twitter @BoddyZachary.