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Sure. Softkeys - a row of buttons around the edges of the screen - are how a lot of electronic test equipment works.

In fact the UI can be identical for a device with softkeys vs. one with a touchscreen. It causes a few DOH! moments when you are working with some instruments that work one way and some the other, but this isn't nearly as annoying as you might expect.

You still have to look at the screen though. Unless maybe you could 'lock' the UI into one mode (with no sub-menus), which might be a good compromise for vehicles.

Many modular synth systems also do this without screens e.g. by indicating the state of the system with a row of colored LEDs and then colorcoding the labels on the controls. This certainly offloads the cognitive load to the user, but it also works.

The modular scene generally frowns upon systems that need deep menu diving, which is most of the time an indicator that your interface design is lacking.

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