Teenage Engineering: not your average engineers

Published:  January 5, 2016
Jamuna Raj

Jesper Kouthoofd, head of design, founder and CEO of Teenage Engineering, sheds light on his company.







Four years ago, the OP-1 portable synthesiser entered the music technology market and took it by storm. It’s a product raved about by musicians, tech enthusiasts and even DJs.

The OP-1 was created by the team at Teenage Engineering and is the result of an extensive creative and development process. Its hardware combines classic design with cutting edge digital technology. Remarkably, it’s the first product Teenage Engineering has ever developed and released to the market.

Based in Stockholm, Teenage Engineering is now one of the most exciting engineering collectives in the world. At the helm is Jesper Kouthoofd, who, like the other founders, is a self-taught engineer. Kouthoofd directed television ads before forming Teenage Engineering, but it was his interest in technology and his 1980s childhood that led him into this world.

desktop caught up with Kouthoofd, who will be speaking at Pause Fest 2016, to learn more about this wonder product and the team at Teenage Engineering.

Give our readers a quick summary. What is Teenage Engineering?

Teenage Engineering is a 35-people creative technology team that works within the area of sound and research, and develops products exploring how to use technology, manufacturing and design to create next generation products.

Before Teenage Engineering, you were in the media industry. Why and how did you make the jump to building machines and software?

Two things: a/ I am restless and b/ I always try to figure out where the creative people are. It seems the good ones move from industry to industry and tech is very interesting at the moment.

JESPER (1)The OP-1 portable synthesiser was the first ever product your team built. Take us through the design and development process.

The OP-1 was actually an old idea that came up in the end of the 90s. Some of my friends (who also are partners at Teenage Engineering) and I discussed a product like this many times over beers. The problem was, at that time, there were no battery efficient DSPs (digital signal processors), good batteries with small form factor and low power displays. But now, thanks to the birth of the smartphone, suddenly all this tech has evolved. So the timing was perfect around 2007/08 when we started to develop the machine. Our goal was to make a portable music machine as a reaction and alternative to the laptop or computer. We wanted to create a machine that you could put away in your closet for 20 to 30 years; then after all these years you could power it on, it would work and all your music you had created would still be there.

Teenage3Besides the synthesiser and the wireless cloud speakers, what other projects has Teenage Engineering worked on?

We work on a lot of installations based on sound and entertainment – a cardboard camera for IKEA, electric bike, video games and so on.

These days the design aesthetics of a piece of technology are a huge consideration for people who both make and buy it. But this doesn’t mean that the software is compromised. How do your design and development/engineering teams work cohesively to create a balance?

We have two principles. One is that we do everything in parallel, which means all disciplines work simultaneously from the idea to the electronics, all the way down to the packaging or product images. We spend very little time sketching and doing design; more time is spent in balancing all areas of a product, such as the features for example. The other part is to prototype everything and let our hands and gut feeling do the thinking and the decision-making.

Your office is in a garage with a collection of handsome cars, some arcade games, a workshop and a 3D printer. How has this work/play culture benefited your team and their work?

The workspace is a big part of the process when making products. We spend a lot of time and effort to make it as flexible as possible. We also believe that you only live once and that work, life, friends and family have to be one. We also make our own tools, like screwdrivers and software, as part of this idea that everything is important in the development process.

What’s next for you and for Teenage Engineering?

We want to grow our team to at least 50 to 60 engineers in the near future to be able to have more projects running in parallel. It’s a big challenge to grow without destroying the culture. We have big plans, so we need a strong force of great people. But I’m so sorry, I can’t tell you more about it at the moment…

This article first appeared in the desktop-Pause special.
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