Config 2024: A look inside teenage engineering

27 Jun 202442:46

TLDRIn this inspiring conversation at Config 2024, Yesper, the founder of Teenage Engineering, shares his journey from a child of the personal computer era to creating iconic products like the OP-1. He discusses the influence of early computing constraints on his creativity, the importance of designing for oneself, and the philosophy of his company. Yesper emphasizes the role of intuition in hiring collaborators and the need for non-commercial alternatives in technology platforms. He also touches on the future of AI and the importance of positive thinking in embracing new technology.


  • 😀 The founder of Teenage Engineering, Yesper, was inspired by the limitations of early personal computers to spark creativity, beginning his tech journey with a cx881 computer.
  • 🏆 Teenage Engineering is known for creating iconic products like the OP-1, which was born out of a desire to challenge the team with a synthesizer project rather than a clock radio.
  • 🛠️ Yesper's background includes graphic design and directing, which led him to value creativity as a product that could manifest in various forms, from campaigns to products.
  • 🚀 The OP-1's design was influenced by Yesper's youth, incorporating elements from the music equipment he used to borrow from his brother's music store.
  • 🤝 Yesper values intuition when choosing collaborators and is quick to make decisions, often hiring people based on their personality and potential rather than just their skills.
  • 💡 He encourages a culture of creativity and experimentation at Teenage Engineering, even if it means making unconventional hires or taking risks with product design.
  • 🛑 Yesper is critical of middle management in larger companies, which he sees as stifling creativity and innovation, preferring a more hands-on and personal approach.
  • 🎨 Design at Teenage Engineering is a 'single brain' operation led by Yesper, who believes that understanding the function and purpose of a product is key to good design.
  • 🔍 Yesper does not believe in user testing for design validation, preferring to create products that he himself would be proud to use and that reflect his personal values.
  • 🌐 He sees a need for non-commercial alternatives in technology, suggesting that the internet and AI could benefit from platforms that prioritize good over profit.
  • 📚 Yesper recommends that designers create work that they will still be proud of in 20 years, emphasizing the importance of quality, respect, and timelessness in design.

Q & A

  • What was Yesper's first computer and how did it influence his career?

    -Yesper's first computer was a CX881 from 1981. It had black and white display and initially had 1K ROM memory, later upgraded to 16k. This computer sparked his interest in technology and creativity, considering the limitations it had, which he believes started his whole career.

  • How did limitations in early computers spark creativity according to Yesper?

    -Yesper discovered that limitations in early computers like the inability to do graphics on the CX881, which required using X's and Y's to create a maze-like pattern, actually sparked creativity. This constraint pushed him to think innovatively, much like how the first Tetris game was conceptualized.

  • Can you explain the transition of Yesper's career from graphic design to starting Teenage Engineering?

    -Yesper started as a graphic designer, creating record covers, and then moved into directing and advertising. Feeling restricted in the advertising industry, he started a company to sell creativity as a product. After taking a break and collecting cars, he felt the need to build things again, which led him to start Teenage Engineering.

  • What was the inspiration behind the design of the OP-1 synthesizer by Teenage Engineering?

    -The OP-1's design was inspired by the instruments and equipment Yesper borrowed from his brother's music store when he was young, including a four-track recorder, Boss pedals, a small drum machine, and a Japanese synth. These components influenced the layout and functionality of the OP-1.

  • How did Yesper approach the learning process of CAD and mechanical engineering for the OP-1 development?

    -Yesper had to learn CAD and mechanical engineering from scratch while working on the OP-1. He started with a software called Form Z on Mac and then moved to more advanced CAD software like Ashlar Vellum, learning as he went along during the development process.

  • What is Yesper's philosophy on hiring collaborators and employees at Teenage Engineering?

    -Yesper relies on intuition and takes chances when hiring, preferring to work with people he enjoys being around and who have interesting stories. He believes in making quick decisions and letting others fix issues later, rather than over-analyzing before making a choice.

  • How does Yesper ensure a vibrant company culture by hiring diverse individuals?

    -Yesper intentionally hires people with different backgrounds and personalities to mix up the company culture. He has hired individuals based on their character and potential to contribute to the culture, even if they don't fit the traditional mold or if their role is not immediately clear.

  • What is Yesper's view on the role of the CEO in a company like Teenage Engineering?

    -As the CEO, Yesper sees his role as more of a moral compass and a virtual presence, focusing on design and leaving daily operations to the leadership team. He is involved in making final decisions and is called upon when there are tricky problems that need his attention.

  • How does Yesper define 'good design' and its importance in Teenage Engineering's products?

    -Yesper believes that good design is not just about aesthetics but is deeply connected to problem-solving and engineering. He emphasizes that design should be personal and reflect the creator's voice, and it should be something that the designer will still be proud of 20 years later.

  • What advice does Yesper give to designers about their work and its impact?

    -Yesper advises designers to create work that they will still be proud of when looking back 20 years from now. He emphasizes the importance of creating meaningful, respectful, and timeless designs that contribute positively to humanity's evolution.



💻 Early Tech Influences and Teenage Engineering's Beginnings

The speaker reminisces about his first computer, a CX881 from 1981, which sparked his interest in technology despite its limitations. He discusses the creativity born from constraints and how his journey through graphic design, directing, and advertising led to the establishment of Teenage Engineering. The story of the OP-1's creation is introduced, highlighting the company's unique approach to product development.


🎶 The Inspiration Behind the OP-1 and Collaborative Process

The narrative focuses on the development of the OP-1, a product of Teenage Engineering. The speaker describes the design process, which was influenced by his youth and the instruments he borrowed from his brother's music store. He emphasizes the importance of understanding the product deeply, learning CAD, and mechanical engineering from scratch. The paragraph also touches on the organic and intuitive way collaborators are chosen, often based on personal connection and creativity.


🔧 Unconventional Hiring Practices and Organizational Culture

The speaker shares anecdotes about unique hiring practices at Teenage Engineering, such as employing someone who knocked on their door, leading to a long-term friendship and a key role in the company. He discusses the company's flat organizational structure, with himself as the CEO and head of design, and the importance of maintaining a vibrant and diverse company culture, even if it means having employees with unconventional work patterns.


🛠️ Design Philosophy and the Role of Intuition in Hiring

The speaker delves into his design philosophy, emphasizing the importance of having a hands-on approach and understanding every aspect of the product. He discusses the hiring process, where intuition plays a significant role, and the preference for taking chances on people who may not fit the traditional mold. The speaker also mentions the importance of having a mix of people one agrees and disagrees with to foster a dynamic and innovative environment.


🎨 The Essence of Teenage Engineering's Design Culture

The speaker reflects on the design culture at Teenage Engineering, which is characterized by a single-brain operation with himself as the sole designer, supported by a team of designers eager to contribute. He stresses the importance of having a deep understanding of the product and the discipline of design, which extends beyond aesthetics to include politics, culture, and brand identity.


📱 The 'Nothing Phone' Project and Designing for Transparency

The speaker discusses the 'Nothing Phone' project, a collaboration with Carl Pei, emphasizing the desire to bring excitement back to consumer electronics. He talks about the design process, the ideas explored, and the decision to use transparency as a design element. The speaker also shares the initial concept for the 'Nothing' logo and the importance of creating bold statements that are recognizable and help establish the brand.


🏠 Family Heritage and the Fusion of Business and Design

The speaker talks about his family background, with a Dutch father who was an architect and a Swedish mother who was a banker, and how this fusion of business and design influenced his approach to his work. He also discusses the importance of understanding every part of what one creates, drawing from the tradition of the Bauhaus school, and the role of positive thinking in leveraging technology for humanity's benefit.


🤖 Future of AI and the Need for Non-commercial Alternatives

The speaker contemplates the future of AI and the potential for using it in positive ways for humanity. He mentions an ongoing large-scale project related to AI and the importance of non-commercial alternatives to current technological platforms. The speaker believes in the need for alternatives that can provide a balance to the dominance of advertising and commercial interests on the internet.


🎨 The Importance of Personal Design and Problem Solving

The speaker emphasizes that good design is about problem-solving and personality, not just beauty. He discusses the importance of designing for oneself and creating products that one would be proud of in the long term. The speaker also touches on the responsibility of a designer to create meaningful, respectful, and timeless work that contributes positively to society.

🔧 The Role of Unique Design in Engineering and Evolution

The speaker concludes by discussing the role of unique design in engineering and how it contributes to the evolution of humanity. He stresses that design is about moving humanity forward, one step at a time, and that each designer plays a part in this ongoing process. The speaker also highlights the importance of understanding the history and reasoning behind common designs, such as the fork, and the value of continuing this tradition of innovation.



💡Teenage Engineering

Teenage Engineering is a Swedish company known for its innovative and iconic products, particularly in the field of music and audio technology. The company's philosophy is deeply rooted in creativity and design, as evidenced by its flagship product, the OP-1. In the script, the founder's journey from graphic design to creating Teenage Engineering reflects the company's emphasis on design and innovation.


The OP-1 is a portable synthesizer, drum machine, and sampler created by Teenage Engineering. It is considered an iconic product due to its unique design and functionality. The script mentions the OP-1 as a product that embodies the company's love for music and challenge, as it was chosen over a clock radio project due to its complexity and the team's passion for music.


In the context of the video, constraints refer to the limitations of early personal computers, which the speaker believes sparked creativity. The speaker's first computer, a cx881, had very limited capabilities, such as black and white display and minimal ROM memory, yet it was a tool that initiated the speaker's career in technology.


Creativity is a central theme in the video, with the speaker discussing how limitations can spark creativity. The speaker's experience with early computers led to innovative solutions, such as using the basic capabilities of the cx881 to create graphics and games, which is likened to the first Tetris game.

💡Graphic Design

Graphic design is mentioned as the speaker's initial career path, which later evolved into directing and eventually led to the creation of Teenage Engineering. The speaker's background in graphic design influenced the company's focus on the visual and aesthetic aspects of their products.

💡CAD (Computer-Aided Design)

CAD is a crucial tool in the design and engineering process, which the speaker had to learn from scratch during the development of the OP-1. The script mentions the use of software like FirstCAD and Ashlar Vellum, highlighting the learning curve and the hands-on approach taken by the speaker in the product design process.


A collaborator, in the context of the video, refers to individuals who work closely with the speaker in the creation of Teenage Engineering's products. The speaker values intuition and personality when choosing collaborators, as seen in the story of hiring the head of development who initially knocked on the door out of interest in the company's products.

💡Design Culture

Design culture at Teenage Engineering is portrayed as a single brain operation, with the speaker being the sole designer, surrounded by a team that assists in the creative process. The speaker emphasizes the importance of understanding the function and purpose of a product deeply, which is why the design team is often restricted from making design decisions until they are fully ready.

💡Middle Management

The term middle management is used to describe a layer of management in a company that can sometimes hinder innovation and maintain the status quo. The speaker bypasses this in their organization to inject fresh perspectives and avoid a stagnant corporate culture.

💡AI (Artificial Intelligence)

AI is mentioned towards the end of the script as a significant area of focus for the speaker's future projects. The speaker contemplates the idea of feeding AI with their family's creative work to create a unique model, emphasizing the importance of positive thinking and using technology for humanity's benefit.

💡Personality in Design

The speaker emphasizes the importance of personality in design, stating that good design doesn't have to be beautiful but should be personal. They advocate for designs that reflect the individuality of the designer, contrasting with the current trend of uniformity and lack of character in many products.


Yesper shares his journey from childhood with a basic computer to sparking a creative career in technology.

The limitations of early computers like the cx881 ignited Yesper's creativity, leading to a lifelong passion for tech.

Teenage Engineering's OP-1 synthesizer was born out of a garage project, showcasing the power of creative constraints.

Yesper's background in graphic design and directing influenced the unique approach to product design at Teenage Engineering.

The OP-1's design was inspired by the music equipment Yesper used as a teenager, bringing a personal touch to the product.

Yesper emphasizes the importance of learning and doing rather than just planning when creating new products.

Collaborators at Teenage Engineering are chosen based on intuition and the potential for a good working relationship.

Yesper discusses the organic growth of Teenage Engineering, from a garage project to a renowned tech company.

The hiring process at Teenage Engineering values personality and cultural fit over specific skillsets.

Yesper's management style involves a hands-off approach, allowing for creativity and problem-solving from the team.

Teenage Engineering's design culture is described as a 'single brain' operation led by Yesper's unique vision.

Yesper believes in designing for oneself first, ensuring personal satisfaction and integrity in the product.

The importance of understanding the function of a product before designing it is emphasized by Yesper.

Yesper shares insights on the design process of the 'nothing phone', focusing on creating a unique brand identity.

The role of AI in future design projects at Teenage Engineering is hinted at, suggesting innovative integration.

Yesper calls for non-commercial alternatives in technology, advocating for a balance between commercial and user-focused design.

Designers are encouraged to create work that they will be proud of in 20 years, focusing on quality and respect.

The role of unique design is to add personality and solve problems elegantly, according to Yesper's philosophy.

Yesper gifts the audience a book about the history of the fork, symbolizing the importance of understanding design's evolution.