Design is Just Engineering



Teenage engineering is a Swedish consumer electronics company that creates beautiful audio products.

In an interview with the founder of Teenage Engineering, Jesper Kouthoofd, he shares his background and experience growing up in Sweden, his approach to creative work, what led him to the music industry, his advice for designers, and what comes next in technology and design.

Below are some quotes that I like.

on seeing patterns

What I have learned is that many things are basically the same in different disciplines. So if you work with fashion or design or filmmaking, or even banking, you know, it’s basically the same principles that have a different shape, but if you’ve moved from one to another, then you start to see the pattern. Everything I do is some kind of experiment and I’ve been surprised many times that if you have the will to try things, chances are that it works.

on Swedish architecture

I’m actually impressed when some Swedish friends can do great work because they have been fed with this bad kind of boring grey socialistic approach where everything looks the same. Just look at the colours. Everything is brown or beige.

on loving your work

If you’re not happy working with a specific subject, experiment, do something else [...] I’m always pushing people to find a way to be happier going to work

I’ve always questioned why people have hobbies, why can’t life just be one entity, why do you have to separate family from work? It’s very common that you go to work doing something you don’t like, that’s why you need to have hobbies as a substitute to make you happy.

on going slow

there is a certain cultural fascination with fast growth, IPOs and so on, but I want to go slow, really slow and think long-term. It takes time to do good things.

You see, this cultural phenomenon of speed and growth at all costs is displayed in every startup, they all look the same, it’s like fast food: it looks good, its taste it’s consistent but then you feel horrible afterwards.

on design

I believe design is just good engineering. That’s why I tell my designers to always think like an engineer. So I set up really strict rules on how they are allowed to work . So for example, we’re only allowed to use six or eight colours in total, same with the typeface, we only write in lowercase with one font in a set of sizes that is in a system connected to a grid.

on creative work

With any kind of creative work you start disabling as much as possible and narrow it down only to the necessary tools you need, and from there start making the work. That’s what I believe makes you super creative.

on German and Italian design

Everything design-wise that I love is German or Italian, for me it’s the perfect combination. With the passion from Italy and the set of rules from Germany, that balance is perfect.

on culture and inspiration

I sum it up with a way of thinking that comes from culture and that’s something you can’t learn. I love to reference other cultures and I always tell my designers that you can’t control your output, you can only control the input.

That’s why it’s so important to gather inspiration, read interesting books and explore subjects outside your profession, that’s what makes you able to create interesting things in your profession. Another reason why I feed myself with engineering stuff, like manuals, learning how things work and so on.

on Honda and Sony in the 70s/80s

”Sony is the company where engineers’ dreams come true”. What both companies have done is split the offices in two sections, one with engineers working on products, the other with sales and finances, so that the two couldn’t interact.

By doing so, there wouldn’t be decisions coming from marketing on what kind of products to push to market, the decisions came directly from the r&d departments.

on democracy

The democratic side is super interesting for me. You can build that in the design, you can design to remove expectations and change the behaviour of the people who use your products.

I believe you can design a product like a point-and-shoot camera that opens up the industry to a whole group of people who is not necessarily familiar with the language and doesn’t know about framing but still give access to it so you can design in a way that makes products accessible to people.

on starting companies

I never set out to start companies, I see it more like putting together a band and that’s the thing we create and hopefully, we’ll be recognised for that thing that stands for good quality. It’s a metaphor that I find very close to me.

on creating products

What’s so beautiful about creating products is that saying it in a poetic way, if you have that passion it naturally starts waves and those waves connect people. Then you don’t know where it’s going to end up, anything can happen, but if you don’t do anything, if you don’t write that text, if you don’t draw that picture or design that object, you can’t expect anything to happen. You need to start that chain reaction in life.

on what comes next

Technology coming closer and closer to your body, removing that layer of disconnection that a phone or watch still possesses. Not just from a design perspective but also from the user interface one, technology will gradually disappear and the next operating system will be a combination of your eyesight and sound. When the pendulum moves back, the next step will be physical aberration where you want to touch everything again and that’s a bit of what I’m working on