Reporter with Silicon Hills News
OSLO, NORWAY – Amid the hovercraft and kits with giant colored straws building kits and drones and 3D printed Rubik’s cubes at the Oslo Innovation maker fair in October, one presenter didn’t really think of what his company—Teenage Engineering—does as making. Though Jesper Kouthoofd acknowledges that the company’s synthesizers have a lot in common with the maker movement.
“Lately we have created products that are very maker friendly, like the small synth (the newly introduced Pocket Operators, the size of a smartphone). You can solder stuff to it. You can create your own case. We have files for spare parts so you can 3D print them yourself,” Kouthoofd said. “It’s more like solving a problem. I like all movements that happen. Most of us (at Teenage Engineering) are inspired by everything that happens or moves…what we do is a little bit of a mix. A reflection of what’s happening around us.”
Kouthoofd’s Stockholm company makes things connected to music. They first started making synthesizers as part of an advertising installation for Absolut Vodka. “I was a graphic designer and the other guys are engineers and we had one thing in common that we love music and sound. So to make an instrument was quite natural,” he said in an interview after the event.
They produced their first synthesizer, OP-1 in 2011. The circuit board, Kouthoofd explains, is made to look like a map of Manhattan.
“So if something goes wrong we can just say ‘We have a problem on the Lower East Side,” he said.
Since then they have introduced products like the OD-11, a speaker that’s a modern, wireless version of one designed in 1974 by Swedish designer Stig Carlsson. Carlsson not only sold his cube-shaped speaker but also made the design available to anyone who wanted to build their own. Teenage Engineering’s version is Internet connected and lets each member of a family have a color-coded remote control with a magnet on the back (to attach to the refrigerator) so that whoever’s wielding the remote plays their individual playlist. In early 2015, the company introduced the PO-12, a synthesizer the size of a smartphone that retails for $59 that can plug into a speaker.
“Our mission was to create an instrument that anyone could afford and play,” Kouthoofd said.
Among other presenters, some of whom presented in Norwegian, was Christina Hug, founder of Toronto’s Maker’s Nation, who talked about how to create a successful maker community. Hug identified what she calls a “maker chasm” between intro classes that are available everywhere and learning enough to become a professional maker. Maker communities need to fill that gap and help people perceive their own creativity.
“I can hand someone a blank canvas and it’s very easy for them to say ‘Oh no, I’m not an artist, I’m not creative,’ because they have these preconceived notions of what a masterpiece looks like,” Hug said. “I hand them a piece of technology, on the other hand, and there are no expectations or preset rules, they can just create.”
Maker’s Nation works with cities internationally to help establish their maker communities and Hug observed how different cities have different maker personalities. New York, she said, is very focused on 3D printing while San Francisco is carving out a niche in wearables and London is working on the Internet of Things.
Hug gave four suggestions for developing a local maker community.
1) Listen – don’t build things just because you’ve seen it somewhere else, listen to your makers and create a community based on your own personality.
2) Connect the dots – between people and spaces, across disciplines, with cities, and remembering to look up and see how you can plug in globally
3) Test new models – just as makers believe in rapid prototyping you should too – try new things, experiment, and learn.
4) Make your own rules – There is no one size fits all solution, each community has its own personality. Learn from other cities but at the end of the day, find out what works for you and run with it.
Editor’s note: Lahey’s trip was sponsored by Oslo Business Region, which puts on Oslo Innovation Week and the Norwegian Consulate in Houston.