This is the Concept 1, the first fruits of the recently announced partnership between Swedish synth specialists Teenage Engineering and the enigmatic new consumer tech company Nothing. It comes off the back of the news that TE’s Vice Head of Design, Thomas Howard, is now Head of Design at Nothing, and the company is also a fully-fledged partners in the new venture, with Jesper Kouthoofd joining Nothing’s CEO Carl Pei. The company is already thinking big, even if this – their very first conceptual product – is still some way from being realised.

We spoke to Thomas Howard, along with Jesper Kouthoofd and Carl Pei, about their boundless ambitions.

Nothing’s stated aim is to create a ‘future where technology is so advanced and seamlessly integrated into our lives that it feels like nothing’, removing the ‘barriers between technology and people to create a seamless digital future.’ A pair of transparent earbuds is just a tiny step on what could be a lengthy journey. ‘Tech is everywhere but also nowhere at the same time,’ says Pei, one of the original co-founders of OnePlus mobile at the turn of the decade. ‘Today you end up having an app for each device you own. It’s a mess.’ Howard, who has been with TE for nine years, continues. ‘Instead, we have this vision that’s all about ‘nothingness’, he says, ‘but it’s a 20- or 30-year vision. So we had to ask what was the first step we could take.’

Concept 1 is an obvious place to start, for right now the world demands tangible, desirable objects and what could be more universal than a pair of earbuds? ‘At Teenage Engineering we really like the tactile world,’ says Kouthoofd, ‘if we wanted to broaden that to smart devices, then Nothing is the perfect partner.’ Even so, Concept 1 only offers hints of what Nothing could become. Kouthoofd speaks of a modular technological toolset that could take a decade to realise, while Pei evangelises about eco-systems without barriers, all unified by universal software. Together, all three want to put engineering at the forefront of Nothing.

‘We have grand visions, but we also want to be extremely practical. We’ll start small and evolve,’ Pei says. ‘You have to combine vision with reality,’ Kouthoofd agrees, ‘we want to add an extra dimension.’ ‘Technology has lost its touch – it all looks the same,’ Pei continues. ‘From a consumer perspective, our approach to industrial design is really exciting. It can be different and desirable at the same time.’ The Concept 1 is a glimpse into this new approach. ‘For us, the idea of removing barriers really stood out,’ says Howard, ‘A transparent outer shell seemed obvious – removing the superficial decisions that designers make about colour and branding. It frees us up to think about what’s really important, which is the engineering.’

Teenage Engineering OP-1
Teenage Engineering’s most celebrated product, the cult OP-1 Synthesizer, celebrates 10 years of production in 2021

The no-brand approach, together with a combination of physical limitations and boundless ideas is what will shape the first product collection. ‘At Teenage Engineering we have this raw technological feeling. But you also have to have warmth,’ Howard explains, ‘this concept tries to ground this idea of raw technology.’

As well as the products themselves, which will start with a conventional family of devices but gradually evolve into a whole new eco-system, Nothing wants a new approach to materials. ‘The world of highly recyclable materials and materials made of post-consumer waste is really interesting to me,’ says Howard, ‘I’ve always tried to visualise our products with surface details and defects, as if they’re two or three years down the line. What’s the point of hiding the history of a material? Instead, we’re open to celebrating it.’

There’s also the question of packaging, something the tech industry has taken to ludicrous extremes in the past. ‘There are two things to look at. Can you not give packaging a life and a function outside of the two minute unboxing process. The other thing is to look at the whole system of shipping and selling products,’ Howard says. ‘But we prefer not to talk too much and just show. This concept was actually a first sketch from our engineers, and we’ve built it off that. It’s a first step in our journey in many ways.’ The team is deadly serious about doing Nothing the right way. §

Teenage Engineering OD-11 speaker and ortho remote
Another TE classic, the OD-11 speaker, complete with colourful ortho remote, showcases their minimal approach