Say you're a designer in a particular industry. Your job is not to come up with ideas for what people want today. Your job, in fact, is to come up with products that people will want tomorrow. According to gaming product designer Rob Teller, this is how it ought to be—but it's not. We wrangled Teller for an intimate sit down to look at his life, his career, and his journey with drugs, and get his point of view
Outspoken and refreshingly open, Teller is open about not only his use of drugs, but also how drugs have been an essential part of his product-design toolbox.
Prolific in gaming communities, some of Teller's product include the first RGB-lit PC designs, NZXT's famous Kraken series of liquid-coolers, and most recently the Y60 and Y40 aestetic-cases from computer lifestyle company HYTE.
Teller is leading the charge in terms of HYTE's products and he's not shy to anyone about how drugs have helped him stay ahead of the curve.
thepineapple: Thanks for agreeing to do this interview, Rob. I want to ask you a few questions just to get some context on who you are and how you got to where you are today. Can we start with that?
Rob Teller: Sure.
thepineapple: How long have you been in the tech industry?
Rob Teller: I would say since I was 14. That was when I started doing any sort of work in the tech industry. That was 18 years ago (2004), so more than half my life.
thepineapple: What do you do?
Rob Teller: Without getting too reductionist, I'm sort of a progressive. Not focused on what will make the margin, follow the trend, or be the next guaranteed hit. It's much more about what I want out of this industry. I took a bit of a hiatus over the last few years and came back in 2021. It was very clear that my place in this industry was to move things forward—mixing ideas together that no one has ever mixed… finding commonalities outside our industry. I want better experiences that are built around the way that I live my life, which means transcending industries.
thepineapple: What parts of the job that you do are most enjoyable for you?
Rob Teller: The blue sky ideation, where it's like “What do I want? What's the wildest dream?” And then sort of cracking down one more step. “Can we afford that?” Starting from the wildest dream and getting to “Can manufacture this?”. Anytime I can take that step, that's my favorite thing. It’s that progression from dream to reality. Every step of the way there's going to be some new kind of resistance we’ve never imagined before. I can distinctly feel these steps every time someone tells me what we’re doing is impossible. So many people stop when they hear it’s impossible, I guess getting beyond that impossible is probably my favorite thing.
thepineapple: You mentioned that you had been in the tech industry for half your life. How long have drugs been part of your life?
Rob Teller: Basically the same, I started smoking weed at 14. Not consistently, but I tried it. Around 18, I started to smoke weed alone. Smoking weed alone showed me half my energy being high was spent trying to fit in. Don't freak out. Are you good? Are you laughing? Are they laughing? It's much more of a social focus. And then especially if you're in public, it's mostly well I don't want anyone to know I'm high. You're burning a lot of energy trying to fit in and worrying about what society expects of you publicly. Smoking weed alone, I threw a lot of that away. I'm like, I don't have to watch this shit show. I don't have to pretend to laugh. I don't have to do any of these things—I can do whatever I want alone.
thepineapple: So drugs have been part of your life for about the same amount of time that you've been in the industry—what types of drugs?
Rob Teller: Marijuana for the first time at 14. I’ve never smoked cigarettes. At 27, I tried ecstasy for the first time, and then at 28, I tried acid, Adderall, mushrooms, and Xanax. Around 31, I tried Ketamine.
thepineapple: If you had to pick a favorite, and that's probably really difficult, which one would it be?
Rob Teller: It's probably acid.
thepineapple: Oh, why?
Rob Teller: You know, a good drug proliferates itself and acid got me to take a lot more acid, right? And it wasn't like a chemical dependency that I needed more acid. It was much more like I was having thoughts and I was perceiving reality in a way that was more enjoyable, and it caused me to want to consume more of that without major side effects. My income grew, and my personal relationships grew closer. It was not a detriment, but it was also a very extreme delta between being sober and tripping. So it was a conscious decision. I was like yeah, let's keep doing that for a while.
thepineapple: Do you remember what your first acid experience was like?
Rob Teller: Absolutely. I shared it with my friend. We each did half a tab. We finger-painted. We watched TV. The Simpsons. I remember we watched Homer’s Insanity Pepper episode… which definitely messed with my brain afterward. That night it was pouring rain out and we went for a walk. Everything was super glittery. I climbed a fountain and the fountain fell apart, and I almost fell in.
thepineapple: Wow. What was the key takeaway for you?
Rob Teller: I think it's really important to understand the framework of my mind going into it. Steve Jobs, The Beatles. Carl Sagan. (Reportedly) Walt Disney. They all used acid in some form. And I fancied myself up with those people, I was ready to go through whatever was that they went through. It definitely worked as advertised, at least for me. I'm someone who can work very well on almost any drug and working on acid is like the difference between working sober or on coffee. Sober is like working on a laptop from 1995. High on weed is like working on a modern-day computer. Tripping on acid is like working on a computer that you're inventing right now.
Thepineapple: Do your industry peers use drugs?
Rob Teller: They absolutely do. I think that there is a large portion of our industry who are very straight edge. Not to be biased but I think some people look at it with an engineer’s mindset. Like they believe they can just figure it out, whatever the problem is, they’ll figure it out the math to the solution. Those types don't gravitate toward psychedelics the way a creative might. And so there are some hard boundaries. I feel like if you're in a creative role you're probably playing with drugs or at least did. Maybe I'm probably more active in the idea that you could do this for the longevity of your life. But I do believe that most of the creative types have at least played around with it. (Many of them have shared their experiences with me)
thepineapple: Interesting. So would you say that your peers in the industry are shy about it?
Rob Teller: I think, every industry has its drug, right? Like you and I watch Mad Men, and you see that cigarettes are a drug in the show. Alcohol is a drug. Sex is a drug. Money is a drug. In the computer industry following Steve Jobs, computers are used to create diverse works of art. If the computer is a bicycle for the mind, the drug is the path you decide to ride down. And I think that most people in our industry are familiar with the fact that the whole industry was born out of dreams from a few hippies, but aren’t ready to associate themselves with that so clearly.
thepineapple: Is this why you often talk about drugs as a tool? Why?
Rob Teller: There's a lot of unnecessary division and classification between products in our life. I think that people like to classify things as more important or less important, and there are certain tools that are more necessary to the basics of life. But when it comes to society, we live in that kind of capitalism-driven society—products of products. Whether it's a microphone, a day at Disneyland, a Tesla, or a personal computer. The experience of these products, these catalysts that make modern life so viable… it's just a tool that helps people get to the next idea. People will drag morality into things… rather it's really just an opinion, someone's opinion. It might be a smart person, it might be a nobody, but at the end of the day, if you can strip that opinion out, it’s really just culture, tools, and life.
thepineapple: So you can see it as a tool to relax. It doesn't have to be for productivity. Right.
Rob Teller: Sure. It's really whatever your desire is. If it satisfies that desire, it's a tool for that. If someone were to ask you… Hey, is medication a kind of tool? Just the way that question is asked, you'd probably say well I never thought of it that way, but yes it is. This medicine helped me, and so it is a tool that I use. If you switch out the word medicine with drugs, there are connotations in there about how much drugs are inherently bad. So it's a different question entirely because of the way the person processes that question… the words are loaded with bias. I think that once you can get rid of that bias, you get to be a little more progressive and you try to try to stay fresh about things. I think you can use the product, tool, and drug interchangeably when you ignore the bias.
thepineapple: And do you think you're in the minority for using drugs as a productivity tool, or a work tool?
Rob Teller: I mean. Drugs are coffee. Do people drink coffee to be productive? Is caffeine a drug and If it it isn’t, why is it not? When you really start to go down the progression of these discussions, my line of thinking is where people land. It's just that most people haven't had those conversations yet.
Rob Teller: I think we're rapidly seeing people adopt the idea that you can use marijuana as a tool or LSD as a tool or shrooms as a tool. I do think that I'm in the minority in using such a wide spectrum of drugs with such a high frequency.
thepineapple: Tell me more about your experience working while on LSD.
Rob Teller: It's like I have 30 of me working on an idea. Acid for blue sky ideation is really great. I can juggle a bunch of different concepts at the same time very fluidly. When I come back to sober reality, I still have my memory of the ideas, some notes even. Later, I’ll smoke some weed and study those ideas, taking them from ideation into a structured outline. If I then do some ketamine, I get to step back from all of it all and consider what I’ve come up with but without so much emotional attachment to the ideas. (This full stack isn’t a regular occurrence)
thepineapple: So it sounds like you've done a lot of different roles in your career. I want to play a little game with you. I'm gonna name a job role, and you're going to tell me the ideal drug for that role, from your point of view. Okay?
Rob Teller: [Lauighs] Okay.
Rob Teller: Sales is probably still alcohol. It’s what most of your customers are primarily consuming. If you're all weed, the other person might not connect with that. Getting aligned chemically with your customer puts both of you in the same circumstances. This makes your guidance more relevant to the customer.
thepineapple: Okay, product design.
Rob Teller: For ideation it’s acid. That'll take you into a new territory of what the shape could be. In terms of incorporating features together, it’s weed. They're optimized for different stages. I would say that you would start with acid and then you would finish with weed.
thepineapple: Okay. What about a project manager?
Rob Teller: Probably weed too.
thepineapple: Oh interesting.
Rob Teller: If I’m looking after the whole roadmap, weed helps me from letting details fall off my radar.
thepineapple: Would you say Adderall is good for a project manager?
Rob Teller: I would but I think about sustainability when I make decisions and recommendations. There's almost nothing, no job, where I would recommend taking Adderall every day. It doesn't seem like a long-term viable solution considering mental and physical health. I'm not a supporter of the idea that you should take Adderall every day. I feel I can largely smoke weed every day and not “lose myself”.
thepineapple: How about a CEO? Would it be all the drugs? [Laughs]
Rob Teller: It's really important to have that wide spectrum of tools. I think one of the biggest issues with alcohol is it’s like a hammer looking for a nail. If you use alcohol to celebrate and also to cheer yourself up... It's like you're using a hammer on a screw and it's not going to be a dependable solution… If it's the only tool you have in your toolbox, that's going to be extremely frustrating. So I think the more tools that you can comfortably utilize and understand, the less stressed you're going to be. The more tools you have in your toolbox, the more situations you can dependably solve without stress.
thepineapple: You're not particularly shy about telling people in your industry like your industry peers that you're a drug user. Why?
Rob Teller: Because my ideas seem to work. If I was struggling to be recognized for my work, or struggling to keep up with my peers, competitors, and contemporaries, it would be an embarrassment that I openly discuss my drug use. It would feel like, “oh, this guy right there is a problem. Maybe if you stop doing so many drugs, you could start performing”. But when you're at the head of the pack, it just makes my life easier to be open about it. If I can't talk about it. I have to have multiple personas. This is the work Rob, this is the real Rob and in between there would be some shame. If I'm giving you my best ideas, why should I bother investing in that shame?
thepineapple: Were you shy at one point and then at some point decided not to be?
Rob Teller: I don't think so. The job that I had when I first smoked weed… I told my boss because he was like a Dead Head kind of hippie guy. He was fine with it and that was probably the genesis for my professional comfort.
thepineapple: How much transparency do you have with your parents?
Rob Teller: My dad had been very transparent about smoking when he was younger. My grandparents knew. My aunt. My uncle. This was not a secret worth keeping. There was no threat of anything being taken away if I shared it. It’s certainly a privilege that my family gave me, to be able to talk about it and set the scene for how I could holistically live with it throughout my life.
thepineapple: What about in your career?
Rob Teller: In the tech world, people all knew. My first tech boss knew. The boss I have now knows. I think the important thing is when you're trying to do something like this, and you're trying to change people's minds, especially internally in a company. Don't go in this direction. Go in that direction. It's that salesman role we discussed earlier. To be able to say, hey, we're the same. So if I've got a designer who I know smokes weed or drinks or whatever, I can get on the same level as them when I know their chemicals. I may not start out knowing their intent, their background, or any of that stuff… But if we both share the same chemicals, it's better than even sharing a home-cooked meal. When you can be upfront about what works for you and there's no shame about what it is… You can gain a lot of respect, especially those who might not be in the position to be so vocal.
thepineapple: Have you ever designed a tech product while on a drug?
Rob Teller: All of them. Absolutely, all of them. Everything I've ever made in the tech world had a contribution of some chemical.
thepineapple: What's your most recent one?
Rob Teller: The Y60. The lines, how they bend, and the contrast between the white and black… How you get a little bit of a moire effect. The product was designed to have diffraction and depth while playing with the sense of perspective. When you're on acid, you tend to think about four-dimensional concepts more… The Y60 is like a fourth-dimension concept expressed as a three-dimensional object. When you take a photo of the Y60 and scale it down to two dimensions it plays with the collapsing of all those concepts. A lot of that was born out of doing acid.
thepineapple: Do you think you can look at a company's product and tell if it was designed on a drug?
Rob Teller: [Laughs] I mean you can definitely tell If they tried to design on a drug that they're not familiar with and it's just super wacky. I think no one knows what the customer wants and the designers in our industry are so busy looking at what worked last year or what worked for the company ten years ago. A lot of designers in our industry are so disconnected from what would bring the customer the most satisfaction. It's why you see competitors release seven-hundred-dollar abominations that no one would want.
thepineapple: Which company's products do you think can benefit from more drugs?
Rob Teller: Every company's products.
thepineapple: Can you name some companies? Can you name three companies?
Rob Teller: Um, I,… [laughs]
thepineapple: You don't have to.
Rob Teller: I don't want to name anyone, but I think part of the problem when you get to senior levels is you got to those senior levels by doing the same thing over and over again. You can’t care about that thing the hundredth time with the same passion you had the first time. You go into autopilot. If there were some drugs involved, it might make you look at the hundredth time like the first time.
thepineapple: That's a good take. Any advice for being productive using drugs?
Rob Teller: Stay healthy. Exercise. Don't abuse drugs… like don't abuse anything, even marijuana. If you smoke too much too often, it's just not going to be a great time. Sleep. Good sleep. Someone on Reddit once wrote… sleep like it's your job and I absolutely think if you're doing drugs and you are not getting sleep, it's torture. I think that's how people sort of get into bad places with drugs. They're not taking care of their health. Take rest, exercise, eat well, surround yourself with love.
thepineapple: Awesome. I really enjoyed talking to you about all this, Rob. Were you high this entire time?
Rob Teller: Yeah.