According to Rustin Sotoodeh and Kha Lu a Hypegeek is a "culturally-aware, in the know gamer". A portmanteau on Hypebeast and Geek, we can imagine a Hypegeek as someone who is just as excited for a new pair of Nike's as they are for a new console release or video game. Whereas the traditional understanding of a "Hypebeast" is generally negative, with the assumption being a sense of fashion created purely by chasing luxury brand prices and exclusivity, Sotoodeh and Lu proudly aim to serve the current generation of Hypegeeks, believing in the value and positive impact design and fashion can bring gamers.
So, in 2020, the pair founded Higround, a gaming streetware (yes, ware) brand that dedicated to introducing the Hypegeek aesthetic to as many gamers as possible. Their latest release is the Sandstone Keyboard currently available for pre-order.
We had a chance to talk to Rustin Sotoodeh and ask him some questions about his newest design, the goal of his brand, and what inspires him to create:
How it started
What first got you interested in the concept of beautiful looking PC accessories?
We represent the Hypegeek; the culturally aware gamer. My co-founder and I are two such Hypegeeks—and we noticed that while our fits reflected our personality, our cookiecutter gaming setups didn’t. It was so odd to us that when it came to gaming peripherals we only had two choices: do we want it in black or white?
We’ve created a category we call Streetware: dope gaming hardware. To me, hardware can have graphics, branding, and feeling that you see in the world of streetwear. There are sneaker conventions and there are keyboard conventions. These words are very similar, but we feel no one had ever really connected the two. Our setups deserve this.
How do you balance between function and form when designing your keyboards? Can you provide some insight specifically around the Sandstone model?
We wanted something that looked dope but didn’t sacrifice function to accomplish that. We tested multiple switches and form factors until we landed on Sandstone’s current configuration: 68 keys with Gateron Red.
68 keys minimize desk clutter without removing the essential arrow keys needed for typing, while the Gateron Reds provide amazing response time in-game. The purposeful limiting of keys in this format is called a 60% layout. It’s comparable to the number of keys on a laptop. It allows users to have access to all the familiar keys but compacting it to minimize desk clutter. We tested multiple switches but ultimately decided Gateron Red switches were the best linear switch that satisfies both gamers and creatives. We chose OEM height keycaps because it’s the perfect balance between the thickness of DSA and the height of Cherry.
Give us an idea of what inspired Sandstone's look. Also, what do you mean by "first-ever graphic keyboard?"
Higround means a lot of things to us. It’s inspired by our favorite games, Halo and Fortnite, respectively. It’s also a reference to “high ground”—so it’s a tactical advantage. It’s a holy place. These meanings kept tying us back to a common theme of ascension. For our first drop, it was only right to create a topographic map reflecting that theme through various elevations.
This is the first keyboard to feature a full graphic print across the board. I always saw the keyboard as a t-shirt, perfect real estate to put a graphic on it, and reflect our personality. That’s how graphic tees are made. Graphic tee <> Graphic keyboard. However, getting a graphic across the entire keyboard proved to be challenging. No one had done it before. After many iterations, we had formed our own method of printing we call Endographing which enabled us to create the Sandstone.
How do you envision the larger gaming market responding to keyboards and PC accessories that increasingly become more stylish and visually unique. In other words, do you see the mass-market appeal for beautifully designed accessories, or are we still at a stage where this type of product is meant for a niche (albeit passionate) audience?
It's still niche, but Streetware is definitely starting to become a thing. This is a result of the Hypegeek audience continuing to grow and brands recognizing they’re a valuable consumer. The Hundreds just had a collab with Xbox, Acronym (shout outs to our boy Errolson) collabed with ROG, and Travis Scott and the collabing with Playstation… these are all Streetware. The hope is it will blossom into what we see in the sneaker/collectible world, but at the same time there’s something so special about a passionate community and we want that to be core to us forever.
Streetware is an awesome category and it’s something we want to own.
Can you share any plans or future projects you and the team are working on?
It’s funny we have so many ideas and opportunities on the table and we want to do everything! but as a young company and team we have to stay focused. I guess what I can say is that we’re chatting on some unique collabs that would never be expected for the space and some solid partnerships. Regarding products, the dopest of dope is yet to come.
What are some designers or brands that inspire you? Are there any particular gaming aesthetics you are keen on currently?
The Y2K aesthetic is a huge energizing force for Higround. It’s something that I’ve been inspired by my whole life but only recently honed it down in a way that’s appealing to the Hypegeek. To give more clarity, it’s early 2000’s culture like Pharrell, translucent Gameboys, Dreamcast/PS1 universe, SSX Tricky, Super Mario Sunshine, Sonic Adventure, Wipeout, Graduation-era Kanye, etc.
Our public Pinterest is a beautiful representation of our mood.
In terms of designers or brands that inspire me, there’s so much I could speak on. I don’t think about getting inspiration from just fashion designers, I get it from various sources. I’m inspired by Hideo Kojima’s universes, Nigo/Shawn Stussy/Virgil Abloh’s cultures, Arc Teryx/Stone Island/Acronym’s functionality, Prix Workshop’s take on the Hypegeek (absolutely love what she’s doing), Braindead/Cav Empt’s prints, Nike’s everlasting relevance, etc. I am a curious student applying inspiration from all fields to Higround.
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Warcraft 3 is my one true love and I will challenge anyone to a game of Super Smash Brothers Melee.