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    A visual from the Heineken information pack

Heineken are re-imagining the nightclub – with design at its core

Posted by Rob Alderson,

The countdown to this year’s Salone is well and truly on with the design world converging on Milan in just 12 days. One of the most intriguing, ambitious projects will be unveiled by Heineken, who are scaling-up their design DNA into a fully-fledged nightclub experience. It’s the culmination of a year-long process which has involved a team of 19 designers from Tokyo, New York, Milan and Sao Paulo, selected from different disciplines to re-imagine a night out with design at its very core. We spoke to some of the key players to find out how it all worked…

“We wanted to create a platform to go even further, to be even more progressive and more experimental,” says Mark van Iterson, Heineken’s Global Head of Design. “A club seemed perfect for us to create since it’s an extrovert space where design is of crucial importance in setting the scene.”

First announced at last year’s Salone, the 12 month journey has been a rollercoaster. After submitting portfolios, 15 designers from each of the four participant cities were asked to speak at Pecha Kucha events to see how they reacted under pressure and how they interacted with others. Mark and his team selected product, graphic, motion, fashion and interior designers for a project where cross-pollination was going to be pivotal.

“The complexity of creating one coherent concept across all elements was a big challenge,” he said. “It shouldn’t feel like an exhibition of 19 designers, it should feel like one club, combining different perspectives, resulting in one great evolving experience.”

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    The space in Milan shown on a poster aimed at potential designers

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    An early mock-up of the interior

The final 19 then went on tours of nightlife hotspots of their home cities, not only to bond but to see what what worked and what didn’t in existing clubs. From there the team identified six areas which come together to create a successful clubbing experience – connecting, discovering, getting a drink, dancing, cooling down and ending the night. Working with an expert team of coaches, the designers started to work up concepts using an online collaboration portal. The theme chosen was “changing perspectives” and the idea generation was aided by a community of clubbers who were able to make comments and suggestions using the online hub.
Everything from the bottle design and the staff uniforms to the interior decoration and the dance floor was up for discussion.

Graphic designer Andre Coelho played a big part in pushing the RGB concept finally incorporated into the Changing Perspectives idea. “Since the beginning of the project I had in mind that the different elements of the club should interact with each other, creating surprising effects – lighting interacting with bottles, dance floor interacting with music and dance steps, and so on.”

“After the concept was defined, the graphic designers and I had to find graphic solutions for the bottle, patterns and other elements. The main concern was creating a pattern that could represent the concept and be universally adapted by the rest of the team.”

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    The interactive hub where designers, mentors and clubbers came together.

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    The identity Andre Coelho helped design

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    A mock-up of what the interactive bar might look like

What the online portal also did was to facilitate designers working with their counterparts from the same discipline as well as their geographical colleagues, creating a multi-layered web of communication. However this was not without its challenges. Designer Lee Gibson told us: “It is certainly harder to pitch and present your ideas in a completely virtual environment. We found that as a smaller group here in New York, that time spent together talking through ideas, sketching, and designing was really important.” Lee revelled in the “freedom” of the project and credits the Heineken mentors for pushing the concepts “as far as they could go.”

One of his major preoccupations was to work out how the “flow and movement within the interior” contributed to the environment. ”We ended up creating narratives for different people coming to the space and enjoying the experience in different ways, with different endings. While the form of the elements and spaces was critical, the way that they sit next to each other in the space will really determine how successful we are with the design.”

“With an event, you have to create a bang! and try to create a night that will last in people’s memories.”

Adam Aleksander

Experiential designer Adam Aleksander also believes the science of a good night out boils down to interaction. “With an event, you have to create a bang! and try to create a night that will last in people’s memories. Even if your production isn’t 100% tight, the energy of sincerity shines through and energises the guests.

“The nightclub, as I saw it, was in danger of feeling like a science fair. My job was to come in after the interior design plans and figure out how to make this feel like a party, get people out of their shells, and really create a fun atmosphere. We have created a system of games and techniques and turned the space into an interactive world that is fun and engages people right off the bat.”

Launching a project like this at a place like Salone brings its own pressures but the team seem confident, and massively excited. This fascinating experience in group design dynamic is reaching its crescendo and we’ll all find out next week how well it’s worked.

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    More interior mock-ups

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    Early sketches for the staff uniforms

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    Designs for potential heat-sensitive bottles

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    A look at what the bar products could look like

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    A visual from the information pack

This article was produced in partnership with Heineken

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Posted by Rob Alderson

Editor-in-Chief Rob oversees editorial across all three It’s Nice That platforms; online, print and events. He has a background in newspaper journalism and a particular interest in art, advertising and photography. He is the main host of the Studio Audience podcast.