Heineken's designed-from-scratch club opens in Milan

18 April 2012
Reading Time
4 minute read

It’s the kind of brief you might get set at art school – re-design a ubiquitous, well-known product from scratch, enhancing its design and ironing out issues. But Heineken’s Open Design Explorations Project has made that pie-in-the-sky idea a reality, bringing the expertise and resources of a major, multinational, design-obsessed brand to the party.

And what a party it promises to be. The Club opened its doors last night to revellers at the Milan Furniture Fair. We looked a couple of weeks ago at how the 18 designers from Tokyo, Milan, Sao Paulo and New York were chosen, how the initial concepts were decided on and how the designers grappled with the challenges of re-imagining such a well-known set-up.

But as fascinating as the process is, it’s all about product at the end of the day and audiences don’t get much tougher than the design-savvy Milan public – journalists, punters, other designers et al.

“We set out to experiment with ways of making the night more welcoming, more memorable and igniting conversation through design concepts and innovations,” says Mark van Iterson, Heineken’s global head of design. “We’re extremely excited, but of course a bit nervous about how it will work out all together in one space as one coherent club.

“However for us this is really more about the journey than about the destination. It gave us so many ideas, energy and new perspectives, that for us internally it’s successful already.

“I’m sure that the club will ignite a lot of conversation – that people will have opinions – which is what we’re aiming for,” he added.


Interior shot of The Club

These were the six areas they identified as being key to a good night-out and the solutions they have put in place to improve them.

Connecting – interactive games and unusual immersive experiences within the club will encourage people to mix and mingle rather than staying in the cliques they arrive in.

Getting a drink – Forget the undignified scramble to catch the bar staff’s eye, the interactive surface of the bar will indicate who is next in line and will also entertain revellers while they wait.

Discovering – The best nights out are based on the unexpected and using playful interactive features and lighting effects there will be a shifting, dynamic world within the club’s walls.

Dancing – A huge 3D origami star overhangs the carefully-designed dancefloor while cutting-edge video mapping technology creates an interactive connection between the crowd and the DJ.

Cooling down – The angular seating and intriguingly other-worldly uniformed staff are designed to slow down the pace of the night should clubbers choose to do so.

Ending the night – Many a good night can be spoiled by an unreasonably delayed or confused ending so concierges are on-hand to direct people onwards, organise cabs etc.

"We wanted to design a total environment and experience, while exploring how co-creation could push boundaries, keep surprising adult consumers and be ahead of the game."

Mark van Iterson

By attempting to fuse very different cultures and create a futuristic prototype, it’s interesting to see which elements are at the centre of the project. The Heineken designers have looked at what people really want from a night out – drink, dancing and social engagement – and thought long and hard about how these can be better facilitated, rather than trying to be too clever and radical, which could have alienated partygoers.

That’s not to say they haven’t come up with clever, stylish solutions, but rather their thinking has remained focussed on what real people might actually want rather than designing a conceptually leftfield solution aimed at wowing only hardcore design enthusiasts.

“We wanted to design a total environment and experience, while exploring how co-creation could push boundaries, keep surprising adult consumers and be ahead of the game,” Mark van Iterson says and he is confident they have come up with something genuinely innovative.

But what about the designers themselves? For graphic designer Andre Coelho, his excitement is tinged with nerves. “I can’t wait to see how our many ideas come together in real life but since one of my biggest contributions to the project was related to the RGB concept, I’m really nervous to see if everything is going to work according to our plans. I really hope so!”

Experience designer Adam Aleksander is less concerned though. “People get nervous when they don’t have anything to do – it stems from a lack of control,” he told us. “I have a lot to do at the club so hopefully, I won’t have time to get nervous. I’m going to make sure everything goes as perfectly as possible with my team, and help lead them into being good hosts and making this nightclub amazing.”

And it’s not just set up to be big night out for the revellers who attend. For the first time in Milan all the designers came together last night to raise a toast to their collective experiment. It’ll be fascinating to see how their efforts are received.


The interactive bar


The staff uniform


Interior shot of The Club

This article was produced in partnership with Heineken.

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Rob Alderson

Rob joined It’s Nice That as Online Editor in July 2011 before becoming Editor-in-Chief and working across all editorial projects including itsnicethat.com, Printed Pages, Here and Nicer Tuesdays. Rob left It’s Nice That in June 2015.

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