Heineken Open Design Explorations: The Club

The future of nightlife as conceived by a cross-disciplinary team of club-going creatives

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“We wanted to show design in action, not on a pedestal,” said Heineken’s Global Head of Design Mark van Iterson as he walked us through “The Club”, the first project of their Open Design Explorations, a pop up nightclub in the Tortona district during Milan’s Design Week. He wasn’t kidding around. The culmination of a year’s work, it represents an ambitious collaborative research and design project that he led with a hand-picked team of 19 club-going young designers from São Paolo, Tokyo, New York and Milan.

The cross-discipline team, mostly students and young professionals, includes interior, product and fashion designers, architects and graphic designers. The crowd-sourced finalists were invited to present their ideas at Pecha Kucha events, at the end of which the team was selected. The team visited clubs in all four of those cities (we participated in the Tokyo tour), and shared and collaborated on ideas, leading to the design elements brought to life in the pop up club. Van Iterson coached the group along with Professor Buijs and six industry experts.


“It was new for everybody to co-create cross-disciplines, cross-cultures, cross-time-zones,” says van Iterson. “We collaborated in an online hub, a kind of virtual creative lab. Some were more comfortable in the open ideas phase, others more in the detailing phase, some fueled the overall concept, others stayed within their discipline. But that’s the beauty of diversity.”

The hub served to mediate ideas while the designers worked remotely. “The portal was the open lab where we all came together,” says van Iterson. “It was bridging all continents and timezones, stimulating cross fertilization and kept the creative juices flowing through new progress, new insights, new briefs.” Heineken sought to create the perfect club—the rare combination of place, space and crowd that makes for a good time. “If you get the energy, the interaction and the vibe right, the club is a great club,” relates van Iterson. “And design can play a crucial role in facilitating that.”


Similar to how car companies use concept cars to have a dialog with their fans and customers, Heineken sought to create a physical place to express new ideas, and to present them to the world’s largest gathering of design professionals during Milan’s Design Week, with the goal of having a conversation around innovation in the club space. Van Iterson’s expectations are realistic: “For sure, certain elements will never make it to ‘real clubs’, but other elements might impact on club design or Heineken design worldwide for future years.”

Uniting The Club’s three spaces—which include a lounge, bar and dance area—is an origami theme that is applied to every element, reflecting the “changing perspectives” concept that fueled the project. The layout takes a cue from the team’s logical sequence of a typical night out: Connecting, getting a drink, discovering, dancing, cooling down and ending the night.


Walking through the completed concept, we found innovative details throughout. A video-mapped DJ booth pumps out killer beats as waitresses in extravagant origami uniforms and custom-designed shoes serve Heinekens from an origami-shaped tray that rests comfortably on the arm and holds up to eight bottles securely so that servers can use their free hand to open the bottles with a matching opener. An interactive bar features video display counters that lets you order another round with the tap of a finger, and a massive display made from more than 2,500 Heineken bottles features programmed images interspersed with live feeds from the dance floor. A wall on the dance floor has numbered shelves to place your drink while you dance, and a black origami wall glows with graffiti from the attached chalk pens, allowing club goers to get graphic in a harmless way.

Open Design Explorations is one of several crowd sourced design initiatives Heineken is leading, which live at Heineken’s Ideas Brewery.


The Club will be exhibited until 20 April 2012 from 13:00 – 23:00 daily at Via Privata Gaspare Bugatti 3, Zona Tortona, Milan. Even the club’s construction was important. Because the club was designed to be easily transportable, assembled and broken down in a cost-effective and sustainable manner, it’s likely that you’ll see it an event near you soon. See more images of the concept club in our gallery.