When Mexican designer Ricardo Casas talks about his role in the Heineken® Pop Up City Lounge, one word crops up more than any other – behaviour. This gives us a clue that his underlying design philosophy is very focused on how people interact with a space rather than overarching principles into which the project should be shoehorned. To put it another way; he’s a designer who makes work with real people in mind rather than other designers.
A renowned product designer who has exhibited around the world, Ricardo is also a founder of the NEL collective. Named as one of the leading design groups in the world by I-D magazine, it describes itself as “a platform for experimentation” and has been at the forefront of innovative design projects for the past decade.
NEL played a leading role in Heineken®’s Lounge of the Future at Milan’s Salone earlier this year, and again in the new iteration opening at the London Design Festival next week.
The initial stage of the project involved sourcing ideas from the brand’s Instagram followers about what they wanted to see from a lounge bar, and Ricardo says this was a key part of trying to understand how people wanted to use the space – a more useful starting point than what they wanted to see.
“This feedback helped us a lot in understanding people’s behaviour and how they interact in the spaces.” He was particularly struck by the role they saw technology playing in the space, but ultimately his favourite part of the final designs was something more traditional.
“It was all about the textures. It was a really nice item to explore and play with, and to think about how we might create this is in production.” One of NEL’s main innovations were the conversation cocoons which will inhabit the lounge and encourage intimate interaction however busy the bar gets. I ask him if he’s heard the phrase “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.” Does the lounge bar really need redesigning?
“It’s not about anything being ‘broken,’ it’s about adapting the spaces and the way things work into the new technologies and the behaviour of the people who have all these new devices. It’s about using design as a tool.”
Ricardo has no trepidation about working in London, with its huge design heritage, nor at the London Design Festival where the attention is frenzied and the judgements can be swift. “We don’t feel pressure, we feel really confident. It’s helped working with a brand like Heineken® who are so professional.”
And ultimately what does he hope visitors to the space in east London’s Old Truman Brewery come away with? “The same thing I expect with all my projects. The space and objects need to establish a statement about design and be a great experience for the client and the visitors.”
The Pop Up City Lounge opens on 18 September – see you there!
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