Judging by the invitations seeping into our editorial inbox on a daily basis, there is no lack of design talks and conferences. But where most events claim to be a breeding ground for new connections and cross-pollination, the reality doesn’t always live up to the promise. But just how do you create an atmosphere that benefits creative audiences beyond solely inspiring them? Rizon Parein, initiator of Antwerp’s design and creativity festival Us By Night (UBN), believes adopting concepts from the hospitality and retail industry might do the trick. Following the fourth edition, he shares four ways to upgrade an event.

By approaching an event from a nightlife angle, you create a whole different set of dynamics. People behave differently at night – they’re more relaxed, more open, more wild. They dance, they disconnect and let go. So we turned UBN into a nocturnal experience. It’s all about positive feelings, the tickling of senses, making new friends, being inspired and discovering new disciplines. Our belief is that, if you incubate the things you love to do, it will eventually lead to treating yourself and your environment better. 

There’s an obvious need for people to get out of their digital life

Nightlife used to be all about music. But now, I think a whole new landscape of events could arise. There’s an obvious need for people to get out of their digital life. You can certainly question how the current generation will translate or extend this to something more tangible and more physical. It’s bound to happen.

In retail today, it’s clear that shops are becoming brand playgrounds – they’re not just about selling product anymore; they’re like billboards you can participate in. I love visiting the likes of Dover Street Market, Gentle Monster, Aesop, APC and Acne often for the interior alone. The way brands present themselves in retail settings today inspires our approach to brand collaborations. We aim for the Nightmarket in particular to be a platform for brands that fit our DNA, that can bring added value. It’s an opportunity to explore interesting new kinds of activations and installations. Working with Adidas, for example, we conceptualized the MakerLab, which hosted workshops. Creatives that signed up in advance were able to meet – and show and develop their work with – members from Adidas’s Talent Acquisition team.

There are a ton of brand stories we are eager to bring forward but they of course come with a production cost, so it’s all about finding the right partnerships where the experience is a win-win for both. Organizing events is all about curation.

This generation needs – and expects – access and connection, the ability to talk to industry leaders and peers without hierarchy or egos. We very much want to be a friendly event. We strive for UBN to be an environment that is a safe haven for creatives, one that welcomes them to be who they are, with no need to pretend to be different – vulnerability is welcome. Our goal is to stimulate passion, cross-pollination and the hunger to create.

This sense of accessibility is increased by the way we setup our stages. Besides a main stage, there’s the Living Room stage, which is a more intimate, less academic setting where we encourage contact with the audience itself. The audience can sit at arm’s length with their heroes.       

What happens next to the stage is equally important as what happens on stage. The social aspect is absolutely key for events. It shouldn’t be taken for granted, but actively fostered. At UBN, we built a Nightmarket especially for this. Scattered around our three stages, we have anything from arcade games and a tattoo shop, to a cocktail bars and food trucks. It’s all about building community. I think design events in general are spoiled with the fact we have an audience of creatives, which allows you to do more out-of-the-ordinary stuff.