How Us By Night is Upending
Design Conference Conventions
MIKE O'DONNELL / EDITOR
Us By Night is the insomniac brain child of WNW Member Rizon Parein, a Belgian designer and illustrator who’s worked with clients such as Nike, Apple, Jay-Z, Google, Facebook, Mercedes, and Xbox. The design and creativity festival takes place over three nights in Antwerp, but this hardly suffices as a proper introduction. So we talked to Rizon below to learn what led him to start it, what to expect in the event’s third year, and why the night time is the right time for a bunch of creatives to gather within a spacious LED-walled venue for talks, live art, interactive installations, games, and mingling.
Us By Night will be in Antwerp from November 22-24. This year, we’re partnering and collaborating with Rizon, and co-hosting an Us By Night afterparty for the festival with the vibe of an afterparty.
What was the impetus behind starting Us By Night? What was missing from conferences you had attended in the past that you wanted to take up and deliver on?
In 2016 I was asked by the city of Antwerp to curate a year of design. The initial plan was to organise a small event, something like 9 speakers or so. But when I started inviting friends, colleagues, and clients, I suddenly had a stellar lineup confirmed, in only two weeks. It caught me by surprise but it also challenged me; the lineup deserved the best special treatment. I started thinking how can we reinterpret the classic design conference format. How can we make something new and fresh, and set us apart from the rest? The first thing that came to mind was why not do it at night. We’re a creative bunch, so why not make it a bit wilder, put some punch into it, and approach it more as a nightlife gig.
The second thing was community. For lots of friends and myself the thing that drives us the most to go to design conferences is not immediately the lineup, in all honesty; it is the community, hanging out with friends and colleagues and just having a beer in a relaxed, inspiring atmosphere. And that is something I really wanted to facilitate and encourage at Us by Night, and so our nightmarket was born. We build it from scratch next to our main conference room. It’s a theme park for creatives. Massive LED walls, ping pong tables, arcade games, quality food stands, live art, tattoo shops, etc. Also at the nightmarket, we have 2 more stages that organically blend in: the Living Room is a more intimate setting where we encourage more contact between the attendees and the speakers, and the Tutorial stage where we shed more light on the technical side
How did you apply your signature style and mission as a designer to this endeavor?
I am an 80ties Spielberg kid, fell in love with hip hop culture and community, was active as a graffiti writer for 10 years, got heavy into nightlife, ran a club for 3 years, made a billion club flyers, worked for ad agencies around the globe, a ton of Nike work, and then there was Us by Night which clearly embodies the milestones in my life. Community, scenography, curation: all gut feeling with a big bag of enthusiasm.
What is it about embracing nighttime energy that lends itself to a better design and creativity festival?
Us by Night is 3 nights; we expect you to take 3 days off: have a long sleep, relax during the day, discover the city, and then get ready for the night. Building up towards the night is always exciting and once you enter the venue you surrender; you can’t wait to see what surprises the night has up its sleeves. Mingling, having a beer, these things just go a tad easier at night. The day goes to sleep, the hustle and bustle is out, the night is yours.
What’s your process for curating the lineup? Do you attend a lot of conferences to seek out the most engaging speakers? Do you get suggestions from your inner circles and past speakers?
It’s a combination. The creatives I get in touch with I often ask within their discipline who they think at the moment are killing it… I must say, over the last 3 years I really dug into a lot of artists I didn’t know, and also started to appreciate certain disciplines I was initially not that familiar with. And I love that process: it’s really educating. Michael Spoljaric, creative director at Nike brand design, and someone I worked a lot with, pointed me to a lot of artists I never heard of. He works with so many people across almost every creative discipline out there. It has been really interesting to get his insights. I personally think the lineup has become more contemporary with each edition. I like that it’s getting edgier… Aside from the work, another key factor is ego. It’s not always easy to tell upfront but I really try to go for artists that have good sense of relativity. UBN is one big family. KEY!
How has the festival evolved? What have you learned from the first two years that you’re looking to build on this November?
The first edition was a wild guess, especially the whole night market set up and concept. It was an immediate success, so the second edition was about doing it with more confidence and upgrading where possible, accentuating the aspects that set us apart. For this third edition, it’s the same recipe with a big surprise factor. New scenography, new dynamics. I’ve learned over these 3 editions that I love to brainstorm about the scenography, just letting loose the Goonies kid in yourself. Next year by the way, we have a new location and it’s gonna be sick!
What do you do to encourage attendees to connect with each other and take advantage of all of the festival’s benefits? How do you cultivate a sense of community that they can take with them?
The Nightmarkt is built specifically for this… aside from our conference room, we have two stages that organically blend in in with the market; in this way it becomes less formal, and more intimate and fun. We have the games, the massive LED walls, the food court, interactive installations, live art, tickling all the senses… It’s the perfect setting for some good laughs and making new friends. It’s not about sharing business cards, we should actually forbid that.
What other advice do you have for attendees to help maximize their Us By Night experience?
Pick at least one random slot, something you’re normally not really into; it often becomes your highlight from the event. Mine was Toothtaker last year!
And please don’t obligate yourself to see every single keynote. The true Us by Night experience is also to relax, play some Jenga XL, and mingle…
How does Us By Night capture the spirit of Antwerp’s creative scene?
Antwerp is a relatively small city with tons of talent and most of the creatives know each other pretty well. With Us by Night, I want to bring a lineup we’re not used to seeing here; being able to bring so much talent from around the world to especially the young ones really makes me happy. It’s nuts to imagine being able to attend such an event when I was just starting out… But that said, of course we use our platform to put locals in the spotlight.
Where do you see Us By Night 3 years from now?
New York, Rio, Shanghai, Bangkok? Cruiseship, airport, outdoors?