In March, the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein (Germany) launches a new exhibition, “Night Fever. Design and Club Culture 1960 – today.” One of the key works on display is by Konstantin Grcic. Together with smart, the industrial designer has conjured up a mobile club – lights, sound, and DJ booth included.

Mr. Grcic, your work as an industrial designer tends to involve objects designed for mass production, while the smart mobile disco is clearly a one-off. How did this impact your work?
Konstantin Grcic:
The difference between one-off and series isn’t actually that huge. The design process is always about turning your vision into something real, something that can be manufactured. And that, in turn, hinges on some very specific criteria. The smart mobile disco wasn’t just meant to look cool – it also had to work. It needed to have great sound while at the same time meeting all the required safety standards.

Konstantin Grcic creating the smart mobile disco
Konstantin Grcic working on current designs in his Berlin studio.
Photo: Daimler AG

What’s the basic idea behind the smart mobile disco?
Konstantin Grcic:
To transform the car into a compact aggregate featuring everything you’d expect from a club. And while rich sound and a state-of-the-art lighting rig were non-negotiable features, we also wanted to have a real DJ. This is where the idea of the crane arm with DJ booth came in. We turn something small into something big. And use the car to take the club to the people, into public space. After all, we wanted to bring the party to as many people as possible.

Konstantin Grcic sketching in his notebook
The design of the smart mobile disco is truly unique.
Photo: Daimler AG

What is your own personal link to club culture?
Konstantin Grcic:
During my time in Britain in the 1990s, the club landscape was really exciting – especially the rave scenes in London and Manchester. Back then, the Haçienda was one of the most thrilling and iconic clubs I had ever been to. It is also represented in the “Night Fever” exhibition.

Konstantin Grcic working at his desk
As a designer, Grcic aims to emphasize the product’s emotional impact.
Photo: Daimler AG

So, would you say that clubs and club culture have had a direct influence on design?
Konstantin Grcic:
The very first clubs as we know them today sprung up in 1960s Italy. Many of these were designed by very young, radical architects. You could certainly claim that the disco is an architectural invention. What fascinates me about clubs is that the moment you enter them, you can immediately sense a very specific mood and atmosphere, even if you’re blindfolded. That’s something I otherwise only get in cathedrals.

How do you translate this mood to a car?
Konstantin Grcic:
Nowadays, clubs are no longer necessarily tied to a specific place or location. Club culture often happens in an event context. Architecture and space have become less important. In the end, the smart mobile disco embodies the essence of a successful club: a DJ, lighting, sound, and plenty of dancing people.

Assembly of the smart mobile disco
In Munich, the DJ booth receives a paint job before it reaches the final assembly.
Photo: Daimler AG

Most of your career has been focused on furniture design. What prompted you to explore other fields?
Konstantin Grcic:
Projects beyond my own tried-and-tested horizons are exciting because they challenge me. When I design for serial production, I work within a very strict framework of industrial specifications and guidelines. A project like the smart mobile disco gives me a lot more freedom. Here, the vision takes priority. To realize it, I have resources and means at my disposal that would be unthinkable in most industrial settings. It’s also exciting to take the experiences from a project like the smart mobile disco – and then reflect these in new industrial projects.

Welding in action
In the workshop, Grcic‘s design is transformed into a tangible installation.
Photo: Daimler AG

In theory, there are infinite ways to optimize any design. When do you reach the point where you say, ‘okay, it’s done’?
Konstantin Grcic:
You should know that I never work on my own. I am no painter who agonizes over whether his picture is finished. We work with and within processes, team structures, and certain external conditions – and all these factors play a part in determining when something is done. As a designer, I still need to develop a certain instinct for the right “end point.” My fundamental experience has taught me that whenever you think a project is finished, there’s still plenty left to be done. A lot of the time this means: taking it further, simplifying it even more.

Before your design studies, you trained as a carpenter. Just how important are craft and materials to your work?
Konstantin Grcic: My design is always informed by the way things are built. We work with many different materials, which – in turn – are tied to certain technologies and options. The idea of equipping the smart fortwo with a crane arm and DJ booth started out as a simple concept. But then we devised a technical solution for realizing it. And when you successfully achieve something like this, the result feels almost magical – as if you could conquer gravity.

The smart logo on the radiator grille
The iconic smart fortwo radiator grille will later conceal the fog machine.
Photo: Daimler AG

How do you infuse design objects with emotions?
Konstantin Grcic:
The emotional factor is what separates good design from not-so-good design. It’s what decides whether there’s a spark between user and object, whether an object is more than merely functional. This is a quality designers need to determine and highlight time and again.

Push bar of a DJ desk
The smart fortwo becomes a modern boombox.
Photo: Daimler AG
The smart mobile disco
The finished smart mobile disco in action – at the Vitra Design Museum.
Photo: Wilma Leskowitsch and Fabian Fiechter

What kind of emotions is the smart mobile disco designed to trigger?
Konstantin Grcic:
It can be a large-scale version of what the boombox used to be. Back then, it was a real fetish: Snap in a tape, press start, crank up the volume, and witness something happening. I am sure the smart mobile disco could become a kind of present-day boombox.