Insights from NeoCon 2019—What's New in Commercial Design

NeoCon 2019 in Chicago, Illinois

NeoCon 2019 in Chicago, Illinois

NewStudio Interior Designer, Jan Mankarious, recently attended the event to see all new things in commercial design—NeoCon 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. Here are a few highlights from his trip.

What's new and exciting?

I considered everything new and exciting, since it was my first-time attending NeoCon. Having the opportunity to see all the varied designs was inspiring! It was amazing to see some of the same trends, but with different approaches that fulfill both my tastes and needs as a designer, as well as the needs of NewStudio’s clients.

This year, the NeoCon Plaza was designed by Gensler Chicago, and was created on South Drive along the river frontage of The Mart. Playing off the idea of an “Urban Boardwalk” this space provided a variety of outdoor spaces to work, meet, and be refreshed. It worked great and was well used.

What trends did you see?

There were many trends this year, but what really caught my eye were the following:

Work-from-Home feeling with open spaces

“Resimercial” (Residential + Commercial) office spaces were everywhere at NeoCon. The traditional workspace environment is starting to fade out as office design is heading into a more residential feel. Furniture is designed for employee comfort and engagement, creating a more home-like and comfortable environment, allowing for personalization, comfort, and collaboration at work. Movable walls, lightweight furniture on gliders, and customizable case goods were on display for commercial offices—breaking down the structure of cubicles and opening up a space so you can actually see your colleagues’ faces. Plus, reinventing common areas to encourage and foster creativity and collaboration.

Going Green

The push toward sustainability continues. Numerous brands have been approaching their products from the angle of sustainability and focusing on minimal harm to the environment. Companies were eager to share how they are going green in unconventional ways.

Soundproof Booths

It might seem like a contradiction to the trend of open office floor plans, but the open office trend has highlighted the need for privacy and sound-absorbing spaces in the workplace. The most popular acoustic solution I saw was modular soundproof booths. These can be used for meetings or phone calls within an open office space and provide privacy. Primary exhibitors of these cutting-edge pod solutions included Framery and Zenbooth.

Midcentury modern

Midcentury modern was one of the commercial design trends featured to some degree by most of the manufacturers at NeoCon. The trend of a lighter scale continues into overall furniture design, with finer lines on legs for soft and hard seating options, case goods, and occasional tables. 

What was your favorite new product or thing?

  1. Home-feel office furniture

  2. New ideas for collaborative common areas   

  3. Variation of acoustic / sustainable materials and ideas

Who was your favorite speaker or presenter or vendor?

There were 3 keynotes speakers during the show, covering a variety of human-centric design, led by some of the industry’s most creative minds. They include:

  1. “The Familiar and Unusual: An Investigation of Balance and Experience in Design” by Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch, of Roman and Williams Buildings and Interiors in New York;

  2. “Stuff Matters: The Material World We Make” by Ilse Crawford of Studioilse in London;

  3. “Do No Harm: The Role of Design in Complicated Times” by Liz Ogbu of Studio O in New York.

I attended the first 2 keynotes and had these takeaways:

  • From Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch, I love the idea of mixing the familiar with the unusual. In other words, how to bring together history and past knowledge with innovative ideas to create a timeless design! When asked about what is next, Robin’s words were memorable. She said: “Next is about looking back and layering on the past to create the most innovative and interesting future.”

  • Ilse Crawford focused on creating environments where humans feel comfortable, public spaces that make people feel at home, and homes that are habitable and make sense for the people who live in them. A memorable quote from Ilse was, “Our starting point is human experience, how to upgrade and enhance daily life, and how to create a sensory connection to our environment.”

What was your overall impression of NeoCon 2019?

The event was very well organized. It was very easy to find whatever I was looking for.

What are your personal learnings and/or reflections from the event?

NeoCon was an excellent opportunity to connect with industry colleagues. I appreciated the ability to learn more about what’s new in a single location. I have much to share with my colleagues at NewStudio!