We scoured the 8 floors of NeoCon Showrooms at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, IL in less than 8 hours. If you don’t know much about the Mart (as it’s called by the pros), it opened in 1930 and was once the largest building in the world. 4 million square feet of floor space. You read that right. 4 MILLION SQUARE FEET right in the heart of Chi-town. Being new to the experience of Neocon, it can feel like a circus. So much to see, so many things to dwell on and interact with. But for DISHER folks who take the opportunity to get a comprehensive look at the industry in one day, there’s one objective: get through as much as you can, as quickly as you can.
Neocon is known for exhibiting the cream of the crop in the commercial design industry. These powerhouse leaders of innovation, design and overall awesome stuff for the office, home and even outdoors have you rushing from space to space, trying to soak each and every detail in.
Each year we like to take what’s new and think about how it fit’s into bigger-picture trends shaping the places and customers where we work.
EVOLUTION OF THE OPEN OFFICE
It’s been clear for years that the pendulum has swung away from cubicle systems to the “open office”. More furniture and products are being designed to create open office layouts that provide flexibility and mobility many employees now crave to inspire their work and keep them from being limited to the confines of the traditional cubical or conference room.
FLEXIBLE AND MOBILE WORKSPACES
Furniture and technology must adapt to provide this new experience of working anywhere in the office. Working anywhere can look like portable power packs to charge laptops wherever they travel, mobile displays that can be moved from room to room, stand up and mobile whiteboards to ideate anywhere, and tables on casters for quickly reconfiguring spaces. In some ways these pieces felt like they could be in a classroom or an office. The traditions of corporate office spaces are being changed, and we are here for it.
PHONE BOOTHS and FELT
With every new trend there is a backlash, and one big realization we see the industry coming to: Sometimes you DO want walls around your space. Modular phone booths, stand-alone conference rooms that can be dropped in an open office plan, high-backed booths, and small focus seats are becoming standard in “open-office” plans. Sometimes you just need an hour to yourself!
Outside of the small closed spaces, it’s also beneficial to absorb sounds in the open office. Enter post-consumer recycled PET Felt. It was everywhere, sometimes in surprising spots. Acoustic walls covered in felt, felt wall hangings, deconstructed carpeting, tables, and even “dryer balls” that attached to windows with suction cups for sound reduction. Felt is a moderate cost material making a big impact in commercial design – keeping sound waves out of the air and water bottles out of landfills. Now the crinkly sound of your boss opening another pack of twizzlers doesn’t have to be heard around the world.
RESIDENTIAL CREEP: TAKING HOME TO WORK
Residential comfort is moving closer and closer to the office. The live/work/play line is blurring and driving change in commercial spaces to create homelike experiences in the office. Soft lounge seating, couches, poufs, and even some soft walls resembling headboards were emphasized throughout the Mart. Rugs and other soft surfaces were juxtaposed with hard plywoods and laminates, sometimes with surprising colors, patterns, and textures.
Residential themes are gaining ground in the office where comfortable spaces can encourage collaboration and emphasize a commitment to employee satisfaction and wellness. In an economy where more and more work can be done remotely, companies may be trying to lure employees back to the office. If you have a kitchen, a living room, maybe a gym right there, why not spend a few extra hours at the office? Maybe I’m being too cynical.
AN ODE TO MIDCENTURY MODERN
NeoCon is not exactly a box of chocolates, sometimes you know exactly what you’re going to get: MCM. Some love it and some can’t stand it, but there’s no doubt of MCM’s prominence in design today. We’ve arrived back to the post industrial revolution, modern age era of angled-legged chairs, tables, hutches and zany ergonomics, shapes and colors.
Walking around Neocon, you can see everything iconic like the Eames chair from Herman Miller or the haute-couture newbies like Leland and their Guild Collection of products. These modern day artifacts are being visually designed with shapes that are reminiscent of pottery – molded chair backs with smooth lines and transitions, matte finishes, lots of color blocking, melded with the traditional materials of MCM like wood, glass and chrome finishes.
You’ve no doubt even seen MCM advertising cameos with models sitting astutely in an Eames, or TV shows like Mad Men completely smothered in MCM sets. Even if you didn’t attend Neocon, MCM is everywhere.
Written By: Dan Parker
Dan is experienced in multiple facets of product development including aesthetic design, concept development, modeling, prototyping, testing, and FEA. He’s trained in user-centered design, design thinking, and design for manufacturing/assembly. He has a BS in Product Design and Manufacturing Engineering from Grand Valley State University.
Written By: Martin Hewitt
Martin spent three years as a DISHER engineering intern and became a leading draft pick upon graduation for DISHER’s product development team. Martin is a graduate of Northwestern University with a BS in Materials Science and Engineering. In his free time, he enjoys reading, podcasts, running, hiking, trivia, and soccer. If he could live anywhere in the world, he’d choose Seattle because it smells like the ocean and he wouldn’t get sunburned.