It’s June, and that means the return of the annual Neocon trade show at The Merchandise Mart in Chicago. Each year, nearly 500 manufacturers showcase their latest commercial designs for the workplace, retail, hospitality, healthcare, and other vertical markets.
And this year, seven members of our team scoured all four floors of the show space in search of the latest new product designs—everything from office furniture, lighting, and floor coverings, to technology, textiles, and wallcoverings.
Here are the top office design trends they uncovered at the show:
Workstations That Feel Like Home: Reagan Long
Why work from home when you can work at work and feel at home? That appeared to be the question many manufacturers addressed in their office space designs this year.
Reagan noticed a significant shift away from traditional office designs toward more of a residential feel. Flexibility appeared to be the intent. Want to recline while working? Use the couch. Need to hold a meeting? Relocate to the lounge area with small tables.
But designers didn’t stop at just tearing down the walls surrounding standard cubicles and meeting rooms. As Reagan noted, their finishes also seemed driven to eliminate the exterior office walls that separate employees from nature. From wood (or wood-like) materials to woolen fabrics, there appeared to be strong intent this year to bring nature into the office. Even the predominate colors—salmon, mint/sage green, chambray blue, and soft creams and grays—were earthy in tone, with bright colors reserved for just a punch of colors in the accessories.
And for Reagan, these natural, organic design decisions further strengthened the story of sustainability she sees manufacturers telling these days. Carpet, fabric, and furniture manufacturers all shared their emphasis on earth-friendly products that reduce waste.
Mobile Designs For People and Devices: Kelly Lea
Generally speaking, Kelly noticed a prevalent “retro” feel at Neocon this year and also identified the same trend toward warmer color palettes, residential-feel showrooms, and diverse, comfortable workspaces for employees to choose when working.
More specifically, a few manufacturers’ designs stood out during Kelly’s tour:
- Steelcase: Showcased a small storage unit designed to clamp onto any desk and equipped to power small devices via a USB portal located inside the secure unit.
- HNI: Joining ergonomic design with technology, HNI revealed height adjustable desks that operate via mobile apps. The technology records each user’s preference and adjusts accordingly. And when an employee remains idle for too long, the desk can alert the employee to get moving by automatically vibrating.
- Workrite: With a similar focus on ergonomics, Workrite’s new benching system offered clean wire management. Even after daisy chaining up to 10 height adjustable tables, the wire management system adjusted smoothly via one base feed without any frames or panels.
- Mayer Fabrics: In a salute to Vollis Simpson—a lifelong designer of “whirly gigs”—Mayer Fabric’s new Vollis Simpson Collection pays homage to his work and creativity by incorporating his designs into their pieces.
Workstations That Fit the Worker: Tamara Alkhatib
One common theme ran throughout this year’s Neocon show for Tamara: versatility. In addition to the height-adjustable desks, workstations and meeting areas her colleagues previously noted, she also identified adaptable designs incorporated into other specific pieces.
Workrite, for example, showcased a workstation that included felt screen desk partitions to both segment workspaces and act as a sound barrier.
While in the Herman Miller showroom, collaborative workstations filled the space—with meeting spaces incorporated into each workstation pod and sans the high panel walls.
She also noticed that pedestals appeared lighter and more mobile this year, offering more practical spaces for storage, technology, and electrical capacity. And overall, manufacturers attempted to reduce the workstation footprint and eliminate any unused space.
Textures Targeted Toward Tactility: Liz Sutton
For Liz, it was all about the textures (or implication of textures) at this year’s show.
Carpet looked “chunkier.” Wallcoverings seemed to pop off the wall. And vinyl flooring appeared to be 3d in nature. One company even offered luxury vinyl flooring designed around a user’s photograph or hand drawing.
Take a look at what Liz means below:
Designing for the Squirming Staff Member: Alison McCully
In an attempt to best equip those personality types who work better while moving, Alison too noticed the influx of “fidget-to-focus” design concepts that assist in keeping people moving at work, whether that be through sitting, standing, perching, etc.
Some specific pieces that stood out to Alison:
Tables, Textiles and Tête-à-Tête: Suzanne Ellis
A picture is worth 1000 words for Suzanne. Take a visual tour of key takeaways from Neocon 2016 below:
Shapeshifting Office Environments: Linde Gouge
And last but not least, Linde couldn’t take her eyes off the playful geometric designs incorporated into fabrics, carpet, and table shapes this year. Soft pink and blue pastels in panel fabrics and upholstery also filled the showrooms, effectively warming what can sometimes be cold, sterile corporate workspaces.
See what she saw: