NeoCon 2010: The Future of New Workplace Design

The first-ever NeoCon (National Exposition of Contract Furnishings) was held in 1969 in the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, which has remained its home for the past 40 years.

Today, professionals and manufacturers consider NeoCon to be the “barometer” of the design industry; professionals everywhere turn out to showcase their latest and greatest innovations in furniture, flooring, lighting, textiles, and specialty products. Those who demonstrate exceptional ideas even win awards, which are then published in  Contract Magazine.

Overall, events like NeoCon serve as indicators of how the industry perceives itself and its outlook for the future. And as we all emerge from a troubling economic climate, furniture manufacturers in particular are playing a vital role in renewing or enforcing a sense of optimism in the design community.

At this year’s event, some of the following trends were identified in product design, which serves as a benchmark for   the evolution of the workplace.

The importance of collaboration and knowledge sharing in the workplace has been well established, and collaborative offerings are becoming more widespread among furniture manufacturers.

There is an increase in wheeled furniture being presented on the market. It’s designed to allow for seamless transition from structured format to informal discussions. Corporate tenants and facility managers have been especially embracing of this trend, which facilitates easy reconfiguration of conference and training facilities.   If manufacturers play their cards right, educators and administrators should gobble these up for the classroom.

Node chair by Steelcase

Node by Steelcase

Seek by Allsteel

Seek chair by AllSteel

Of particular note in the collaborative category are the unconventional conferencing options, such as benches around low tables and hospitality-like lounge furniture. As the profile in the workplace shifts toward  Generation Y, there will be an ever-increasing need for providing workspaces that cater to changing work patterns and behaviors – supporting brainstorming and collaboration as well as focused research and concentration.

PARCS by Bene

PARCS by Bene

Site Collection by Davis (described on their website as “Alternative Conferencing”)

Site Collection by Davis

Worker mobility is growing in popularity and, therefore, furniture to support mobile work is growing in importance. This year, several manufacturers demonstrated furniture designed to support laptops and screen-sharing.

Steelcase, who has been at the forefront in this particular niche, again showcased their media:scape collection — read a full review of media:scape by our own Erika Manno. Their sub-brand Coalesse introduced SW1 desk and chairs are complemented by the new Power Pod,  which is a portable power source for conferencing.

Another critical characteristic of the workplace is the need to support individuality and diversity. The latest benching solutions have been designed to facilitate teamwork while supporting individual needs for privacy, storage, and personalization.

FrameOne by Steelcase

Frame One by Steelcase

Stride System by Allsteel

Stride System

Seating manufacturers are also targeting a wider variety of users, with expanded seat sizes that can accommodate larger individuals but also younger generations, who may instead prefer to lounge and sit cross-legged while they work.   A great example is Cahoots by Keilhauer/ EOOS.

Uber-flexible seating allows people to work however they are most comfortable. And the biggest winner at this year’s conference demonstrating this characteristic was the ON by Wilkhahn.  It’s a chair that truly provides the ultimate freedom to move.

The overall trend observed at NeoCon 2010 seems to now be a universal realization that comfort equals productivity. And in a slowly improving economy, furniture manufacturers smartly are showcasing that they understand productivity means profit.

Sabrina Adewumi is an event planner, artist, and design enthusiast who recently became a stay-at-home mom. She enjoys cooking, swimming, traveling, and (when she's not playing with her son) researching how different kinds of people interact with their interior environment.

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