By Jessica Griffis

I first started attending NeoCon while in design school and quickly became enamored with what is arguably the most exciting and fast-paced three days in the design world. Now, eleven years post college, I attend Neocon as a practicing commercial Interior Designer. Yet I am still taken aback by the same feelings of excitement. I love the opportunity to see, learn, and experience everything the design community has up its sleeves.

As a show that is focused on being a leader for commercial design and business trends, visitors have access to the latest and most innovative products, as well as educational and networking opportunities, for a variety of markets and environments.

So what does this all mean?

The opportunity to attend NeoCon affords designers, myself included, to meet product designers and/or researchers who have been instrumental in responding to industry needs they discover through surveys, research and by talking with their peers. Often times we are working with clients who are experiencing issues in the way they work, or with efficiency, etc. Being able to network with the right individuals is key to how we design and gather the right kind of information – and who better to hear this from but the source!

There is also plenty of time for “self-guided” tours to get off the beaten path and find those hidden gems that are often overlooked. Not to mention time to attend the many educational seminars and networking events …talk about three full days of creativity and inspiration!

This year was not an exception when it came to common themes. The top trends we took note of were a focus on craftsmanship, the “home” office, Pantone’s color influence, quiet spaces, and classic/timeless design – or in design speak:

  • Artisan Market
  • Flashback Fever
  • Do Not Disturb
  • Softer Side
  • “Home” Office

Artisan Market

“The role of craft in the workplace may combine the refined selections of materials, or seamless mix of digital machine and handwork.  In this role, craft becomes a dynamic medium that can be applied to personalize the workspace and express cultural values – ultimately enriching our environments and work experiences.” – Lew Epstein

Maybe it’s the influence of Etsy, Pinterest, or Instagram, but handcrafted items are seeing a resurgence in today’s design world and I say “sign me up”!  I welcome this alternative to mass production as I seek to find the unique, distinct and original. But don’t mistake this personal love of craftsmanship as a protest of manufacturing. The two can co-habitat. More often than not, mass produced processes are using hand-made knowledge without compromising the characteristics we all require. The combination of traditional methods and manufacturing techniques helps give most consumers what they’re looking for – originality and availability.

Artisan Market Neocon 2016

Flashback Fever

Mid-Century Modern – “Its uncomplicated, fresh aesthetic arose from a desire to propel postwar America into the modern era and recast design through a bold new lense” – as defined by Houzz

Maybe it is the longing to have Don Draper back on the airwaves, or a desire for clean simple lines, but Mid-Century modern design was hard to miss this year at Neocon. The most recognizable elements of Mid-Century modern are simple lines, clean and uncluttered, wood furniture, graphic/geometric patterns and patterns with texture. This style is all about comfort and livability and helps bring a “human factor” to the workplace. It was evident throughout many of the showrooms – Steelcase, Knoll, Herman Miller, Coalesse etc. – that creating a work environment that is comfortable and welcoming, while still supporting the everyday needs of users, was a top priority.

Flashback Fever Neocon 2016

Do Not Disturb

“People need to focus alone or in pairs to generate ideas or process information” – Harvard Business Journal

It is challenging for companies to create a workspace that promotes collaboration, boosts productivity, enhances employee morale and encourages creativity all in one environment. The open plan concept has been all the rage in recent years, but is not ideal for all companies and types of work. In fact, studies have shown that having a quiet, stress-free work area can promote good mental health. Today’s workers are at risk of experiencing sensory overload – computer monitors, music, conversations, communication pings (e-mail, texts, voicemails) – that finding a “do not disturb” area has become necessary. This is a place where we are encouraged to seek retreat from the “chaos” and find resolve in focus, productivity and re-energization.

Do Not Disturb Neocon 2016

Softer Side

“Joined together Rose Quartz and Serenity demonstrate an inherent balance between a warmer embracing rose tone and the cooler tranquil blue, reflecting connection and wellness as a soothing sense of order and peace.” – Leatrice Eiseman, executive director Pantone Color Institute

It may be hard to look past the “nursery theme” of this year’s color selection. However, you will soon see that this choice was influenced by a desire for mindfulness and well-being in the stress-filled life of today’s modern consumer. The “baby pink” and “baby blue” are an indication that reassurance and security are a growing aspiration. My advice – be thoughtful and intentional. Unless you planning to fully embrace the 1980s pastel movement, this trend may be a bit complex to achieve and may be best used separately rather than together.

Softer Side Neocon 2016

“Home” Office

“…workers are seeking authenticity, self-expression, and the freedom to choose where and how they work.”  – Steelcase, “Workers Rejecting the Sea of Sameness”

There was a lot of conversation around work-life balance this year. It’s a trend that takes its cue from the craftsmanship and classic design trends we previously discussed. There is a big push to make the office space feel more like you are meeting in your living room rather than a traditional conference room. Many manufacturers are blurring the line between individual and collaborative work, much like you would see in a residential application. In a home, the kitchen is a place to cook, do homework and congregate, much like the open office of today being a place to work, meet and socialize.

Home Office Neocon 2016

At the end of the day, Neocon 2016 showed us that significant ideas continue to be developed in the world of workplace design. Our clients spend more time working during the week than anything else – the end result should be an environment that combines the human aspect of home, while embracing the functions needed for the working environment.