CHICAGO - Expect crowds. NeoCon 2014 opens Monday in Chicago's hulking Merchandise Mart, where 40,000 attendees from the commercial design community are expected to jam the exhibits.

More than 700 companies will have their wears on display - many of them business and institutional furniture firms, flooring companies, as well as the suppliers of related hardware, lighting and fabrics. Most of the activities will be concentrated on the 7th & 8th floors of the Merchandise Mart, as well as in permanent showrooms operated by major furniture and design companies.

The show is also the stage for the annual business breakfast of the Business & Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association - to be held Wednesday, June 11 - whose membership includes hundreds of furniture makers, including global brands like Knoll, Steelcase, HNI and Herman Miller. Key trends in sales and business for member companies are highlighted as this well-attended event.

Journalist and author Kevin Salwen keynotes. Salwen served as an editor at the Wall Street Journal for 18 years and co-authored the 2014 IIDA/BIFMA report on workplace - Design, Leveraged - that examines how smart companies are using their office spaces to boost productivity. The BIFMA Annual Meeting 2014 will take place on Wednesday, June 11 at the Holiday Inn Mart Plaza, Wolf Point Ballroom - 15th Floor.

NeoCon 2014 Reorganized
NeoCon says it reorganized the exhibit show floors of Seven and Eight in the Merchandise Mart to mirror the way that interior designers and architects work every day. Floor Seven now features Furniture & Fabrics and Flooring while Floor Eight highlights new and emerging sections such as Technology, Interior Building Products, Interior Finishes & Materials and International Partnerships. Read more>>

NeoCon is so ingrained in the culture of the design community it would probably draw a crowd without even trying. But the event planners take nothing for granted, making it one of the best marketed events in its the interior design industry.

"When the word 'trend' is used at NeoCon, it refers to deep, cultural, technological and economic shifts that change the way commercial products and environments are built," say the planners. To communicate these trends, nearly 100 seminars are scheduled on the conference program.

To set the stage for this year’s event, NeoCon management asked its advisory committee - made up of commercial design firms Gensler, FXFowle, HOK and Mancini Duffy - to weigh in on trends and corresponding product picks.  The key trends they've identified by segment are in Office/Corporate, Healthcare and Hospitality:

   Office/Corporate Design Health & Wellness and Technology Are Key Features in the Office
“Finally, Baby Boomers and Millennials have found a passionate meeting of the minds on a topic that is also very personal: health and wellness,” says Workplace Strategist, Priyanka Agrawala of New York-based design firm Mancini Duffy. “Convergence on this topic is also perhaps why organizations trying to attract new talent, retain experienced staff, encourage knowledge transfer, and increase productivity and engagement, think that investing in this area is a no-brainer.

"The A&D industry is gearing up to help support this new business initiative, which also aligns with more established sustainable design practices. Green design and LEED principles have always passively contributed to wellness by creating good indoor air quality. Now we’re seeing circadian lighting; sit-stand desks; ergonomic lounge seating that also accommodates mobile technology; biophillic design elements like “live walls” and plants and gardens that bring the outdoors inside added to the mix, in addition to more active design concepts.

"Active design principles that promote wellness include diverse work settings that not only support different work styles, but also encourage people to get up from their seats and move. As mobility within the office increases, so does the demand for 'plug and play' solutions that include collaborative spaces as well as individual desks and seating with built-in charging stations, stashable storage for technology, foldable tablet arms and side tables, and mobile marker/technology boards.”

Sarah Gerber, Senior Designer, Associate, FXFOWLE, elaborates on the changing corporate design landscape, noting, “Technology is having an enormous impact on furniture design, especially through ergonomics. The trend is not necessarily about incorporating technology, but responding to how we position ourselves when we use these technologies.

"In addition, the ‘performative’ workplace is becoming a balanced workplace as organizations seek to find the right proportion of interactive and focused work. The future of the workplace is not a 'one size fits all' approach; rather, it’s an innovative response to the growing amount of data at our disposal.”

Examples of NeoCon exhibitor products in the Office/Corporate Design category include:
• Herman Miller’s “Locale”
• Humanscale’s “Sit/Stand Desk”
• Knoll’s “ReGeneration” chair 
• Metroflor’s “Mason Oak (Sea)” flooring by ASPECTA
• OFS brands’ “Re:”
• Steelcase’s “Media:scape”
• Stylex’s “Share” chair, and Teknion Studio’s “Fractals” series.

Hospitality Moving Toward More Flexible & Authentic Experiences

Like many industries, the hospitality market is being influenced by the powerful Millennial generation. Julia Monk, Senior Vice President and Director of Hospitality design at HOK, remarks, “Most hotels have been catering to the baby boomer generation over the years. However, they now understand that the priorities and lifestyles of the Millennials are different.

"Their info is streaming live; their world is faster. Millennials have such an impact on the market that chains are now creating branded hotels especially geared toward this generation. These spaces call for interactive, open floor plans with multiple areas to congregate, as well as special niche spaces like libraries and small cafés. When it comes to products for these environments, designers are selecting pieces that are well-made, flexible and sustainable. These attributes suit the tastes of this younger group, which is accustomed to high-quality, personalization and eco-consciousness.”

“Authenticity is fast becoming another overarching trend for all demographics," adds Monk. “Consistency in appearance and experience used to be the most important quality for hotel chains to convey. The idea was that wherever you went, a name brand looked and felt the same so guests could take comfort in the familiar.

"These days, with technology and the Internet giving us access to an array of information, imagery and virtual experiences, travelers want to authentically experience the culture of the locale in which they are staying. Firms have responded to this desire by focusing on brand and property distinction while creating more unique experiences and products that tap into local flavors.”

Examples of NeoCon exhibitor products in the Hospitality category include:
• 3M Architectural Markets' "3M™ DINOC ™ Architectural Finishes,”
• Andreu World’s “Raglan,” seating,
• Arper’s “Zinta” seating,
• Calligaris’ “Claire” chair,
• CF Group’s “MOSS 3” by Thonet,
• Ergo’s “Aircharge Wireless Charging Receiver”,
• Lumicor’s “Café Tables”
• Norix Furniture’s “Hondo Nuevo Arm Chair.”

Healthcare Healthcare Sector Reacts To New Health Laws In Project & Product Design

Tama Duffy Day, Health & Wellness Director of Gensler, remarks, “As eight million new Affordable Care Act (ACA) enrollees have access to healthcare, the industry is responding by providing expanded and new ways of receiving care.

"Health systems are increasing their coverage and new players are moving the industry toward retail health. Designers are shaping these clinical experiences in every way—from brand recognition and consumer-driven first-impression appeal, to efficient clinical floor plans in support of increasing the patient and provider interactions. Given this significant and fast-moving change in the industry, products need to keep up with the demand—for example, mobile small-scale technology carts, exam tables that can also be a chair, technology integrated into white boards, and spaces that can be used for telemedicine.”

With the Affordable Care Act placing more emphasis on the effectiveness of patient care and experience, the traditional model of hospital design is being rethought and reimagined by healthcare designers across the board—from architects and interior designers to product and equipment designers, and service and UX designers.

This renewed focus on human-centric outcomes for end users—the patients and their individual needs as well as the healthcare professionals that work in these environments every day—is bringing about a shift in scale from large-umbrella hospital campuses that house every type of care, to individual clinics and ambulatory care facilities.

Meanwhile, patient surveys indicate the desire for medical environments that are less sterile and “clinical” and more like a home. Designers are responding with solutions to improve experiential and usability factors for patients and their caregivers. These include decreasing noise and increasing privacy, providing more natural light, improving the accessibility, movement and ergonomics of furniture and equipment, enabling multitasking, and creating surfaces that are easier to clean.

Examples of NeoCon exhibitor products in the Healthcare category include:
• Arborite’s 2014 Collection,
• Architex’s “Rx1008 Privacy Curtain,”
• BioFit’s “MVMT™” multipurpose ergonomic seating line,
• Nemschoff/Herman Miller Healthcare’s “Palisade™ Collection”,
• Robert Allen Contract’s “Color Library”
• Steelcase’s “Room Wizard.”

For a closer look at NeoCon by floor, visit www.neocon.com and click on the exhibitor listing. Interviews with exhibitors and show management are available prior to, during, or after the show. 

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