We recently completed our annual pilgrimage to the mecca of commercial interior design that is NeoCon. Again, we are struck by the rapidly changing universe of design on display. We saw what was HiP, what won Best of Awards, and where the buzz was. As we reflect on the show, here are the four points that stand out to us:
1. The death of the open office has been greatly exaggerated: Occasionally, we see articles alerting us to the coming backlash against the densified open office. Noise, lack of privacy and falling productivity are what forecasters project will topple the now pervasive workplace planning concept. Here's the catch. The manufacturing, marketing, and sale of products designed to combat noise and privacy complaints is now BIG business. Herman Miller's charming Prospect Solo Series is one example of an individual venue for focused work designed to help noise-besieged workers find some semblance of escape. So is OFS Brands' Heya Lounge. And every manufacturer has an offering that serves a similar need. Clearly the market is there, but the gigantic question is how to stand out.
2. Toto, we're back in Kansas: You see, it turns out we are going home. Never before has the influence of residential design on the workplace been so overt or so strong. We saw it in color palettes (subtle flesh tones, anyone?) and the styling of sofas, lighting, and rugs. The Merchandise Mart at times had the feel of High Point Market—and this evolution is a welcome change from the sterile, monochromatic white that has ruled contract product development and workplace design. If you think millennials and co-working environments aren't affecting how corporations think about real estate, NeoCon offers abundant evidence to the contrary.
3. If it's a surface, let's call it a whiteboard: After acoustic materials and solutions, the most common accessory was the whiteboard. Herman Miller offered test drives of Google's flashy but pricey Jamboard. Metal writing boards, glass whiteboards/projection surfaces, and smart boards felt ubiquitous. Around every corner lurked another entrant into what is now a crowded and highly competitive marketplace.
4. Marketing hits and misses: Some marketers seized opportunities while others left some on the table. Perhaps the single most intriguing pre-NeoCon announcement belonged to Interface, who announced the successful prototyping of the world's first carbon-negative carpet tile, "Proof Positive." Make no mistake, this is a potential sea change in the carpet industry, and the implications are truly mind expanding. But the tile itself? Its design was pedestrian at best–an unfortunate missed opportunity. A ground-breaking product deserves an attention-grabbing design.
On the other hand, Buzzi and OFS continued their respective runs of great design and compelling experiences. BuzziPleat, for instance, took home both a Best of and a HiP Award. 3Form dazzled with their space—a tribute to the artist Richard Serra. And the temporary spaces offered intriguing new product innovations (e.g., Thinking Quietly by DarRan Furniture or Jabbrrbox One & Chromebooth by Jabbrrbox) and a great example of using 3D printing and rapid prototyping to test and launch new products quickly (WilsonArt and LaminArt). The new frontier for these innovative companies is to align their marketing (and the experience in their space) with their products.
Our own contribution to the show (above) was a temporary space for our friends at Rubbermaid Commercial Products, who allowed us to draw inspiration from retail and hospitality. Sparked by visual merchandising, we used paper sculpture to introduce motion to four vignettes; in each, the movement draws the viewer's eye to RCP's product. And with a tongue-in-cheek "Let's Talk Trash" tagline, there was no doubt what RCP was selling. For more on RCP's customizable architectural recycling and waste solutions, please click here.