NeoCon 2023 - Pioneering Next Steps for the Industry

What an event! Taking place in the prestigious Merchandise Mart in Chicago, NeoCon 2023 kicked off with a bang! Recognizing innovation, sustainability, and design prowess from within the industry, the building is a prestigious and historical platform, relevant for holding one of the most significant design events on the year.

Notable themes of sustainability, flexibility, and inclusion permeated the event with an increasing concentration on what each party can do to make a difference within the industry. Michael Ford, The Hip Hop Architect, led a keynote talk on the promotion of diversity in architecture. ‘Diversity in Design’ – a talk on the path towards equity and ‘Inspiration for Impact’ explored the ecosystem in which design interacts with social equity. 

An enlightening insight from George Bandy of Fiber Industries, Khoi Vo, CEO of ASID, and Sequoyah Hunter-Cuyjet of Determined by Design, delved deep into the need for us as an industry to truly strive to understand the communities we are providing for. Analysing the effect of poverty aesthetics’ effect on local culture and the importance of acknowledging that what is important to a community cannot be fulfilled by box-ticking. Another talk by Khoi, with Primo Orpilla of Studio O+A, Toni Gocke, ASID and Elizabeth Von Lehe of HDR explored the effect of spaces on people and the need to extend experience-driven design through ALL departments. The back of house is now front of house as employees quickly become a type of customer – and need a great experience. 

Sustainability again topped as a necessary and growing demand. Design manufacturers are increasingly moving towards a low-carbon, circular, and regenerative future. One example of this is the use of mycelium or mushroom spores. Spacestor launched a new accessory for their Palisades II space divider, a concept product made entirely out of mycelium, grown into a customizable mold. Mohawk showcased a range of carpet designs taken from mushrooms, augmented by their partnership with ArtLifting, a charity that champions artists impacted by housing insecurity and disabilities. 

Spacestor’s showroom on level 11 was buzzing throughout the event as they presented The New Landscape for Work. This concept was a cutting-edge example of the way the workplace is traveling today, to a softer, more customizable approach where products can be joined up to create a flow within the office not appreciated before. 

The key takeaways from the event drive home the importance of the design community and how this can impact the workplace, among other industries. The networking, innovation, energy and creativity is healthy, and encouraging and shows the value in coming together, mirroring the shift in the workplace, away “from a sterile display of product and present more as a hub for creation and creativity." Thank you NeoCon!