We’ve had a whirlwind week in Chicago for the 51st edition of NeoCon – arguably one of the global commercial design industry’s most important events. After being overwhelmed by the wealth of creative exhibitors showcasing their latest product innovations, we’ve taken some time to pick out our favourite workplace trends from the show. Here’s what we found...

Privacy and user preference/control

In the workplace, we’re seeing more focus on giving users control over their environments. This can range from how they use their screens to the addition of curtains – even on workstations – allowing employees to manipulate their level of interaction with coworkers, or to indicate that they are trying to focus. 

Brands including Teknion and Steelcase implemented this trend as part of their NeoCon exhibition narrative. And although it was a key talking point at last year’s show, this year the focus was on how businesses can offer user control to help connect with their younger staff.

‘Raw’ industrial design

‘Industrial’ is once again chic. Plywood, chipboard and raw metal aesthetics are coming back into play with strong references to circular design. The conversation at NeoCon was focused on end of life alternatives and planning for future use, with plywood and raw, unfinished or natural elements leading to stripped-back materials and returning products to their ‘essence’.

Fine craftsmanship and textured tactility 

In contrast to the industrial trend, textiles were firmly in the spotlight at the event. Layered materials with textural, tactile details were handcrafted – in some cases, directly on the stand – evoking a sense of comfort and quality.

DesignTex launched its Bauhaus Project, which celebrates female designers through a collaboration with the estates of Bauhaus weavers Gunta Stoltz and Anni Albers. This saw the recreation of 16 previously unseen designs through cutting-edge processes.

Combining acoustics with aesthetics

As we know from the results of our Rethinking Workplace report, noise is a prominent issue in offices. Therefore, it’s unsurprising that the development of innovative acoustic solutions is on the rise. With this in mind, BuzziDish comprises a dynamic acoustic wall and ceiling treatment that has both practical and visual qualities. It provides a solution to excessive noise while offering personalisation – two trends in one!

Encouraging collaboration through creative shapes

Despite noise being a common complaint among office workers, collaboration is still crucial for many businesses. To support group work, RCH Studios took inspiration from rivers for its Rio collection. Designed to exist as freestanding furniture pieces, the elements can be joined together in endless combinations to encourage conversation.

All things bright and beautiful

Though muted colour palettes were on the agenda at this year’s Clerkenwell Design Week, the brands exhibiting at NeoCon took an altogether sunnier stance with bold injections of yellow. Spencer + Company and Stylex were leading the trend.


Created to combat the drawbacks of open offices - such as problems with noise and a lack of privacy - micro-environments were the new innovation in town at NeoCon.

OFS’ micro-environment, Obeya - Japanese for “big room” - designed by Roger Webb of Webb Associates, is a wooden framework that can be installed in offices to better define the space. Rather than make employees feel closed off, the structure allows for partial privacy yet provides enough space for some quiet time.

Furniture that flexes

With the lines between commercial and residential spaces more blurred than ever before, makers are developing pieces that feel at home wherever they are. Herman Miller illustrated this through its All Together Now installation at NeoCon, which included the Makerspace – able to flex and adapt to its user.

For more information on this year’s NeoCon exhibitors, please visit www.neocon.com.

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Anette Timmer EMEA Marketing Director Workplace and SSHL, Tarkett Full bio and articles

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