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Reflections on Human-Centric Design from NeoCon 2018


By Jackie Ostrowski

For the past 50 years, NeoCon—the coveted interiors conference—has graced the halls of Chicago’s Merchandise Mart. Three days, 50,000 people, all jam-packed into the Mart to take in nearly 1 million feet of exhibition space, topped off with a robust programming schedule. Needless to say, our heads are still spinning.

We teamed up with our architectural products client to attend the event, touring dozens of showrooms exhibiting the latest in design and attending seminars on sustainability, maker culture, multi-generational living, fit environments, wellness principles, and color trends. Here are some of the experiences that we’re still ruminating on a few days after the conference.

Sensory considerations galore
From acoustic tiles that soundproof a room to smart sensory flooring—design elements that appeal to the five senses dominated at NeoCon. We saw the first sensory Nook, a portable booth that incorporates LED lights, vibrations, and even a scent system that engages the senses while you work. Designers, say hello to a whole new world of interfaces to consider.

Well-designed spaces that create connections
As humans, most of us are at our best when we collaborate, connect, and create. So why shouldn’t our spaces help us achieve these things? Too often, we’re resigned to working and living in spaces that impede the very human connection so many of us seek—long hallways that feel foreboding or layouts that result in unproductive traffic patterns. Fortunately, there’s a movement toward reorienting spaces to actually create this kind of energy. Shared spaces that allow for “cross-pollination” don’t just help generate conversation; they might also inspire the next great idea. For office spaces, that’s just good business.

Green spaces get versatile
Plant walls are still popular (so popular that we lost count of how many we saw), but we saw plenty of plant configurations that took green spaces one step further. What about a moveable plant slab that can accompany you from room to room? Or try a terrarium built right into the center of a glass coffee table.

Even better, enhance those flat white walls with the unexpectedly lush, touchable greenery of reindeer moss.

Steelcase stuns
We’re not surprised that Steelcase’s showroom won “Best of Competition” at NeoCon. The vast showroom welcomed visitors with an art installation of the Silq chair, a sculptural wood entryway, and plenty of festive-looking workspaces to try. We were especially intrigued by the colorful glass-paneled work booths.

Community makerspaces that serve as an economic engine
As authenticity and human connection continue to be among the most desirable concepts, makers have enjoyed a surge of popularity over the last decade. Instead of focusing on the final product itself, the focus has shifted to the person behind the craft. Now spaces are bringing makers’ talents to the forefront by creating opportunities for them to engage with their eager communities. Universities, K-12 schools, and even public libraries are all adding makerspaces so makers can collaborate with locals, and perhaps even create something on demand.

An exciting future
As thoughtful design becomes more and more integral to productivity, creativity and overall comfort, we’re looking toward the future to see how tech and innovation continue to help us reimagine each piece of our personal and professional workspaces.


Jackie Ostrowski | Associate Director, Content
With a background in both editorial and digital content management and strategy, Jackie is a creator, planner and organizer of content for modern digital experiences. She specializes in finding efficiencies in workflows and maximizing the use of technology to make it easier for content owners to contribute and create exceptional content. Her clients include IBM, Hyatt, CME Group, and Marvin Windows and Doors. Jackie graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a B.A. in English and Spanish. Contact her at