NeoCon – Trends, Types, and Where We Go from Here

This guest blog was written by our interior designer Whitney Wiggins. She recently attended NeoCon, the country’s biggest commercial design convention and a launchpad for innovation, to learn more about current design trends that support the employee experience.

When someone finds out you’re attending NeoCon for the first time, their reaction is always the same: you’ll never be able to see it all. And with 500 vendors vying for your attention across one million square feet of exhibition space, they’re right. At a certain point, the colors and shapes and textures bleed together; despite a steady diet of iced Americanos and sheer determination, I was hard-pressed to see even half of it, let alone keep it all straight.

Amid the revelry of new products, colors, textures, and styles, a particularly well-timed comment from a manufacturer’s rep struck a chord: our eyes are tired. Whether by choice or duty, our days are often spent locked on the backlit screens, sharp lines, and saturated colors of the digital world.   There is always a blinking notification, a sharp ping, pulling our gaze away from the relief of a hazy horizon and back to the hard lines and bright lights of the digital world. There is no rest for the weary – eyes, minds, or otherwise. 

Undoubtedly aware of our collective visual fatigue, the showrooms and vendors at Neo-Con addressed the question on the tip of design industry’s tongue: how do we soften the spaces used by the digitally-tethered and restore the human element to a hard-coded environment?

I picked up on three trends represented across vendors, from carpet and furniture to textiles and beyond, that aimed to provide an answer:

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Commercial Spaces are Co-opting a Residential Look: Meeting rooms and project spaces begin to feel like living rooms as project tables and heavy task chairs are replaced with upholstered lounge seating, coffee tables, and area rugs. These spaces forgo the formality of the board room and the isolation of a cubicle, instead encouraging users to unplug and connect in a more casual and relaxed setting. The new work space doesn’t feel like work – it feels a lot more like home. Kick off your shoes, put up your feet, sink into the sofa, and get things done.

Shapes, Silhouettes and Textures are Relaxing: An overwhelming softness – in shape, in color, and in tone – dominated furniture and textile design, surpassing bold colors and heavy, sharp silhouettes. Heathered carpet mimics lichens and tree bark; textiles temper geometric prints with soft pastels and encourage your hand to linger with deep textures; furniture adopts a light and organic feel through deeply-grained woods, simple shapes, and attenuated silhouettes that ask the eye to pause and explore fine details. In an environment constantly screaming for our attention, these softer silhouettes provide a welcomed place for the eye and the body to rest.

Users Regain Control: Furniture is no longer just a set piece; it’s an active component of a space designed to be modified by the user.  Seating and desking focus intently on user comfort and control. Seating is ergonomic, lightweight, and portable; desks are height-adjustable and reconfigurable; and small breakout spaces within the commercial environment encourage users to change their location with their immediate needs. This flexible and user-driven design realm allows us to carve out spaces of our own out of the larger whole, leading to a more comfortable and productive space for the user and granting the individual a sense of place and ownership in a public space.

So what does all of this mean for Momentum’s partners?  Credit unions and community banks, by the very nature of their structure, seek to create lasting partnerships with their partners in part through inviting spaces that foster a sense of familiarity and comfort.  As the line between residential and commercial design continues to blur, once-formal lobbies and waiting areas will continue to adopt the lived-in feel of a living room while increasingly ergonomic furniture will allow employees and customers alike to work in a more comfortable setting that meets their individual needs.  As a designer, I was inspired by what I saw at Neo-Con.  A successful space can be measured not only by how it performs, but how it makes the user feel, and I was excited to see comfort – both physical and visual – on everyone’s minds.  I’m looking forward to bringing these human-centered ideas to the table and collaborate with you and your team to create a space where your employees love to work and your partners love to visit. 

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