Concurrents: The Spirit of NeoCon and Design Days

Maria VanDeman

We can find inspiration everywhere we look.  From the trees swaying in the breeze and the ripples across a pond to the technology that powers our lives and the dazzling colors of the Northern Lights that lit up the night sky in many states several weeks ago.  If we are seeking to be inspired, we will find it within the world around us.  In the interior design world, various trade shows throughout the year, such as ICFF, Maison, HD Expo, Salone, and more, can be sources of inspiration, education, and innovation. I’m sure you already know that Chicago’s NeoCon and Design Days are one of those shows and the best place you can be next week. 

NeoCon and Design Days are a creative playground where designers, manufacturers, and talented industry professionals converge to showcase and explore the latest innovations and cutting-edge products along with inspirational talks from top industry leaders.  Last year, my sentiment regarding NeoCon was about ‘Rivalry or Renaissance’, and many of those feelings still hold true.  Although NeoCon and Design Days take place in two separate locations, the essence of the event as a gathering place for people and products remains the focus.  As we know, when people from the design world gather, amazing things happen. 

Every year, there are themes that echo throughout the various showrooms and vendor spaces. What will this year’s themes be? Will we see fashion trends or repeating color themes? Perhaps a 1990s influence or a futuristic aesthetic?  No matter what the answers to these questions might be, I hope to be filled with inspiration. Now that our clients are trekking across the city with less time and more choices, manufacturers have even more pressure to create an experience and products that truly innovate and excite.      

So, where does this innovation come from? Every new introduction at the show has months or even years of work behind it. For many furniture manufacturers, including OFS, it can take between one to two years or more to translate an idea into a tangible furniture product.  I spoke with Kelly Simcox, head of global design at Interface, who shared that, “Carpet designs from ideation to market can take anywhere from 9-18 months depending on the type of product, the market opportunity or specific need we’re addressing, and its scale from regional to global.”  Every product, every item, has a purpose and story (and every good story takes time). 

All the new products, whether furniture, flooring, or lighting, may seem like “just another thing,” but the meticulous hours and attention to detail that go into creating and marketing them for showroom openings and website launches are anything but.  When you appreciate the depth and attention dedicated to products (as you would appreciate the design of a beautiful interior), the products are inspiring.  Simcox also noted that its team, “Looks to these Chicago events each year to track emerging trends and to see how core themes are showing up uniquely across textiles, furniture, and lighting.” 

Of course, it’s not just about the products. The heart of NeoCon and Design Days lies in its people and community.  This event is a melting pot of perspectives, where seasoned professionals and wide-eyed newcomers alike can learn from one another.  For me, one of the most exciting aspects of attending NeoCon or Design Days is the reunion of friends and colleagues (and creating new ones) from near and far.   

Whether it’s striking up a conversation over a shared admiration for a particular piece, bumping into an industry leader while you’re both in line for the restroom, or reuniting with a favorite college classmate, these lasting professional relationships that begin or deepen under the spirit of design are special.  It’s an important reminder that inspiration isn’t just something we find in things, it’s something we find in people, too. 

NeoCon and Design Days are more than just a trade show. They are a celebration of creativity and a treasure of inspiration found in every detail and conversation.  It’s a place where we dream big, explore new ideas, and collaborate to remain the ultimate stewards of people, planet and purpose. Grab your friends, bring your walking shoes, and remember to admire the details.  Just as we seek inspiration in our surroundings, I hope you find yours there. See you in Chicago!

Maria VanDeman, NCIDQ, IIDA, is an accomplished workplace advisor at OFS, interior designer, published children’s book author and advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace.  With a passion for helping people and designing for human needs, Maria strives to make a positive impact on the world through her work and mentorship.  Connect with Maria on LinkedIn.