Jun 21, 2016
THEME: Workplace

NeoCon 2016: Our Designers’ Take on the Trends

With NeoCon 2016 under our belt, it’s time for rest—but also reflection: Beyond the canapés and crowded halls, NeoCon can help crystallize a view of how we are working now as well as hint at the future of workplace.

Two years ago, I observed furniture that responded to different workstyles, standing desks galore, and a certain plushness  that seemed destined to draw people back to the workplace. This year, Perkins+Will designers from around the country shared their insights:

Status quo—with some evolution

This group observed many of the same trends as years past. “There wasn’t as clear a direction this year, perhaps because last year was the first one where the industry was on a solid upswing, so there was a lot of new product and ideas,” said Global Interior Design Director Joan Blumenfeld.  “Evolution and refinement far outweighed revolution,” agreed Joe Connell of our Chicago office.

“I didn’t see anything that stuck out as breaking the boundaries,” said Markus Brown of our Vancouver office. “The desire for a wide range of working and meeting styles is now being firmly represented by all major furniture manufacturers, old and new, at all price points.”

On the other hand, some of the trends that were relatively novel years ago have reached their apex. “Height-adjustable everything” was on display, according to Antonio Rodriguez of Perkins+Will’s New York office. Regarding designs and features that accommodate choice and diverse workstyles, he noted, “We’ve seen this for a while now, but options are getting better with time and new iterations.”

But it wasn’t all the same ‘ole, same ‘ole

Despite a lot of the same, there were some innovative products that got our attention.

“The majority of manufacturers are trying to separate themselves from their competition through styling and finishing,” said Markus. “The more leading-edge manufacturers are doing it through integrated technology and a cohesive design.”

Several designers commented on a new polarized film that Steelcase is developing. “From outside the room the TV screen display reads as completely black. This could be revolutionary for clients that have confidentiality concerns but don’t want to block natural light,” said Sarah Stanford of our Vancouver office.

Meghan Reichert of Perkins+Will’s Minneapolis office shared these highlights: MetroNaps pods (“I could see these being placed in a quiet room that’s reserved for short periods of time,” she said.) and 3form Viva powered by E Ink (“It can detect and react to the movements of people.”).

Joan liked Knoll’s corner piece for training tables (shown below)—a basic “why didn’t I think of that?” solution. “It solves the major built-in inefficiency with laying them out – that you cannot comfortably seat someone at the ends of the tables.”

A stand-out for Sarah was prefabricated phone rooms by Framery (shown below).  “We build out spaces like these in every workspace, but this plug-and-play approach provides the ultimate in future flexibility,” she said.

Almost every designer commented on the abundance of acoustic solutions, perhaps signaling that the open office is here to stay.


Knoll corner table


Framery phone booth

What’s old is new again

Several designers remarked on the return of curves, the proliferation of soft seating, and a certain color palette that called to mind the avocado kitchens of the 70s. “Design of the future is always drawn from the past!” said Lisa Gorman of our Charlotte office. “It’s important to know these historical influences as we discern and implement on-point trending designs.”

Paul Slater, our Resource Librarian based in Chicago, noticed color first and foremost. What began with Patricia Urquiola’s statement for Haworth last year has evolved into oranges and dark mint tones this year, and in the Knoll showroom (pictured) “oranges, golds, and yellow tones prevailed,” he noted.

But as with fashion (cue Miranda Priestly’s diatribe on cerulean from “The Devil Wears Prada”), color in our industry can have deep significance. “Moving beyond a self-referential point of view, I think these grounding and warm tones provide an earthy warmth in a time that is a bit turbulent in culture and society,” Paul added.

The retro influence was not relegated to color. “Big bulky legs and frames are in, with lots of soft curves—definitely a step back in time but more sophisticated,” said Minneapolis-based Meghan Reichert.


Knoll showroom

Designs skew residential

As in 2014, hospitality and residential environments continue to influence workplace design. “We saw a continued stylistic migration away from “corporate-ness” and toward residential/domestic scale and reconfigurability,” said Joe.

Antonio observed a move from “tech-y” stuff to a more “warm and personable vibe,” and Kim Stanley of Vancouver noticed “table and chair breakout spaces that remind us of home—‘dining room’ style, often pairing tables with benches and rotating stools.” And everyone commented on the frequency of wood grain, pastels, and wood legs on furniture.

“Workplace design and the softness and accessibility of residential design are more closely intertwined than ever before,” said Sarah. She added: “Edges are being curved, more opportunities are being created for personalization, and materiality has also shifted into a warmer direction. We saw a lot of cork, woods, and warm metallic finishes.”

Relatedly, Sarah observed that the conversation has shifted from questioning the benefit of additional soft seating to determining which workstations best accommodate those soft seating arrangements. “Ancillary is the new fundamental,” she said.

The rise of smart furniture

Options for furniture pieces that collect data or respond to apps continue to expand.

“Technology integrated in almost every piece,” said Denise Darrin, based in our San Francisco office. Annie Lorenzo, also of San Francisco, saw “desks that can recognize your smartphone and self-height adjust, built-in charging pads on desks, power within storage elements.” Some of the best solutions were the simple ones, like tables with power running up the legs. “Finally—simple tables without umbilical cords down the middle!” said Denise.

 “As long as technology companies continue to grow, I think we will see their influence become stronger and stronger.  Which means hackable designs, less expensive/precious finishes, flexible technology integration,” said Markus

“With the ability for technology to support mobile workers, the workspace is responding by creating an environment that draws people back,” said Sarah.  “Workspaces need to work harder than ever to support community, culture and to harness the power of the collective.”

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