Jun 16, 2017
BY: and
THEME: Workplace

NeoCon 2017: Nine Things We Learned Outside the Showrooms

Inviting us to “experience commercial design from every angle,” NeoCon once again served up a sensory feast of innovative products and materials. But what took place between the showrooms—from elevator chatter to keynote lectures—was often as inspiring.

From seminars and conversations with colleagues, we were reminded of design’s strong link to social, economic, and health trends. Here are nine things we learned this year.


1. Consider multiple vantage points.

“We spend a lot of time in hospital rooms, making them five-star, but don’t give as much thought to diagnostic and procedural rooms. We need to look at them from a practitioner’s point of view when spec’ing products, taking into account things like cord control. We also need to consider the patient experience, such as placing lights off center so they don’t shine in a patient’s eyes when she is lying on a gurney.” – Rada Doytcheva, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, principal RADA Architects Ltd., from Humanizing Diagnostic and Procedural Spaces in Hospitals

2. In the workplace, big data goes beyond badge data.

The popular book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game (and the movie based on it) turned laymen into data evangelists. Since then, “big data” has infiltrated many aspects of workplace design, from smart seat cushions that purport to manage stress, to mobile surveys that allow for rich, real-time workplace utilization data. But what about capturing more nuanced and complex information? Humanyze’s “social sensing and analytics” platform tracks sociometric data ranging from teamwork and engagement to communication patterns—useful stuff for understanding an organization’s biggest investment: people. – from Big Data, Big Insights

3. Don’t blame your genes.

By mapping the human genome, we’ve learned that DNA explains only 20% of our health problems. So what about the other 80%? Emerging research suggests that environmental factors (such as pollution and exposure to chemicals) and lifestyle choices (including smoking and diet) play a much bigger role than DNA when it comes to health. – Suzanne Drake, LEED AP ID+C, co-director of Perkins+Will’s Materials Lab, from HM 100: What Are Healthy Materials?

4. Your office chair might pose a serious risk to your health.

We’re built to walk, says James Levine, a Mayo Clinic researcher and one of the key developers of the treadmill desk. Levine’s research suggests that walking breaks may help regulate our metabolism and stave off chronic diseases associated with sitting. His suggestions are based on a concept he dubbed NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis). The amount of NEAT—the energy spent on activities other than sleeping, eating, or vigorous exercise—a person expends correlates with likeliness of weight gain. So, the more you fidget, pace, stand, or jiggle your feet throughout the day, the more likely you are to burn calories that would otherwise lead to weight gain. Intrigued? Check out his recent book, Get Up! Why Your Chair is Killing You and What You Can Do About It.  –from Standing or Sitting is One of the Most Dangerous Things You Do Each Day

5. We can’t focus.

According to a recent study by Microsoft, employees are interrupted every 3 minutes, with most of these distractions self-inflected. Even if each distraction only lasts 60 seconds, it then takes 15-20 minutes to regain concentration. – from Quantifying the Impact of Workplace Change–Yes, It Can (and Should) Be Done

6. Resilience is not just for architects.

Resilience as an emerging trend overlaps with another hot topic in the market: well-being. Resilience strategies can reduce the stress of events from drought to hurricanes, as well as allow for business continuity. For corporate interiors clients, our role includes considering how the selected site can provide for shelter-in-place opportunities and extends to encompass operational strategies: How can key information be effectively communicated to a client’s employees? – Jon Penndorf, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C, Senior Project Manager and Sustainability Leader at Perkins+Will from The Resilience Factor – Commercial Interiors, Climate Change and Occupant Well-being

7. To be successful, adopt a pipeline (vs. platform) mentality.

“The biggest hotelier in the world has zero hotels,” says Michael Hickok of Hickok Cole. Airbnb, like other innovators disrupting the status quo, understands the value of creating a platform. For designers, migrating from pipeline to platform means bringing an idea to the client versus waiting for an RFP. It’s doing research that kicks off a feedback loop that then informs the design. To gain a competitive advantage, invest in research and incubate ideas to bring value to clients before the built solution. – from Innovate in Place: How to Use Research to Stimulate Creativity in Your Office and Distinguish Your Firm in the Marketplace

8. The experience economy includes workplace.

Consumers are spending less money on stuff and more on personal experiences. Savvy companies are adjusting to this shift with strategies like secret menus, photo ops, and personalized marketing that make shopping more experience than transaction. The workplace is responding accordingly, incorporating policies, amenities, and unlikely partners into offices to enhance the workday. Curious about how this plays out? Presenters mentioned a client that hired a full-time barista to staff their reception desk as a “receptionista.” – from Empathy + Design: When Service Design Meets Interior Design

9. Nationalism isn’t just cultural identity.

“[Nationalism] extends to how you experience space and interpret design. For example, when shown a scene, Westerners tend to concentrate on the separate objects, while Easterners view it more holistically. The relevance is that if you are designing a hotel room in the West, you might include a focal point that makes a positive first impression; if it is in an Eastern country, that approach wouldn’t be so favorably received.” – Dr. Sally Augustin, APA, Design with Science, from Culture, Neuroscience, and Design

What did you hear at NeoCon that piqued your interest? What emerging lifestyle or business trends have you noticed in general? Tell us in the comments!

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