Herman Miller

By Bryant Rice
I recently returned from Chicago’s famed NeoCon conference and have been thinking about the purposes of these national summits.  NeoCon is undeniably the single greatest event in the corporate interior design profession.  While it boasts key note speakers, seminars and classes, everyone goes to see what’s been introduced since the last visit.  For two days, thousands of designers from all corners of the United States and Canada (primarily) meet for showroom tours, sales appointments, cocktails, dinners and parties.  It’s FAB!

Having attended a lot of conferences for the AIA, CoreNet, SCUP, WorkTech, ULI and others, I can say that NeoCon is unabashedly a sales event.  The learning opportunities pale in comparison to the sales tours particularly if you have some experience in the industry and can cut through a lot of the “pitch” to get to the pith.  While a table remains, quintessentially a table, there are some advances.  They can fold, carry cable, move easily, height adjust, support LED, power your batteries and be delivered in 2 weeks for 40% less cost than last year.  With diligence, the smart designer can learn all they’ll need to know for the year from over 700 vendors with permanent showrooms, and temporary booths covering everything from acoustics to zenery.

However, I’m consistently irked by manufacturers such as Steelcase, Herman Miller and Teknion, insisting on showing product in a pristine (and unrealistic) setting.  Cords have been managed, papers removed, food never introduced.  People do not work or live like this.  While designers can imagine what the “lived in” look will be, we are consistently seduced by the idyllic model of all chairs facing the same direction at the same height for all eternity, their chrome gleaming and upholstery unstained. It influences our design, and sets unrealistic expectations.

I’d applaud someone who created a true laboratory.  A showroom setting that is intensively used (let’s say 20 college students) for a month prior to NeoCon.  It would be a risk.  However the results could be compelling, and potentially sales worthy.