NeoCon is North America’s largest design exposition and conference for commercial interiors. Major product launches are featured every year from large furniture manufacturing companies like Steelcase, Herman Miller, and Knoll to smaller independent designers trying to make their first impressions. Over 40,000 design related professionals will pour into Chicago and The Merchandise Mart from Monday, June 13 through Wednesday, June 16 to celebrate new product development for the corporate, hospitality, healthcare, retail, and residential industries.
I’ve been to the show many times and picked up some pointers that helped me optimize my trip. I hope they will be helpful to anyone else visiting.
Navigating the show
How you enter The Merchandise Mart and navigate the floors is crucial to how much time you’ll get to enjoy the show. The show covers over 1.2 million square feet in over 7 floors. I’ve found the best entry point to the Mark is on the corner of Kinzie and Wells streets. Skip the long lines to the elevators and head to the back left corner of the Mart towards Orleans street. Take the escalators up to the 3rd floor and either spend some time on the floor, pick up an elevator here where the lines are short, or hike it on the stairwell all the way to top floor. I find it is best to start at the top and work your way to the bottom taking the stairs in-between. Here is a great map of the show.
Dress to impress
Jeans and sneakers may cut it in the studio, but not at NeoCon. You’ll be walking among thousands of professional marketing, manufacturing, design, architecture, and sales people. You are bound to meet someone worth talking too and you will want to look your best.
What to bring
Pack a camera, business cards, and a smile. The showrooms and hallways can get crowded, but remember to have a good attitude because design superstars like Yves Behar and Karim Rashid could be just around the corner. Snap photos of product (with permission of course), take notes, and network.
Sign up for education events
Try to attend at least one of the many keynote presentations or seminars that go on throughout the show. The seminars are a great way to learn something new from industry leading people who are experts in their fields. The cost is relatively inexpensive for the amount of information you can learn and bring back to your co-workers. Be sure to sign up online and before you go since space is limited and seat fill up fast. Learn more about these events here.
If you’re spending the night in Chicago then I recommend the Downtown Loop area north of the river. You’ll be in great walking distance to Millennium Park, The Merchandise Mark, and Rush street where most NeoCon visitors go to have dinner and drinks. I also like to stop off at the original Pizzeria Uno on East Ohio street or try to grab a steak at Gene & Georgetti’s on Franklin Street.
NeoCon is a great way to celebrate design and see all the hard work that goes into product development for furniture manufactures. Spend some time exploring all the surface, lighting, and seating products that are on display.
Have fun and enjoy!
This article was originally posted on Fuel Your Product Design 6/10/2011.
Bradley Derry is an industrial designer and creative team leader whose specialty is to strengthen a company’s capability to delight customers through its product design and brand building. He currently leads a product development team at Innovative Office Products, a premier manufacture of workspace systems and furniture accessories in the Lehigh Valley, Pa. Be sure to visit his site BradleyDerry.com for post updates and connect with him on twitter @Derryest.