Workplace design is more than just armchairs and lobby couches: Studies have shown that a well-designed workspace and furniture can boost employee productivity and happiness (all which can impact the organization’s bottom line).

For one week every year, Chicago becomes an international center for the hub of the conversation around workplace design through NeoCon, one of the world’s largest conferences dedicated to interior design strategy for workplaces. The conference, which wrapped up earlier this week, has been in Chicago 49 years running and attracts over 50,000 attendees from around the world.

So what’s the latest in workplace design trends? Chicago Inno spoke with Melissa Marsh, who leads Workplace Strategy and Occupant Experience for clients of real estate company Savills Studley, and Renae Bradshaw, who represents clients in the firm’s Chicago office and is also the current Chair of Corenet Chicago, a real estate association for professionals. They shared their thoughts on the design trends and ideologies to keep an eye out for this year.

Trend: Biophilic design. This is the practice of taking inspiration from nature and integrating natural light, materials, and even vegetation, into the modern built environment.

“Research suggests human beings have a ‘fight or flight’ response to stress-inducing environments, and biophilic design is intentional in its approach to soothe anxiety,” said Marsh. At NeoCon, designers debuted the following nature-inspired designs:

  • Lichen Collection, a plank carpet system inspired by the algae-based organism which, just like its inspiration, has a regenerative role in the ecosystem — it releases into its environment more than what it takes in.
  • HumanScale, a biological lighting system that follows circadian rhythms, designed to tap into the bodily cycles and responsive to amount of natural sunlight at any given time.
  • West Elm’s Collection, designed specifically keeping in mind the holistic well-being that many millennials value, as well as the rise of the gig economy and coworking spaces, with movable furniture.
Mohawk Group (Photo Credit: Karis Hustad)

Trend: Acoustic comforts. Distracting sound is a persistent challenge and a leading source of dissatisfaction within the environmental conditions of an office, particularly when it comes to open office work environments. NeoCon showcased resources that help mitigate this, such as a noise-reducing drapery from Carnegie Designs that resembles a fine wool.

West Elm (Photo Credit: Karis Hustad)

Trend: Privacy on-demand. A growing need in shared workspaces, NeoCon saw agile partitions, mobile pods, as well as the launch of a new 7.5-foot-tall office-within-a-workspace — the Jabbrrbox — that satisfies these needs.

SteelCase (Photo Credit: Karis Hustad)

NeoCon also saw some innovative technology integration into furniture, like wireless device charging technology, desks that connect to sensor-based wearables like FitBit or NikePlus and apps.

“The partnership like Steelcase and Microsoft is a new development that demonstrates how technology and furniture elements can be integrated. This creates a seamless experience in the office, which supports productivity,” said Bradshaw. Other tech seen at NeoCon was Gantner Technologies’ electronic locking solution for staff lockers and Configura’s space planning VR software.

“Today, more life happens within the office, and more work takes place beyond it. At NeoCon, we saw an emergence of design where employees are in control of their environment with scaled down, movable, and ultimately, adaptive, furniture,” concluded Bradshaw.

Below, take a visual tour of NeoCon 2017:


SteelCase (Photo Credit: Karis Hustad)


Bernhardt (Photo Credit: Karis Hustad)


Keilhauer (Photo Credit: Karis Hustad)
Keilhauer (Photo Credit: Karis Hustad)

Herman Miller

Herman Miller (Photo Credit: Karis Hustad)
Herman Miller (Photo Credit: Karis Hustad)


Haworth (Photo Credit: Karis Hustad)


Knoll (Photo Credit: Karis Hustad)
Knoll (Photo Credit: Karis Hustad)

West Elm

West Elm (Photo Credit: Karis Hustad)

Note: This story has been updated to reflect Renae Bradshaw’s correct affiliation with Savills Studley.