Review: Neocon 2022 with Craig Jones

Neocon 2022 beckons, a trip to Chicago always warms the hearts and minds but not necessary the legs and feet. What will we see this year?

With the separation of the event and some of the big guns moving to Fulton Market what will be the impact of this divergence. As Fulton Market gains traction with new members, it is an opportunity to explore another part of the city that 20 years ago you would not have dared to risk a visit! That said Chicago is a wonderful city with the amazing river walks, Lake Michigan, architectural wonders and of course the Merchandise Mart. A brisk walk up the river prepares you for the mass of furniture connoisseurs trawling the halls and then, the exit for a cold beer by the river, preparing for dinner with clients, friends, suppliers & new introductions.

Event Expectations

With a fully loaded list of companies showing at both the Market and the Mart it was exciting to anticipate what new things we would discover. Given events like CDW & Milan had just completed, would there be anything new to see Stateside? Moreover, would everyone be taking three weeks out of their workplaces to attend as exhibitors, participants or attendees?

From a product point of view our expectations for the event was to see a growth of hybrid working solutions, mobility, technology integration and new interesting ways to tackle WFM and the new norm.

Event Welcome

Heathrow Terminal 3 on the Saturday afternoon, room spotting of any fellow Brits making the journey. Having chatted with some familiar faces Chicago; touchdown; and taxi into town with the inevitable traffic. Familiarising yourself with a new hotel in downtown Chicago, it’s time to get out and enjoy some of Chicago’s finest cuisine, staying awake to acclimatise as soon as possible 

The Merchandise Mart is an iconic place and the Sunday race to always obtain your badges early, also provides an opportunity for a sneak preview whilst all the reps have their training. The HiP awards, walks along the river, the odd tornado and humidity level not conducive to a pair of jeans and shirt. The Sunday walk around is a head nodding of familiar faces affair with a few handshakes and an avoidance of ‘when did you arrive?”

Previous Years

The norm for Neocon is to prepare yourself for the density of people and the hustle and bustle of the show as it becomes intensely busy in the narrow corridors on floors 3, 10 & 11 with long queues for the elevator. Given some of the departers from those floors would it have quite the same intensity? On floor 3 Haworth & Steelcase demand an audience so expectations of crowded isles were indeed realised. However, with 10 & 11 having some booths closed and with some of the big guns departed there was a sense of calm and you could actually see product and were not being ushered and buffered out of the way by groups rushing for the next product demonstration. For the SME businesses this could be a good or a bad thing with more space and focus on their niche, but potentially drastically less footfall. Were people who wanted to review the Fulton Market going to make the effort to summit 10 & 11 with the likes of Miller Knoll & Teknion having moved on. The groups of people we talked with did make both journeys, and there was a sense of excitement of Fulton Market becoming more established and other businesses joining the race for the shiny new buildings.

This year’s event

Fulton Market has a great vibe with its cafes, bars restaurants and music pumping into the streets. As the sun shines, we walk along the developing area with the noise of cranes and jackhammers. Now we have Hay, Humanscale, Kvadrac, Miller knoll, Teknion in the area it made for bustling streets and lots of Neocon badges blowing in the wind.


With the gloves off and business categories crossing over (seating, storage, desking) there is an inevitability about saturation in sectors as everyone is reaching for the next best thing to fill our “new norm” offices. Acoustics, biophilia, landscape systems, large tables systems & division of spaces were in abundance. The US market also loves spinal products with an array of solutions from some of the big guys on show. Not a trend really adopted in the European markets. There is some transitional shifts with Brands such as Ketall coming inside and other brands challenging the outside markets.


Firstly, that the event is back on and in full swing. For the most part an air of positivity of the new innovations displayed and a sense of optimism for the future. That could obviously all be exhibition chatter, we will have to wait and see.

Material use and application was a feature noticeably executed better by some than others.

Event Take-aways

It validates all of our project decisions and allows us to gauge where we are with our NPD programs, new & existing. The assessment of the show and the products on display confirms the direction we are taking for our clients and fills us full of excitement as Orgatec is only around the corner in October. It was also very encouraging to see the quantity of new products on display presented with innovation, materials science & creativity.

What I  can say with certainty is that we have arrived back in Brighton with a sense of excitement for the future.

The Future

The talk around the streets of Chicago is the owners of the Mart want it to be a tech hub and therefore if the transition is to Felton Market, then it will probably migrate over a five-year period. This will I guess depend on complexed discussions around leases, property development etc. Also as the Merchandise Mart owns the Neocon brand a new show name will be up for grabs if this mass migration is to happen.

A side comment around trade from us is how quickly things have turned back to normal. Whilst I do not have the visitor numbers for all of the shows, I can tell you airports and trains are full or filling up.  This will have an impact on our decisions for new products, office environments working practices. Those making big changes now may have to reconsider their position of the old normal becomes the new normal.

Images by Craig Jones and Katie Fosdick for Neocon


About Craig Jones

Jones & Partners have been delivering product design solutions for over 20 years under the stewardship of Craig Jones. Pulling on a blend of aesthetic necessity, manufacturing know-how and commercial nous, the end user always comes first.
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