Top 4 Lessons from NeoCon 2020’s Virtual Conference

June 18, 2020

Towards the end of every year, freelance writers, bloggers, and industry experts weigh in on the upcoming trends to expect in their respective fields. In the design industry, designers are most likely to come across articles published on the Color of the Year, the inception of a brand new design concept, or perhaps the latest technologies that will support their processes. However, no one in 2019 was able to foresee how design would take a drastic turn in a different direction. 

With the emergence of the global COVID-19 pandemic, we all have had to take a step back and to reevaluate what we design and how we design it. Popular space planning, fabric, and finish options have now been deemed unsafe or may pose too high of a risk to those occupying the space. Design concepts like the open office space are now being replaced with panels, partitions, and plexiglass. Benching systems, once beloved by many space planners for its efficiency, are now unfavourable since it doesn’t allow 6-feet of space between people. As the industry journeys into navigating an exceptionally unique shift in what is favourable and safe, a few new trends have emerged in response to this change. 

While NeoCon 2020’s in-person conference was cancelled, organisers were able to create and coordinate a new virtual platform, NeoConnect, hosting various online resources for designers to learn and connect with one another. From online virtual showrooms to webinars on designing for the future, we have compiled 4 key 2020 design trends that we may be seeing in the near future. 

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1. Designing with a System Mindset

It’s no surprise that one 2020 design trend we may be seeing is a revolution of how we approach design in the first place. During the webinar Introduction to Regenerative Design: Your Role as a Designer for a Thriving Future, Susanne Angarano from Ashley McGraw Architects presents a different way for approaching and designing projects. Regenerative Design, also known as Regenerative Architecture, is a method where architects engage with the natural world as the foundation of their projects. By identifying all human and non-human systems that affect a space, Regenerative Design seeks to approach design in an interconnected and holistic way. One example Angarano shared was with designing educational spaces. Having students keep a 6-feet distance from their peers or wearing facemasks both affect both human and non-human systems. With Regenerative Design, how these regulations impact both the students and teacher’s well being and how they can best perform their roles are taken into account. By approaching a project with a system mindset, designers can create projects with greater awareness and consideration, making for an effective overall end result.  


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2. Creating Spaces of Inclusivity

As much as a business and its company culture will directly affect individuals and how safe they feel in an environment, inclusivity starts with design. Designers have the power and ability to advocate for individuals that are often overlooked or forgotten and help them feel included and seen with their vision of a space. 

NeoCon 2020 hosted two separate webinar events that tackled workplace design and how designers can create spaces that can foster greater inclusivity, safety and acceptance. The first explored neurodivergence and how design plays a large role in supporting individuals with different needs, and the second covered creating non-binary spaces and gender neutral design. 

Neurodiversity refers to the variations of learning, attention, and other mental functions that deviate from what we deem “normal”. While the distinction of neurodivergent individuals are often invisible, undetectable or go unnoticed, it does not mean the presence of challenges are nonexistent. And although there may be differences in processing information, neurodiverse individuals can be creative, bold, and fantastic under pressure - they deserve a space that will support and encourage their strengths. Creating spaces that are safe for neurodivergent individuals takes an understanding of the types of colors, fabrics, and patterns that can be beneficial to hyposensitive and hypersensitive individuals. As we continue to gain a better understanding and perspective of how to create inclusive stunning yet functional spaces, we will see an increase in designing with neurodiversity in mind. 

On the topic of inclusivity, going beyond the binary and adopting gender neutral design has been an incredibly important area in ensuring individuals feel safe and comfortable in their environment. Offices especially have historically been places that can cause uneasiness, anxiety, and distress on individuals that may feel forced to assimilate and categorize themselves with an identity that isn’t who they are. However, adopting gender neutral non-binary design allows designers to create safe spaces that will ultimately support the end user. Whether it be including a gender neutral bathroom or revisiting signage and language, adopting a gender neutral stance can decrease the likeliness of gender-related microaggressions and foster a safe and inclusive environment. 




3. Investing in Sustainable Products

In recent years, sustainability and waste has become a topic of concern for both businesses and consumers. By now, most people have seen the viral video of a lodged plastic straw in a sea turtle’s nose. With 300 million tons of plastic being produced every year globally, plastic consumption has polluted our oceans, disrupted our ecosystems, and has severely harmed our environment. Net-Works, a program launched by Interface, is just one method on how businesses in our industry have invested and are beginning to create and manufacture products that are both stunning and eco-friendly. This initiative has been incredibly successful in sourcing 100% recycled materials for their carpet tile products, transforming a material once seen as waste into wealth. As sustainability continues to be a topic of importance in the design industry, we will continue to see innovative solutions that are both beautifully designed and environmentally friendly.


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4. Preparation and Risk Assessment

It’s safe to say that almost every business of every industry was poorly prepared for our current crisis. The COVID-19 global pandemic has clearly highlighted the fragility and holes in our current processes, forcing all of us to examine methods and tools that will allow us to stay flexible and adaptable. However, one industry that was hit the hardest above all were healthcare institutions. Hospitals, healthcare centers, and clinics were clearly not designed to handle the extreme demand that was required from this pandemic. With the help of architects and engineers, many facilities were able to be converted into temporary COVID-19 wards or centers for telehealth workers. While many interim wards are beginning to be reconverted back into its previous space and we’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, this crisis has taught us all an important lesson of being adaptable. Design moving forward will definitely include a greater look into risk assessment and other limitations in terms of flexibility


2020 Design Trends and Lessons from NeoConnect

Although we weren’t able to learn and connect in person this year, NeoCon 2020 is definitely one that will be truly unforgettable. While there wasn’t a chance to wander in the beautifully curated showrooms or the latest innovative products and configurations, NeoConnect was able to provide valuable insight of the upcoming 2020 design trends. And as we begin to navigate designing in new and unfamiliar circumstances, adopting a system mindset, creating inclusive spaces, exploring sustainability and brainstorming better risk assessment has given the whole design community a clear direction for what we can expect in the foreseeable future.

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Rachel Chan

Rachel Chan

Rachel is a writer for Yulio, covering all things VR. With a keen interest in creativity and innovation, Rachel enjoys seeing how businesses use VR in their workflow, and how they have been transformed by it.