NeoCon 2018: How Manufacturing and Design Are Reinventing the Office Ceiling

Every year, tens of thousands of designers descend upon the Merchandise Mart in Chicago for the annual commercial design industry’s NeoCon, one of the largest trade shows in the country. Marketed as a “launchpad for innovation,” NeoCon connects thousands of exhibitors and design professionals to collaborate on the future of the industry.

I have attended the conference numerous times, and it’s always a great opportunity to discover what’s happening in the design space, particularly with product design. A huge highlight this year was attending the MNML/TURF NeoCon launch party with Matrix4COO, Sujit Sheth, and some members of my Entrepreneurial Therapy Group (a group I created to focus on development, personal growth and accountability).

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Cheers @mnml1 @mnml_dsgn for an awesome kick off to #neocon with awesome design and launch of meaningful physical product.

TURF and MNML collaborated on an acoustic tile product, where TURF sourced one of their solutions from MNML. The solution is felt surfaces that can be installed into the tracks of ceiling tiles and easily swapped out. I’m personally looking forward to using the solution in both my home and factory. MNML and TURF showcased the product on NeoCon’s launch day, and I participated in support of our design partner, MNML, interacting with others in the space.

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Turning Ceilings from Mundane to Insane by Sarang Sheth at Yanko Design

I formed a connection to TURF through one of their interns, Jack Berry, who graduated Woodstock High School where he participated in their incubator program, for which I’m a board member (along with the Incubator Program at Prairie Ridge High School, my alma mater, in Crystal Lake, IL). I have sat on the board of the University of Iowa Entrepreneurial Program and mHub, the maker space in Chicago, and was excited to support what was happening locally.  

TURF came out of Reike Interiors, a space in Elgin Illinois where the owner, Todd, kept being asked about noise reduction. He started working with felt materials and came up with TURF. In collaboration with Scott Wilson and MNML, the product design was achieved using compression molding, a manufacturing process particularly suited for large, intricate pieces.

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TURF tiles have the benefit of perfectly blurring the lines between cutting edge aesthetics and acoustic performance, dramatically transforming the spaces they reside in.

TURF acoustic tiles had a great reception at NeoCon. It’s such a fun product, leveraging a tactile fabric like felt and putting it in a functional yet aesthetically appealing format. User experience and insights were also woven throughout the design process to provide additional perspective. It's an extremely well-thought-out product on many levels, and I’m excited to utilize it in my space.

That’s what’s so great about attending NeoCon: Seeing designers exhibit the ability to combine great design and functionality with manufacturing to create tangible products that are not only functional but aesthetically appealing. It is brilliant marriage.