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NeoCon 2017: The Ultimate Survival Guide

Posted on May 23, 2017, by Stacy Walker

NeoCon is an event unlike any other.

From awe-inspiring installations at the cutting edge of interior design, to the debut appearances of never-before-seen products, there's a sense of possibility and promise that permeates the entire event. It's a chance to develop knowledge and skills, to network, and to absorb the enthusiasm and inspiration of over 50,000 like-minded people.

Free Download: The Ultimate Survival Guide to NeoCon 2017

Here at Milliken, we've been attending, exhibiting and enjoying NeoCon for years, so to help you prepare for NeoCon 2017, we've created a complete guide to getting the most from this incredible event. From must-see seminars to sensational showroom parties, we've put together an actionable guide to enjoying every second of your NeoCon experience - whether you're a first-time attendee or a seasoned veteran.

 NeoCon 2017

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NeoCon in Numbers


49 years. NeoCon has been the spiritual home of the interior design community for almost 50 years, with the first NeoCon taking place at the Mart way back in 1969. This year's event takes place from June 12-14th.


50,000 attendees. NeoCon has grown in popularity each year, and NeoCon 2017 is set to play host to over 50,000 design professionals, attracting architects, designers and manufacturers, from students to principles, and uniting them in an exploration (and celebration) of the best the industry has to offer.


500 companies. As the biggest event of the year, NeoCon is a prime location for the year's hottest product launches. With 500 manufacturers exhibiting over four floors, the show will see thousands of new and innovative products make their debut appearance.

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Four million square feet. 4M.pngThe Merchandise Mart, home to NeoCon, was once the largest building in the world, with its own ZIP code and over four million square feet of floor space. Designed to house Chicago's burgeoning interior design industry, when NeoCon 2017 opens, almost a million square feet of the Mart's distinctive Art Deco interior will be given over to the event.

Limitless inspiration. Infinity.pngWith a wealth of designers, architects, manufacturers and new products converging on Chicago this summer, NeoCon 2017 is shaping up to be the biggest (and best) event of the year - and a perfect place to get hands-on with this year's hottest trends in interior design.

 At the Event

We're sharing our top tips for getting the most from your visit to NeoCon - so you don't miss any of the highlights.

1) Get up Early

NeoCon officially runs from 9AM to 5PM each day, but your day is likely to run much longer. Keynote speakers on Tuesday and Wednesday kick-off at 8:30AM - and you may have some breakfast meetings to fit in, too.

One thing's for sure - it's going to be a jam-packed few days. If you're travelling long-distance, it might even be worth arriving a couple of days early, so you're ready to make the most of the NeoCon experience on the Monday.

2) Wear Comfortable Shoes

Trust us: your feet will thank you for it. The Mart's 25 storys cover 4.2 million square feet in total, and NeoCon takes up roughly ten of the 25 floors in the space.

Sure, NeoCon's a fashion-conscious event, and you want to dress to impress. But let's be realistic: can you really manage sixteen-hour days, on your feet the whole time, in those killer heels?

3) Start at the Top

One of the biggest time drains at NeoCon is waiting for the elevators. With the conference spread over 10 floors of a 25-story building, we don't want to take the stairs, either. However, with a bit of forward planning, you can significantly cut-down the amount of time you spend waiting for the elevator.

If you start at the top, and work down, you can efficiently move through the exhibition by taking the stairs between floors. While you may still want to take the elevator at the start and end of each day, you'll waste much less time in the middle, meaning you can see more exhibitors, fit in more meetings, and attend more seminars than you might otherwise have managed.


4) Use NeoCon's Planner

The Planner is the perfect tool for helping you make the most of NeoCon, allowing you to:

  • Plan a walking route through the exhibitors.
  • Access the calendar of scheduled seminars, CEUs and keynotes.
  • Schedule appointments with exhibitors.

Even better, the NeoCon planner syncs with the NeoCon 2017 app, available from the App Store and Google Play, so you can sync across your devices and have it available to view during the event.

5) Get excited for the Best of NeoCon 2017

The Best of NeoCon Awards honor the industry's best new commercial interiors products. There are awards in 47 different product categories, from Acoustic Panels & Solutions, to Workplace Technologies - so whatever your next project, the Best of NeoCon winners are likely to be a fantastic source of inspiration.

The Best of NeoCon Awards Breakfast kicks-off the show, starting at 7:30AM on Monday June 12th, with individual tickets costing $95. (We said you'd need to get up early!)

6) Check out the Keynotes

NeoCon's keynotes aim to push the boundaries of design and share innovative ideas in the industry. This year's keynote speakers are Arianna Huffington, Jessica Green, and John Ronan.

The keynotes are free to attend - unlike the seminars, which cost $60 if booked in advance, or $70 if booked at the event. So even if your NeoCon expenses won't stretch to a bunch of CEUs, you've got no excuse for missing the keynotes - as long as you register ahead of time.

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7) Attend a Seminar

NeoCon's program of CEUs and seminars address a wide range of the most important current design topics - and give you the chance to earn CEU credits by attending. If you're not up-to-date with any of your CEUs, this is a great opportunity to brush-up on your knowledge and pick up some new ideas.

Alternatively, if you're already up-to-date on all your required CEUs, you may want to use your time at NeoCon to learn something new. With a variety of topics covered in the CEU sessions, you could use the time to attend a session on a topic you might not normally consider.

In addition to the regular program of CEUs, NeoCon 2017 sees the launch of Icons@NeoCon - a special series of seminars headlined by four seasoned design and business experts:

  • Lauren Rottet - Hospitality Comes to the Office.
  • Carol Ross Barney - Livable Cities: The Role Urban Design and Architecture Play.
  • Meg Prendergast, Cheryl Durst and Mari Balestrazzi (panel) - Designing for the 50 Percent: Hospitality for the Savvy Travelling Woman.
  • Howard Tullman - 1871: The Lessons Learned Building the Largest Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in the US.  

8) Visit Must-See Exhibitors

NeoCon is the best place to go for new product launches, so be sure to stop by your favorite exhibitors to see their latest offerings. With new lines launching left, right and center, you'll be among the first to spot up-and-coming design trends, and immerse yourself in new ideas and sources of inspiration for your upcoming projects.

Here are our top five picks that we always make an effort to visit at NeoCon:

  • Herman-Miller - 3rd Floor Showrooms, 321
  • Steelcase - 3rd Floor Showrooms, 300
  • Haworth - 3rd Floor Showrooms, 312
  • Luna Textiles - 10th Floor Showrooms, 106
  • Knoll - 11th Floor Showrooms, 1111

It's also worth taking the time to visit exhibitors you've never heard of before, and see what they're doing differently. Sure, you'll have your favorite companies, and you'll want to visit the big name industry-leading exhibitors, but don't miss the opportunity to see something new as well.

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9) Come say "Hi!"

The Milliken booth is located in the 11th Floor Showrooms, 1149.

This year, we're exploring the increasingly blurred line between people, and technology; the real, and the virtual. We'll be showcasing a selection of new product lines designed to help structure this convergence, adding form to private working spaces, communal areas and collaborative environments alike.

Alongside the aesthetic discussion, we're also highlighting the role technology plays in design, and emphasising the power of cutting-edge innovation through our Site-Related Solutions initiative. If you're interested in the shifting dynamic between people and technology, swing by to talk to our team in the 11th Floor Showrooms.

 After Hours

Think the fun stops at 5PM each day? Think again.

10) Stay Out Late

The official show runs from 9AM to 5PM each day - but as every veteran NeoCon attendee knows, the fun doesn't stop until late in the evenings.

NeoCon's legendary showroom and booth parties tend to kick off after 5PM, with the exhibitors offering the chance to meet and mingle with designers, decision makers and fellow NeoCon enthusiasts. If you're interested in rounding off your day with cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, swing by Milliken's showroom from 3PM, and kick-start your evening's events.

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11) Plan Your Exit

With over 50,000 people taking in the sights and sounds of NeoCon, the end of the day can feel like a bit of an exodus from the Mart.

To avoid the worst of the crowds, plan to stay late each day and wait for the rush to die down (the showroom parties should have you covered). When it's time to leave, do your best to share a ride with fellow attendees. This year, NeoCon have partnered with Uber, so it should be easier than ever to get back to your hotel.

12) Sample Chicago's Finest Fare

Making a beeline for one of Chicago's fantastic restaurants is a great way to take in the city's ambience (and even entertain a client or two). To help you make the most of every meal, we've chosen a couple of Chicago's hottest spots for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Best of all, they're only a short walk away from the Mart.

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"JOH_9956" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by star5112

Breakfast and Brunch

Beatrix Streeterville: Situated just off of Chicago's hottest shopping spot, the Magnificent Mile, Beatrix Streeterville has garnered a reputation as the city's go-to brunch destination. Offering everything from fluffy pancakes to superfood salads, you'll find everything you need to fuel up for a long day at NeoCon.

Hannah's Bretzel: If your idea of a perfect breakfast is something a little more filling, look no further than Hannah's Bretzel. Whether you're a bagel buff or a club sandwich connoisseur, you'll find a great selection of artisanal snacks - including a comprehensive range of gluten-free options.



The Artisan Cellar: Located within the Merchandise Mart Plaza, The Artisan Cellar is one of NeoCon's hidden gems. Offering café style ambience and a fantastic selection of continental food (and a range of wines to match), The Artisan Cellar offers respite from the bustle of NeoCon, making it a perfect venue for an informal lunch with colleagues and clients.

The Fat Shallot: If you're dashing between appointments and seminars, try grabbing a quick bite from the Fat Shallot's food truck. You'll be able to sample some of Chicago's finest sandwiches without taking a ton of time out of your day (and they're extremely accommodating to vegetarians).



Bavette's Bar and Boeuf: Combining classic American steakhouse fare with decidedly French ambience, Bavette's Bar and Boeuf is one of Chicago's most popular restaurants - and it's only a heartbeat from the Mart. Whether you're looking to entertain or simply indulge, earmark one of your evenings for a trip to Bavette's.

Girl and the Goat: If you're keen to impress, make time (and a reservation!) at Chicago's famous Girl and the Goat. The brainchild of Top Chef winner (and Chicago native) Stephanie Izzard, the restaurant is renowned for its trendy atmosphere and creative cuisine, offering a menu of tapas-style dishes guaranteed to blow you away.

13) Take in the City

Chicago is famed for its architecture, so if you're lucky enough to have some free time before or after NeoCon, it's worth checking out some of the city's famous sights.

The Chicago Architecture Foundation offer a river cruise designed to take in 50 of the city's most famous buildings. Packing a whole lot of sightseeing into just 90-minutes, the cruise is a great way to make the most of your free time.

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 Helpful Resources

Free Download: The Ultimate Survival Guide to NeoCon 2017


Stacy Walker

Written by Stacy Walker