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Brief Published: 19 Jun 2020

NeoCon: Designing for a Digital Furniture Fair


With Chicago’s contract furniture fair NeoCon transitioning into the virtual event NeoConnect (June 2020), US manufacturer Haworth enlisted the help of star Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola to take its collection online. The digital showroom capitalises on digital tools and intuitive user experience (UX) design to provide an engaging presentation with global reach.

Upon entering the digital experience, users are met with a detailed floorplan of a large, booth-like space (presumably recreating what the real one would have looked like, had the original event gone ahead). This bird’s-eye perspective offers an easy means of identifying the different spaces and their functions, as well as the various products that Haworth has on show.

The floorplan is organised into three lenses – Creativity & Innovation, New Products and Featured Spaces – with each presenting an interactive map highlighting products relevant to the theme. Here, consumers click into products for further information and a detailed image.

Using a floorplan to organise products, as though located in a physical space, offers a familiar and intuitive way of navigating the virtual showroom. This approach also communicates the relative size of different products, as well as how they relate to one another and the space. More work could have been done, however, in converting visitors to the brand’s sales team to make use of the fluid transitions that are possible online, and push the commercial angle of the event.

Digital fairs are set to become increasingly important moving forward – whether that be in virtual or digitally supported physical events. It’s therefore critical that UX appeals to how we perceive spaces and products in real life, so that visitors don’t get lost and stay engaged.

Another best-practice virtual example is US publication Sight Unseen’s Offsite Online event, which employed audio recordings to substitute the experience of talking to designers about their work. For more, see Sight Unseen Offsite 2020.