As the 38th annual NeoCon® World's Trade Fair approaches, the Merchandise Mart estimates that this year's event will draw more than 45,000 attendees, 1,200 exhibiting manufacturers and thousands of products covering about 1.2 million sq. ft. While the numbers are impressive, I can't help but wonder if it's all necessary. Sure, there will be plenty of fantastic new products brought to market and more "green" products on display than in years past, which is a good thing, but one has to wonder if more is necessarily better, or sustainable for that matter.
Gary Lee, founder of Chicago-based Gary Lee Partners, and subject of this month's cover story, made an interesting observation that prompted me to think of something I hadn't considered before. Having asked him what he thought were some of the challenges facing the A&D industry, Lee cited the tremendous growth the industry has experienced over the years and what he perceives to be a fear (or perhaps insecurity) that drives manufacturers to introduce products out of a sense of competition rather than necessity. As an example, Lee noted that when one company introduces an AV cart, everyone seems to follow suit and produce their version of an AV cart.
"I see it every year at NeoCon," he says, "this fear that (manufacturers are) not good enough standing on their own passion and philosophy like they used to when they were clear about who they were." In other words, it seems some suppliers have become more reactionary than visionary when bringing products to market, and it isn't a healthy trend. The remedy, Lee suggests, is for companies "to be confident and out there about what the new design concept needs to be" and find a real need, rather than produce another product for the sake of expanding their offerings.
The idea that people need to be confident in their ideas resonates not only with manufacturers but also with designers. In a time when technology is speeding up the process of design from concept to construction, it seems prudent to consider that perhaps efficiency isn't the same as quality; that your first design solution for a client may not be the best one; and that only a passion and a commitment to arriving at the right answer will bring about designs that stand the test of time.
Lee finds this especially evident when comparing the old hand-drawn sketches of a conceptual design versus computer-generated renderings. Now, when he gets 10 "sketches" done on a computer, they look like, and are often treated as finished designs. The fact that many designers are ready to rush into production because the rendering looks finished is a concept that amazes Lee. And it should. Like manufacturers who bring products to market too quickly or because they must have whatever product their competitor is offering, design that is not given the proper time and forethought cannot be at the same time sustainable. But the future demands that it must be if we hope to have the ability to meet the uncertain needs of tomorrow.
"The issues that preoccupy us today," says Robert Wright, president of ASID, in this month's forum article, "the aging workforce, globalization, the environment and rapid technological change—will someday be replaced by new concerns that will need to be addressed when designing state-of-the-art workplace facilities." Rest assured, those new concerns will be identified and addressed most appropriately by the designers and suppliers who are prepared for change, who have a clear vision, who understand how their decisions will impact the future and who take the time to ensure their designs are equally necessary and right.