Ask anybody who went to Chicago to attend NeoCon this year if the show was a good one and the first thing they’ll talk about were the lines at the elevators, and how treacherous it was navigating the aisles and hallways of that massive building. Another very positive sign of determining if the show was a success was the decibel level at the late afternoon cocktail parties, which is incidentally where we do many of the interviews for TalkFloor and FloorRadio.

Well, at this year’s outing we honestly had to rely as much on lip reading as our sense of hearing to pull these interviews off, and even then it was a thorny situation. This was the case even when they were standing not two feet away. Now that’s a sign of a superior show according to this observer, and a surprisingly very good show at that.

Most of the people we talked to were favorably surprised by the turnout this year as well after they arrived at the show with relatively modest expectations. Seeing so many tight budgets and hearing about most design firms having trimmed their staffs of course yielded expectations of fewer potential attendees traveling to the big Near North Side Chicago building that incidentally once had its own Zip Code, 60654. We left the show with the impression that architects and designers who made the trek came from a wider reach than apparently had been the norm, with plenty from the West Coast and according to reports a very healthy international contingent from Asia and Latin America.

In terms of product introductions, many attendees we talked to seemed to feel that although the number of launches appeared fewer this time around than they remembered seeing in some of the more prosperous years, the new products were in general well thought out, well engineered and imaginative. We also heard over and over again from exhibitors that designers at the show came with live projects they were working on, and that although most of those projects came from renovations there were a fair amount that did involved new building.

Multitasking at architectural and design firms seemed to be the order of the day, with lots for long hours. While there certainly is nothing that resembles an abundance of hiring at design firms, we understand that like every segment of the marketplace fewer designers are carrying a larger workload and juggling several and more diverse projects than had been the norm in the “good old” days.

Architectural firms have also become a great deal more global in nature. Not just the big multinationals, but the smaller players are seeking projects in Asia, the Middle East and just about anywhere, relying on new technology more than ever for communication. From what we learned and to no one’s surprise specifiers have turned in a direction that is a great deal more conservative during these difficult economic times. The words we heard mentioned frequently were “timelessness” and “durability” when it came to describing style, design and construction.

As a result, looking at the introductions at this year’s NeoCon we noted a wider range of neutrals with personality and branding being added by virtue of accent colors. Additionally, sustainability appears to be a given to many in the A&D community. The economy has added and subtracted much in every industry in the last several years, with the commercial floor covering industry being no exception. NeoCon was a great place to witness many of these changes, some of which were coming anyway with the economy serving as a vehicle to hurry the process along.

Perhaps one of the most important draws of the show is just the advantage it offers of keeping abreast of not only the newest programs, developments, products and people, but of getting a reading on the twists and turns architectural and design practices are taking, and divining where they’re going to lead us next.