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NeoCon Talks

Join us for NeoCon Talks, where we bring together industry disruptors, leaders, and influencers for thought-provoking 20-minute conversations that delve into trending topics that challenge conventional thinking and ignite innovation.

Head to the NeoCon Talks Lounge on the 7th Floor Exhibit Hall and recharge your mind with fresh insights. No additional registration is required. See you there!

Visit Work Design Magazine for a recap of the 2023 NeoCon Talks

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Talks Schedule

  • Monday, June 10, 1:30 - 1:50 P.M. CDT
  • NeoCon Talks Lounge, FL 7

Gen Z Goes to Work!

  • Student winners to be announced

  • Katie Sargent
    Integrated Marketing Manager, Work Design Magazine

Meet the winners of Formica’s Student Innovation Competition as they discuss their winning submissions, transitioning from student to working professional, and what Gen Z is looking for in the work environment.


Student winners to be announced.

Moderated by Katie Sargent.

​​Katie Sargent is Work Design’s Integrated Marketing Manager. Katie’s interest in the A+D industry began with her first internship at IA Interior Architects. Since then she went on to have experience with Jones Lang LaSalle, Kimball Office and dealerships in the DC area. She received her degree in Business Management from Virginia Tech. She is located in NYC.

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  • Monday, June 10, 2:00 - 2:20 P.M. CDT
  • NeoCon Talks Lounge, FL 7

Democratizing Architecture

  • Tanya Khanna
    Founder, Epistle

Every design has its own unique story; In order to give architecture a distinct voice today, a content-based communication strategy becomes a critical tool and a means to that end. Let's discuss why we should bring all voices to the table to set the course for a better, more inclusive and sustainable future.


Indian Architect and Curator, Tanya Khanna has committed herself to Democratising Architecture –– giving a global voice to design and to all those who practice, influence, or experience it. She is the founder of Epistle, the first and largest communications consultancy for architects and designers in South Asia. Through her work with more than 150 leading architects, design practitioners, real estate developers, artists and design brands, Tanya has been passionately advocating good design for over 16 years. Trained as an architect in India and London, Khanna brings with her an intrinsic understanding of what businesses in the design and AEC domain need to Be Known.

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  • Monday, June 10, 2:30 - 2:50 P.M. CDT
  • NeoCon Talks Lounge, FL 7

Focused Excellence: Monotasking for Architects and Designers

  • Libby Gillen
    Vice President, Design Segment, Momentum Textiles and Wallcovering

Let’s challenge the popular belief that multitasking is the key to productivity. Instead, we’ll introduce you to the concept of Monotasking to enhance your creativity, productivity, and wellness.


Libby Gillen is a seasoned professional in the world of design, blending her early passion for fine arts with a comprehensive understanding of interior design. After graduating from Syracuse University with a degree in Interior Design, Libby worked at various design firms in the Boston and Chicago markets. Transitioning to the manufacturing side of the industry, Libby served as an account executive and eventually ascended to the role of Vice President of Architecture and Design. In this capacity, she leveraged her multifaceted expertise in design, marketing, and product knowledge to consult with Architecture and Design (A&D) clients, offering tailored solutions for every space.

Currently, Libby Gillen is the Vice President of A+D Engagement at Momentum Textiles and Wallcovering, where her unwavering commitment to sustainable and people-friendly design drives organizational initiatives. Her advocacy for health and wellness initiatives both within the Momentum organization and among its clientele underscores her dedication to creating spaces that prioritize well-being.

As an active member of professional organizations such as the International Interior Design Association (IIDA), Chief, National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), and Dignity in Design, Libby remains deeply invested in advancing her field through continued education and service. Her values and beliefs serve as guiding principles in her pursuit of excellence, making her a respected figure within the design community.

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  • Monday, June 10, 3:00 - 3:20 P.M. CDT
  • NeoCon Talks Lounge, FL 7

Intentional-Based Working for the Future of Work

  • Stephen Smith
    VP of People Analytics, REWORC and Founder of The Fail Forward Project

Have you discovered Intentional Based Working? Join to hear how IBW is creating demand in the workplace.

Is your space supporting the activities that are happening within the office? What if space design chose not to continue supporting the activities that don't add value to the organization and instead reinforced the ones that do? Stephen Smith will join us to tell us more about Intentional Based Working and how new space design concepts can drive demand in the new world of work and propel the businesses it supports.


Stephen Smith leads the people analytics, client solutions, and product development areas at Reworc. After working in both Human Resources and Corporate Real Estate in People Operations roles, Stephen has focused on driving workforce and workplace transformation by using data and information to leverage optimum work and work environments.

Stephen understands the connection between people, place, and performance and is a leader at connecting solutions to the evidence that supports it. Accordingly, Stephen is focused on high- performance and the evolution of work and teams in the organizations he serves. Stephen has enhanced survey and analytics experience, due to his fortune 100 experience and his Master’s in Industrial Organizational Psychology from Louisiana Tech University.

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  • Tuesday, June 11, 1:30 - 1:50 P.M. CDT
  • NeoCon Talks Lounge, FL 7

Sensory Processing and Neurodiversity in 2024

  • Olivia Danielson-Veed
    Associate | Senior Project Interior Designer, HOK

Join HOK's Olivia Danielson-Veed to hear the latest research on sensory processing and neurodiversity. Learn more about why Neuro-Inclusion affects everyone and how to integrate it into your design process.


    Olivia Danielson-Veed, a Senior Project Interior Designer at HOK’s Chicago studio, is a visionary in corporate and commercial design, specializing in workplace and amenity spaces. With a passion for crafting interior ecosystems that foster collaboration and cater to the neurodiverse, she integrates natural materials and sustainable practices to enhance user experiences. Olivia's unique expertise spans the furniture industry, guiding clients through selection and procurement processes with seamless communication. A seasoned speaker, she has shared insights on "Designing for Neurodiversity" and "Biophilic Design" at prestigious events like AIA Chicago and Chicago Build. Olivia's recent co-authorship of 'Gathering Spaces' underscores her commitment to creating culturally impactful environments that nurture fellowship and fulfillment.

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    • Tuesday, June 11, 2:00 - 2:20 P.M. CDT
    • NeoCon Talks Lounge, FL 7

    Why Include OTs in Your Inclusive Design Team?

    • Francisco Lasta
      Inclusive Design / Marketing Strategy, Muller2

    What is Occupational Therapy, and why is it an essential expertise in an inclusive design team? Join Occupational Therapist Francisco Lasta, as he talks about the distinct value that OT practitioners can bring to the table for teams seeking to elevate their designs. He will shed light on the barriers to collaboration between OTs and designers and explore potential solutions for fostering a more impactful partnership.


    With over a decade of experience working with individuals of diverse disabilities across different age groups and socio-economic backgrounds, Francisco Lasta's expertise in human-centered design, task analysis, accessibility, and UX provides him with a uniquely empathetic and functional perspective when it comes to architecture and design. As an Occupational Therapist leading the Inclusive Design team at the architecture firm M2, he is passionate about helping designers create inclusive and accessible spaces and products. He has served as a speaker during the global conference “In Pursuit of Equity: A Symposium to Re-envision the Center for Universal Design” and presented about the “Intersection of Occupational Therapy and Architecture” during the 2024 AOTA Inspire Annual Conference and Expo. Francisco is also a Second City-trained improv enthusiast and performs with his improv group in comedy theaters around Chicago.

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    • Tuesday, June 11, 2:30 - 2:50 P.M. CDT
    • NeoCon Talks Lounge, FL 7

    The Benefits of Failing

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    • Andrea Alaownis, WELL AP
      Interior Designer and Group Leader, Jacobs

    • Jovana Abu-Ali, LEED AP, AIA
      Interior Design Lead, Jacobs

    Fail! Fail! Fail! It’s the magic of moving forward. Failure fosters growth and agility in our personal development. However, too often we see an inequality in how failure is perceived amongst design careers. Let’s break the cycle! Come listen as designers and workplace strategists share their stories of understanding and embracing their failures while pivoting towards success.


    Andrea Alaownis is an interior designer with the Jacobs Boston office. She has concentrated on commercial projects at Jacobs through all phases of planning, design, and construction since graduating Radford University in 2007. As a WELL Accredited professional, she participated in assisting the Jacobs Boston office to achieve WELL V1 Gold, Fitwel 3 Stars, and LEED V4 Gold certifications and continues to educate the design community and clients on wellness through design.

    She currently resides in Rhode Island and leads a group of extremely talented interior designers, architects, and lab planners in the Boston, Massachusetts office.

    Jovana Abu-Ali is diversely trained Interior Designer, Licensed Architect and Design Leader with 15 years of international experience.

    Based out of Boston Jacobs office, Jovana has worked on a range of projects at a variety of scales, contexts, and types. Her most recent design work focuses on Workplace Design, Workplace Strategy, New Ways of Working, and Life Science.

    Born and raised in Belgrade- Serbia, Jovana moved to the USA to join Interior design industry in 2007. After completion of her second Master’s degree, she has had an opportunity to work and serve different market sectors - ranging in project sizes and team structures. She quickly gained valuable experience by pushing the boundaries of the profession and developing both as a diverse designer and skilled team leader.

    In addition to NCARB and USGBC LEED AP Certifications, Jovana is Registered Architect, and a full AIA member since 2013. She is a proud mom of a brilliant 8-year-old boy; fluent in English and Serbian, and enjoys ballet practice, healthy food styling and travel.

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    • Tuesday, June 11, 3:00 - 3:20 P.M. CDT
    • NeoCon Talks Lounge, FL 7

    AI 2.0 - What You Need to Know!

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    • Mark Schwamel
      FAIA, Director, Ware Malcomb Chicago

    • Matthew Negron
      President, Dauphin Americas

    AI is integrating into our digital life faster than imagined. Join design firm Ware Malcomb to discuss key AI tools and the newest usages.


    Mark Schwamel, FAIA is Director of Ware Malcomb’s downtown Chicago office. In his role, Schwamel is responsible for leading the downtown Chicago office and overseeing the growth of the Interiors Studio in the region.

    Schwamel brings more than 20 years of experience to Ware Malcomb, with proven capabilities and expertise in workplace, mixed-use, retail, urban design and multifamily projects. He has led all aspects of design, workplace strategy and business development for the interiors groups he has managed. Prior to Ware Malcomb, he held multiple leadership roles at international design firms.

    Moderated by Matthew Negron.

    Matthew Negron, president of Dauphin Americas, has over a decade of experience in the furniture industry, with expertise in product design, engineering, sales, marketing, and executive leadership. As the youngest president of a contract furniture company, he has successfully navigated the challenges posed by the pandemic and a recession-based economy, positioning the company for future growth. He remains actively engaged with industry associations and has received recognition for his leadership. Poised to become president of IIDA’s Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware chapter, Matthew also works with students as an adjunct professor of industrial design at Kean University.

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