Is new technology changing lighting designer's thinking?

A little while ago, while discussing lighting design, a friend said to me: ‘It doesn’t matter about all these technical changes. We just carry on doing the same old thing.’ I nodded in agreement and took another bite of my bacon sandwich. But his comment has been nagging at me ever since, because I don’t think it’s true any longer.

For many years lighting design absorbed new technology and simply went about its creative business, because the changes were simply technical improvements that allowed us to do the same old thing, but a little better. This is no longer the case.

I’ve taken a look over my shoulder and had a squint at some of the design decisions I’ve taken recently.

 

  • A colour-tunable white sculptural pendant in a client’s kitchen; not for any of that circadian malarkey, but because we decided it would be nice to have a bright, cool, light on dull days and warm light in the evenings when pals came round for supper. Solution: a combination of aluminium channels and tunable-white LED strips with wireless control. Light and art coming together.

 

  • Colour-changing in a client’s bedroom, not for any super-tech reason, but because the client wants to enjoy a more congenial ambience while meditating. Solution: aluminium channel and colour-change LED strips built into the bedhead with wall-mounted and remote colour controllers. A no-light light.

 

  • A super-slim lamp shade on the ceiling of an old farm cottage, just 60mm deep. Solution: a circular LED panel with a special fixing for the fabric shade, putting light where there has never been light before.

 

  • A future-proofed lighting rig for a barn converted to family home, using minimum hard-wiring, while providing either a wired control system, a wireless control system, an IoT or a bluetooth solution. Solution: If I told you that I really would have to shoot you.

 

The point of these four examples is that each design process explored options far more widely than a ‘same old thing’ mindset would have taken it. The world has changed. Today, we can go much further in realising design concepts.

It takes more than a designer

It is important to remember that a designer’s musings would stay as just that if it wasn’t for manufacturers. It is here that the industry is moving so quickly. It is not just about new drivers and a more efficient heatsink. This is about entirely new ways of seeing things and understanding where these new advances might take us. For example:

  • LEDs are taking lighting techniques into specialist environments where no one has ever thought about lighting in any other terms than simple illumination and certainly not as a factor in business profits.

 

  • Technology that talks to its environment, and then listens to the answer. If we’re resigned to the idea that the lighting industry is now just another part of the electronics industry, we may as well ring the bell and join the party. What would we really like to do with our lighting? There’s a good chance that we can achieve something like it.

 

  • Product design that just gets better and better. Now, we just need to iron those bumps and creases out of the system and head for a place where the photometrics really mean what they say. Good optics, great electronics, first class sources, all guaranteed and warrantied, please.

 

It is no longer good enough to wheel out the same old project tropes, while advancing technology allows us to broaden our horizons. We live in a world of potential, where we can rip up the old design guides and get stuck into some really inventive solutions.

 

  • The LED revolution has concluded, prices are falling and the industry's attention is turning to the digital world, to the internet of things and smart cities. Lux's curated and timely Lighting Fixture Design conference will help lighting industry professionals to map out a strategy for the new digital lighting world and help them to take advantage of the changing scene. The event will take place in London on the 21 - 22 of February 2017 at the Cavendish Centre . You can find out more about the event here and you can register to attend by clicking here.

 

Comments 5

For a while architects and designers lamented the fact that LED light fittings were simply conventional designs in which the axial or linear lamp was replaced with a PC board and LED sources. We may be at the tipping point where truly bespoke fixtures exhibiting effects only achievable utilizing SSLs become the norm. There will be a long-enduring market for historical decorative references but that is an separate discussion that may include LED retrofit lamps. Building on James Benya's comment about low-voltage power supplies I believe we are also nearing a tipping point (some prefer inflection point) in the discussion and actual incorporation of a secondary building "grid" for the now relatively light loads of lighting. We'll keep the mains voltages for the jobs requiring "heaving lifting" like motors, heating, etc. Just three years ago some in these blogs stated that a separate low-voltage lighting network in a residence was lunacy. We've had telephone and co-ax cable for decades so I never could understand that strong POV. Now PoE for commercial is a hot topic and it will inevitably filter into residential. The result: sources that become more and more invisible, mountable in difficult spaces, lighting effects that mimic nature (as stated), entertaining /theatrical solutions, and the ability for both commercial and residential users to swap out the "guts" of fixtures/controls with little or no professional assistance as technologies evolve. Noticing the rapid rise of suppliers that will provide the PCB/COB/PS and heat sinks in a myriad of configurations with rapid delivery (with even stock or bespoke secondary optics) I sense that we might even have a small regression to what was called "cottage industry" in which architects, interior designers, and lighting designers can customize designs and have them made by local shops. Small quantities, fast turnover. Agency listings would be a consideration. This will further drive the experimentation in and integration of new lighting solutions produced locally or regionally. Customization in space design has a strong allure. For larger national accounts and stocking programs the larger players will always have the lead. The customization I am talking about will only make a small dent in the major players' sales but would have its greatest impact by provoking, driving and proving the "What Ifs?" of tomorrow. Therefore yes, new technology will change (free up) lighting designers' thinking.

LED gives us an opportunity for considerable design enhancements as long as we manage its implementation. It's a great tech and when it's designed well its awesome. I am a huge fan of the likes of John Cullen they get that less it more with LED and ambience is a fundamental key to great delivery

New technology is definitely changing the way lighting designers are approaching their projects. It's the projects where lighting designers or consultants are not being hired that will be negatively affected. Electrical engineers have too many other irons the fire to keep up with the technology advances.

Good question, John. I think the phrase to which you allude is embedded and integrated lighting. Putting light in attractive and functional places has long been a challenge due to heat and cost. Now with low voltage solid state lighting, lights can be placed into displays, shelves, coves, slots, slits, floors, concrete, fabrics - in short, in just about any useful or artful nook or cranny or surface. Conventional lighting is also made better and allow for more product design freedom due to less heat, less power, lower voltage, and other freedoms. The problem is that the recessed ceiling boxes (we call them troffers in the USA) evolved because they solved a fundamental problem of producing a lot of light inexpensively - and LED's make them more efficient and still inexpensive. So at the low cost point we will persist in solutions, albeit more efficient ones, that we've ensured for decades. But if we are allowed to actually DESIGN lighting, we can do that better thanks to LEDs. Embedded lighting is the biggest difference for me, so far.

you are correct, I think we often don't connect the way we approach designing a lighting scheme with the influences of the tech offered, but its happening all the time. Almost everyone can produce a bespoke light or light effect.........the challenge will continue to be 'making it actually work' and knowing it will dim and be reliable?

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