Where are all the new classic luminaires? Has lighting run out of ideas?

For Lux’s sister publication, Lighting magazine, we recently compiled a list of the 40 greatest designs of all time. Simply because, these lists are fun to write and fun to read. The editorial team considered hundreds of classic luminaires and after much debate and argument in the office came up with the list of the ones that we believe will stand the test of time.

I defy you to name five truly original ideas from the lighting industry in the last decade”

It was only after the list had been written up and laid out that we realised that we hadn’t included many light fittings from recent years. In fact, I checked and discovered that we had included just one from the last decade: the Caravaggio pendant from Lightyears. 

You may not be familiar with it, but you’ve certainly seen it in a hundred cafes and shops even if you don’t know its name. It’s an instant classic, and it well deserves its inclusion. But it’s an elegant and clever design, not really a technological advance.


Original ideas
So where are the big innovations of recent years? I defy you to name five truly original ideas from the lighting industry in the last decade. 

OK, I’ve got one: the CoeLux artificial skylight. It’s certainly the most groundbreaking product I’ve seen this millennium. Others appear to agree; our video of the product has accumulated over a million views on YouTube

But here’s the thing. CoeLux was developed in an Italian university by a professor who was interested in whether we could replicate Rayleigh scattering – the phenomenon that makes the sky blue – in the lab using nanotechnology. He’s from outside the industry. So, in my view, it doesn’t count. Next!

OK, there’s been some special stuff from iGuzzini recently which have won a couple of Lux Awards: the Laser Blade linear fitting which gives a circular beam distribution, and the Trick, which emits a 360-degree beam of light and which everyone seems to love. Then there’s the Belgian firm Kinetura, whose luminaires actually change physical shape as well as light distribution. 

But let’s face facts. Groundbreaking stuff has been a bit thin on the ground. Especially when you compare what’s happening in other industries. Think of the sophistication of modern cars, smartphones, computers and music. In the lighting industry, we’ve just got rid of the incandescent light bulb. After, oh let me see, 136 years. And that has been a battle – because customers think we’ve nothing decent to replace it!


A golden age?
The advent of LEDs should have unleashed a golden age of design but it’s been a big disappointment. In theory, you’d expect the size and controllability of the light source to lead to a whole new generation of awesome products, but no. 

Steve Jobs is on record as saying that people over thirty develop tram-track thinking that inhibits true invention. Of course, like a lot of the utterances of this undeniable genius, the statement doesn’t stand up to scrutiny (Leonardo, anyone?). But hey, you get where he’s coming from. 

If we in the industry don’t step up, then your Apples and your Googles (both of whom have people working on lighting projects by the way!) will come in and do our innovation for us. 

That would be terrible wouldn’t it? We’d be like the school on special measures which has a know-it-all headteacher from the local Ofsted ‘outstanding’ school parachuted in to ‘advise’ us on where we are going wrong. 

Personally, I believe we have talent and the technology to do it ourselves. I want the future to be shaped by the great brands and companies in the lighting sector. I have hopes that a new generation of product designers and R&D guys, who are entering the lighting business without any baggage of the traditional technology, will point the way.

Let’s get to work.

Comments 3

Great article and well I am trying! www.twistlit.net more designs and installs will be on the site in a slide show asap. I really enjoy creating new designs using leds and am finding much interest in my work. Leds are still expensive and I am finding consumers expect made in china low prices with unique Australian made and designed lights, it takes time..

I kind of agree with Jon , however I am not so much 9n a hurry to blame the consumer here. I think the problem is more with the larger manufacturers, those that have the money for development. We do see the odd new thing presented as a technology demonstrator but the end products never appear in the market. Basically the numbers people, accountants and managers want certainty so they make what they have sold before in quantity and bodge the new light source into it. This conservatism has resulted in a market saturated with LED linear and LED downlight fittings largely identical to CFL and Linear fluorescent offerings of 20 years ago. The new form factor of the LED just is not being used to create something different. Buildings that they are integrated with also don't change, we still have 600 X 600 ceiling tiles as the lowest common denominator cheap ceiling. Really not enough is being spent on lighting or on building interior finishes to allow really innovative design and thinking. The big manufacturers also ned to free up thinking and take some more risks to bring life back into the market Kevan Shaw

Great article, but I think it has a lot more to do with acceptance of these new designs. A great product in today's lighting industry is a product that sells and not that pushes modern design which leads to people to continue with more conservative designs. I have tons of concepts of products that could push the industry into a different realm but until the consumers deem these products acceptable, they will stay on the backburner. Luminaires are slowly becoming one of the popping elements to architectural sites and that's why I love my job. Changing the mood and feel for human kind.

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