Shaping human experience through light

The lighting industry is incestuous, tumultuous, fickle and I love it. These are not inherently bad traits. I rarely hear people say they are bored and that our industry is too stagnant. I think anyone who works in this industry will agree that we do things a little differently than most product/design driven industries. Granted, I can only speak from my own experience, but here is how I see it.

I have only met a handful of people who studied or trained specifically to enter the lighting industry. This is a really amazing thing. It means that most people who work as designers, reps, distributors, contractors, etc. come to the trade from another path. This is the definition of professional diversity. This diversity does not happen anywhere near the same level in architecture, engineering, law, the medical profession and so on. We are unique. Feel free to put that in air quotes. So what does this uniqueness buy us?

Well, we, as a profession, have the power to shape human experience. Do not take this power lightly for with it comes great responsibility. From the designer who paints the first light map for an owner to the facilities engineer who curses the inexplicable failure of a lamp then works diligently to replace it, we all make up a component in a chain that drives how people interact visually with space, other people and the environment. If this was not important, we would not have professional designers. Light shapes space. If you are an electrical contractor installing a light fixture, you are impacting a person’s perception of that space. You are enabling them to see. If you are a distributor ensuring a fixture makes it to a job site with the proper color temperature, CRI and finish, you are shaping human perception. And if we all do our jobs to the best of our abilities, we can make real a vision conceived by another human being.

This blows my mind! We translate electrical impulses in the brain of one person (or a group of people) to matter, photons, emotion and the ability for another brain to “see” the result of those original electrical impulses through the built and physical environment. The irony that we use electricity and photons to do this is, not lost on me.

Now, if we all thought alike, studied the same rote texts, learned the same way to calculate and draw a space, we may live in a very different world. Praise the sages we don’t. We all bring different perspectives, expertise, knowledge and experience to the table. However, like a Kandinsky painting, if you only look at one section and one perspective, you will miss the meaning and larger experience. I bring my own experiences, knowledge and expertise to the projects I work on, but this is the lens and perspective I see from. That is not to say I believe all ideas have equal value. Let’s face it, there are bad ideas out there, but our jobs…no, our responsibility is to select and advance those ideas that better the human condition, protect our planet and still allow us to be profitable. This is the triple bottom line that we should not deviate from.

So, what is the point of these ramblings? Value what you do and bring value to what you work on. I am excited that our section of the IES is starting a blog. I look forward to becoming more familiar with the perspectives of the other parts in this chain. It can only help to make it stronger.

*Credit: Zach Suchara, AIA, LEED AP
Zach is the Director of Design at Luma Lighting Design (PAE's lighting division) and an Associate Principal with nearly 20 years experience in architecture and lighting design. *