The changing role of the Lighting Designer - Casambi


Today, no one is arguing that the lighting industry has gone through a major transformation. Technology-wise we have gone from chemistry and physics into electronics and digital, and what used to be an industry dominated by a few giants but we now have a massive number of players in changing and challenging the industry daily.



The changing role of the lighting designer

One of the roles that have gone through its own transformation is the role of the lighting designer. From being the creative and artistic lead with no voice in the technical area to being the glue that makes a project come together, the role has drastically changed over the past few years. The competencies and requirements today are not only in the visual and design areas but also in the technical field where controls, automation, and wireless need to be understood and designed into a project from the very beginning.

As lighting design itself becomes more and more entangled in the technology, and as human-centric lighting takes the lead in future projects, the responsibility on the lighting designer is not only on the visual but on the function as well. The right lighting experience requires the right controls, and that also requires an understanding of the enabling systems.

One person who’s seen and met these changes is Johanna Glans. She is responsible for the Lighting Design program at Jönköping University.

” Nowadays, a good knowledge of different control systems and their functions is important to offer additional functions to a lighting project. Our students work with products as their tools to create good light environments. Today the products offer many possibilities and functions and as a designer, you need to know where and when to choose what. Communication with the installer and the programmer is important to find a good collaboration and reach the vision for the project. Additionally, an understanding of the product’s functions and limitations is needed to do good planning and understand the possibilities and deliver good quality.” – Johanna Glans.



Another person who has met the same challenges, and even design an education to specifically target these topics, is Kim Nyström who heads the program Belysningsprojektör (Lighting project management) at Stockholm Technical Institute. The program was designed specifically to tackle the gap that has arisen in the lighting industry.

” In recent years, we have seen a change in the industry where technology has become an important tool that Lighting Planners can use to realize more complex installations and be able to achieve better results. At the same time, new technologies help to simplify the use of buildings and areas for the user. The changing of lumen output and color temperatures in collaboration with circadian rhythm can now be controlled in a simple way and provides new opportunities to positively influence the user on a physiological level. As these techniques become increasingly important, the role of the Lighting Planner also becomes increasingly important in the construction process.” – Kim Nyström

Reference: What does a lighting designer do?



Ms Toh Yah Li, 39, is one of the few certified lighting designers in the world. She is also a professional member of the International Association of Lighting Designers and is the coordinator for Southeast Asia. In 2019, she was also named one of 40 under 40 at the Lighting Design Awards in London, which recognises the world’s most talented lighting designers.

She always wanted to be an architect, but after graduating from architecture school at National University of Singapore, she changed course after realising that building design was more about efficiency than designing spaces for people. “Light is the fourth dimension and the soul of a space. It was missing in architecture, which is why I wanted to pursue lighting design.” At 22, she left for Germany to pursue a Master of Arts in architectural lighting design, and her career direction was set

What does a lighting designer do? Don’t you just ensure that a building or space is sufficiently lit up?

There is a common misunderstanding that lighting designers like myself design lights and chandeliers or that I simply pick out lights for a project. Anyone can pick out light fixtures but not everyone can design a luminous concept, which is the role of a lighting designer.

Lighting design is about painting or filling up spaces with layers that allow people to feel something more. Light can make you want to linger on or make you leave a place sooner. It’s not about making a space look brighter or the idea that the more lights there are, the better.

For example, we did the lighting for habitat by honestbee. It is the first supermarket cum experience centre and you can feel the sense of space and you want to hang out there.This feeling is created without the lighting fixtures being obvious. For the Singapore Buddhist Lodge, I designed five layers of light to fill the main hall. It brings the temple to life, creating different moods rather than illuminating the space with floodlights.

What challenges do you face as a lighting designer?

I have to convince clients why they need a lighting designer. There’s a misconception that the value of lighting is low since it is intangible. But lighting can bring up the value of good design, help with branding, help a shop sell more goods and make an office more productive, among other benefits.

I seek meaningful collaborations with clients, architects and interior designers. But it’s not always possible because not every collaborator is open to my lighting ideas. There are times we get hired too late and we end up having to rectify jobs which can be costly. In Singapore there are fewer than 30 lighting design practices and only a small percentage are Singaporean firms so people might not take a local firm seriously. There are no lighting design courses in Singapore, so people think that lighting designers are not skillful.



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