As LEDs become the predominant light source in the industry’s arsenal of product offerings, the rate at which the technology is advancing shows no signs of slowing. What that means for lighting designers and lighting manufacturers alike is a continued level of anxiety and frustration in keeping up with the latest technical information and LED component compatibility issues. This frustration was palpable at LEDucation, the solid-state lighting (SSL) product expo and seminar series held at the beginning of March in New York City.

The complexity of keeping up with SSL has never been greater. The challenge continues to be to what extent does the lighting designer need to be a technology expert? Does a lighting designer really need to know about the intricacies of binning, where an LED sits on the blackbody curve, or whether or not its tolerance lies within a two-step or a three-step MacAdam ellipse? More importantly, does this type of technical information and the questions that go with it move the focus of the designer–manufacturer dialogue away from where it should be—on lighting design solutions?

Over the past several years, as the industry has adopted these new sources and figured out how to update best practices to coordinate with the technical specifics of SSL, a number of checklists have emerged in an effort to aid designers in evaluating different product lines. This has been a helpful start, but as highlighted by one of the LEDucation seminar sessions (“Focusing on the Problems with the Execution of Integrating LEDs into the Built Environment”), those initial metrics—such as lumens per watt, and LM-79 and LM-80 compliance—are no longer sufficient. Rather, designers require a more specific set of metrics that get closer to key performance issues of concern such as color range and stability, and controllability and ease of dimming without inducing flicker. (As a quick aside, the industry also needs to come to consensus on the topic of flicker and establish a separate set of metrics for this condition.)

To their credit, lighting designers have arrived at this heightened point of technical awareness because they have spent the past decade educating themselves about SSL products and learning, often painfully in real project time, by trial and error what can go right and what can go wrong when specifying them.

In the LEDucation seminar session mentioned—which included lighting designers Brooke Silber of Jan & Brooke Luminae, Paul Gregory of Focus Lighting, and Jim Benya of Benya Burnett Consultancy, as well as lighting manufacturer Gary Trott of Cree—the panelists highlighted the challenges that designers face on a daily basis in understanding how to both specify LED products and communicate to clients the risks involved with using an emerging technology. Benya suggested that field-measurable metrics such as candlepower, correlated color temperature, CRI, R9 values, flicker, and beam spread are some of the more useful criteria by which to test and gauge product performance.

Beyond metrics, the designer’s responsibility is also changing. At the same seminar, panelist Gregory noted that it’s more important than ever for the designer to test what they are specifying, and that if the manufacturer cannot provide data and a sample then the designer is obligated to inform the owner or client that untested products are part of the specification.

This additional complexity in the designer–client relationship changes the nature of accountability and the contractual process. It opens room for debate about where responsibility lies when problems arise with a source or a fixture. Does it fall to the designer? The manufacturer? The component manufacture? The chip producer? At this time, we don’t have a clear answer.

Reliable, validated, easily accessible products and product literature is a key to this discussion, as is a manufacturing community that stands behind its products. What’s at risk is not just the adoption of a new technology, but the loss of the designer’s time focusing on their main work: lighting design.

Elizabeth Donoff, Editor-in-Chief