What constitutes professional qualifications? How does a lighting designer define their work? These are two important questions that have come up in a number of conversations I have had with individuals in the lighting design industry. Recently, I have noticed several situations in which lighting design is either being omitted or limited in discussions. Consequently, questions regarding the importance of lighting qualifications have come up.
The three items that come to mind are the Solar Decathlon's deletion of lighting as a separate contest for its 2011 program (“2011 Solar Decathlon Competition Changes Eliminate Lighting Sub-Competition,” page 12), the issue of having to charge sales tax in New York state (“A Taxing Situation: New York Lighting Designers Confront Sales Tax issue,” page 12), and the situation that surrounded the Texas House Bill 2649 in May 2009 (“A Rude Awakening,” June 2009, page 8).
It seems apparent that governmental bureaucracies and legislatures do not regard lighting design as a distinctive profession. Also, the scope of lighting design services is not very well understood. As we covered in June 2009, the debate surrounding the Texas House Bill 2649 showed that it was all too easy for a politician to use licensing as the determining factor as to whether someone is permitted to practice lighting design in the state of Texas.
Now, the lighting community has been reminded of a sales tax issue that only affects lighting designers in New York state. Had it not been for the audit of a lighting colleague, other New York–based lighting designers might have been caught off guard and faced a similar and unpleasant process dealing with tax officials. (Thankfully, the situation was successfully resolved, but it is troubling nonetheless.) Lighting designers can remain within the bounds of the law in New York state by charging sales tax and filing for a Certificate of Authority, but the situation revealed that New York state interprets lighting design services as an interior design service. Despite efforts to explain to the state tax authorities exactly what a lighting designer does and why this scope of work is not, and should not be, treated as an optional element, the tax authority still groups lighting design under interior design services.
These three scenarios highlight two core issues that need to be addressed. The first is that the lighting design community needs to better promote awareness about itself as a profession and the value of its services. The second is that the community needs to establish a credentialing system.
Not only is establishing credentials for lighting designers necessary to prevent future legal misinterpretations of the role of the lighting designer and lighting design services, it also will help the design community define the nature of its work. And by credentialing, I do not meant licensing. Credentialing would be a way to define the skill set, the technical expertise, and the value of insight and experience that a lighting designer brings to a project. The Lighting Certified (LC) designation, which is achieved by successfully completing the National Council on Qualifications for Lighting Professionals (NCQLP) exam, was an attempt to address this need for credentialing. But everyone has now had the opportunity to take the NCQLP exam, and there is nothing about the LC designation that distinguishes a lighting designer from someone who is working in manufacturing or in sales.
What then are the tangible criteria that distinguish a lighting designer's work? Most lighting designers cannot quite put their finger on what makes the profession distinctive, although one of the most commonly cited aspects is that a lighting designer is independent, meaning they are not beholden to any one specific entity.
So how would the criteria for this credentialing be determined? Some of the individuals I have spoken with have suggested that the criteria for IALD professional-level membership could be used as a guide because it is rigorous. Perhaps, but it would be a mistake for any one professional association to become the administrator of such a credentialing system; that should be left to an independent body. Word has it the IALD is forming a task force to look into the credentialing issue. But the writing is on the wall: To safegauard the profession, a credentialing system for lighting designers must be established.