The lighting community has just completed another trade show season. But, while all of us were busily networking and checking out new product introductions, I couldn’t help but wonder: As the industry evolves to keep pace with changing technologies, do our trade shows and conferences need to follow suit? The question has been on my mind since Lightfair 2015 in New York, where I acutely felt a changing of the guard, so to speak. The shift in the industry was clear, in both business and technology. It was evident in conversations with other attendees, but not in the presentation of products.

Today, lighting is more than a source and a fixture; it’s a complex set of tools and applications that use lamps and luminaires as delivery vehicles. With the Internet of Things working its way into lighting, much of what is developing now is about functionality, control, and data gathering. It’s not all about a new shape or finish; that’s the old way that products debuted. Now, you need to view the luminaire in action, often as part of a larger system, to see what it’s really capable of.

So it was with great interest that I started the grand trade-show tour this spring: in March, Light+Building in Frankfurt and LEDucation in New York, then on to Lightfair 2016 in San Diego in April. These three events showcase the industry’s diversity and the importance of different types of venues and experiences for attendees. There is no one right or wrong format. If anything, the different scale of each show provides the lighting community with an abundance of choice. From an elaborately fitted-out, 1,600-square-foot stand to a simple skirted tabletop along a hallway, every presentation style and attendee experience has its own value.

No matter the level of spectacle involved, the manufacturer displays still fundamentally revolve around presenting the products as objects. I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a new type of format that would better showcase the complexity of today’s lighting tools?

For example, what if displays incorporated more project vignettes? Lighting showcases could be created using environments in which different manufacturers could install their products. For instance, in an office mock-up, you could have a downlight from one company, a direct/indirect fixture from another, lighting controls from another, and so on. Designers could walk through these installations and see the lighting in action. Then they could follow up at a particular manufacturer’s stand. This would be particularly welcome for outdoor lighting fixtures, which can never be installed at the proper mounting height or operated at full power in a trade show booth.

And then there’s virtual reality. Social media has been a big help in the marketing of products, but what if one could attend a trade show as a virtual attendee? Not everyone can get to every show, but virtual reality platforms can allow lighting designers to interact with manufacturers remotely, and in real time.

Whether the interaction is in person or online, the fundamental challenge remains: How do you connect with industry colleagues to create a meaningful and informative experience, from which you can take usable information?

Change is difficult, especially when you’re used to doing things a certain way. But it would be a shame if the lighting community didn’t investigate the opportunities associated with new presentation formats, digital tools, and exhibition designs. Lighting technology has evolved; there’s no reason why its trade shows shouldn’t also. •

Elizabeth Donoff