Although lighting design considers itself a profession, it does not have an education system or professional work path that leads to licensure, as does architecture or engineering. The issue of a recognizable qualification that speaks to what distinguishes a lighting practitioner is one that the lighting community has struggled with since the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD) was first established in 1969.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the debate over this issue led to the creation of the National Council on Qualifications for the Lighting Professions (NCQLP) exam. Established in 1991 to create a testing format that would acknowledge an individual’s baseline competency to practice lighting, successful completion of the exam leads to the title of Lighting Certified (LC) to be used after one’s name. Although the exam was originally conceived with the intent to provide lighting designers with a way to distinguish themselves and their design skills, the program was not able to successfully monitor candidates and prevent those in the employ of lighting manufacturers from taking the exam. This has become a serious sticking point for the lighting design community, especially when it comes to the discussion around who can, and cannot, offer design services. As a result, lighting designers have questioned the meaningfulness of the designation. On average, about 300 people a year take the NCQLP exam and more than 2,500 people have passed it as of the end of 2015.
When the Texas House Bill 2649 incident occurred in May 2009 it was a harsh reminder that the lighting profession still had not successfully established a qualification system that could withstand the pressures of legislative embroilments. In 2010, under the organizational guidance of the IALD, with input from the Professional Lighting Designers’ Association (which disbanded in 2014), a task force was formed to explore the issues surrounding the establishment of a credentialing system and the process that it would entail. Chaired by Australian lighting designer David Becker, the six-person task force engaged in a thorough and lengthy multi-year process which led to the establishment of the Certified Lighting Design (CLD) program, which debuted in 2015. Seeking the CLD credential does not require an exam but rather an evidence-based assessment process by which applicants, who must first have completed three years’ professional work experience, must prove their competency in five of seven different areas, or “domains of practice.” To date, 20 lighting designers have completed the program and received the CLD designation, while many more are currently going through the review process.
While many see the CLD credential as a step in the right direction, the lighting design community still struggles with a fundamental problem: design colleagues and clients do not equate “IALD” after one’s name as meaning lighting designer and being a member of the International Association of Lighting Designers, the main professional body representing the lighting design community, the way that they recognize “AIA” and know that the individual is a member of the American Institute of Architects and working in the architecture profession. That is the issue lighting designers must overcome as the profession heads into the next decade.