There are many ways in which an individual can arrive at the practice of lighting design. For some it is borne out of architectural study and training. For others it is an engineering path, and yet still there are those individuals who discover lighting through artistic pursuits. The question then is, whether through formal academic means or individual inquiries, how do you educate for lighting? How do you prepare and train someone to practice lighting design?

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The answer to this question lies in a clear understanding of the knowledge and values that should be instilled in an individual in order to be an appropriately informed practitioner. These should include technical awareness as well as a deep understanding of human physiology in addition to social, cultural, historical, and philosophical references. Given the challenges that are confronted daily in our practice, I believe it is very difficult for an individual to contribute meaningfully to the field without having a formal and sustentative education that specifically addresses the richness bound within these complexities. If our profession is to evolve in a manner that gains respect and has social contribution parallel to other professional and creative fields, such as the sciences, medicine, law, architecture, and fine arts, we have to set our goals beyond a daily vocational practice that lighting design largely has been since its inception.

I believe we currently are experiencing a unique moment in our young profession's evolution and an extraordinary opportunity to positively catalyze our future if careful decisions are made now regarding education. The demand for lighting specialists is blossoming; architectural design is more and more complex as technology advances; social awareness and interest in human health factors is on the rise; the incorporation of daylighting and other sustainable design practices is growing; and the imminent day of energy regulation has arrived. These topics, along with others, are isolating a series of issues surrounding light and lighting that cannot be appropriately addressed by generalized practitioners. The sheer need for specificity in practice today is propelling our profession forward in an unprecedented manner. If we choose to embrace this opportunity, we can instill our profession's presence in the eyes of partnering creative fields as well as the general public.

As we prepare our future practitioners for this deep involvement, we need to ensure our academic programs are structured appropriately and offer knowledge and skills to not only analyze and execute complex design problems but also engage in intellectual discourse that scrutinizes this practice, ensuring nimbleness and continuation of progressive thinking. In my opinion, the following are educational components that must be incorporated in any formal academic study in lighting design as a minimum base-level standard. I hope in the future we can formalize consistent standards between institutions to ensure graduates will have a common fundamental knowledge of light, lighting, and its greater impact on society.

  • Technical understanding – for daylight and electric lighting systems. This should include building fenestration, orientation, shading, site analysis, electric light source types and their historical evolution, optics, hardware, calculation methods, light distribution, reflectance, color, etc.
  • Human factors – how our physiology and psychology are impacted by light. This should include an anatomical understanding of the body and its response to varying conditions, vision, perception, and other related sensorial topics.
  • History – involving light and architecture through the ages, including daylight, fire, electric light and unique social and cultural influences, changes in work/sleep patterns, notions of surveillance, personal security, travel, etc.
  • Studio basis – future practitioners must have exposure to a studio-based working process where they explore theories and the relationship of ideas to special site-related circumstances. This is conducted through physical model-making, mock-ups and computer analysis involving diagrams, imagery, and quantifiable analysis that results in formal presentations and critical review by a jury of experts. Seminar-based course work alone is not enough.
  • Scholarship – design problems should be wedded to a deep investigation of the site, its use, social/cultural relationships, and urban/ suburban/nature presence to form theories associated with these relationships, and unique circumstances. This may involve the research or examination of an actual physical place as well as its history and evolution through time. Only then can a meaningful design solution integrate in a manner intrinsic to these unique qualities and truly enhance human presence and values.



Lighting design is a process of informed decision making. Successful lighting designers work on a variety of projects that have different budgets, timelines, space types, team members, and visual objectives. Every project is a custom project. Successful designers are able to define the problem in front of them. And once the problem is defined, they have a method for developing solutions that address the project-specific criteria, challenges, opportunities, constraints, and client expectations. A deep grounding and understanding of the design process is central in preparing students to become professionals.

We know that lighting designers come from different backgrounds, including theater, interior design, architecture, and engineering. Each discipline will vary in the specifics of the design process, but there is one characteristic shared by all: A good process encourages exploration of design alternatives by emphasizing divergent thinking and creative solutions. A typical architectural project begins with programming, and advances through schematic design, design development, construction documentation, bidding and negotiation, construction, and finally post-occupancy evaluation. Poor decisions made at any link in this chain will propagate and diminish the likelihood of achieving a high-quality end product. It follows that, in addition to a deep understanding of the design process itself, professional lighting designers have the education and experience to make good decisions at each step. Effective lighting education requires a learning environ ment where students are compelled to develop their aesthetic and technical skills, which are needed to make good decisions at all stages from design through occupancy.

People with different backgrounds may be informed by different tools when making design decisions. A person with a background in theater may prefer to evaluate design alternatives using mock-ups. An engineer may be more comfortable building computer models. An architect may prefer to refine ideas through model building or by sketching with pencil and paper. These are all valid ways to gather information, make informed decisions, and work toward a solution. All of these methods lead to construction documents and product specifications. A good process, supported by the education and skill to make sound decisions, reduces the uncertainty in lighting design solutions and is the most likely path to repeated success.