With a family history in lighting that stretches across five generations, John Tremaine is both a steward of the past and a navigator of the future. An entrepreneurial spirit has always been the hallmark of this American lighting dynasty, which dates back to 1889 when Tremaine's great-grandfather, recognizing the difficulty in transporting the newly invented—and fragile—incandescent lamp, saw the potential in forming a consortium of lamp manufacturers in every city. The result was his creation of the National Electric Lamp Association (NELA) in Cleveland, which would later become GE's lamp division and home to its corporate campus, Nela Park, that is still in use today.
Like his great-grandfather, grandfather, and father before him, curiosity and desire to solve lighting problems is in Tremaine's DNA. Working as a lighting designer in the late 1980s, he could not find a sufficient transformer to work with low-voltage lighting, so he created his own power supply. The result was not only a new transformer, but a new company—Q-Tran. And the company has continued to innovate with the 2008 release of its Q-Scape exterior direct burial transformers. Not one to rest on his laurels, Tremaine is always in search of the next lighting puzzle—and inventive solution.
What criteria do you consider when designing a product?
To provide all the features a designer would want to see, but also to think about the installer and the client. When you can combine features and pare them down to their essentials, that's when the elegance of a design emerges.
What motivates you to think at this level of detail?
As much as I enjoy lighting design, product design is really my great love. It requires a certain amount of obsession and passion where you can't let go of it until you know its perfect.
What is the “signature” of a good product?
A product should be honest in its approach and communicate what it is supposed to do. It should “talk” to the user, whoever that may be.
What challenges does product design face in this economy?
The pressure to get things to market. As a private company we have the ability to set our own timeline. This enables us to see things through in a way that reflects our company culture and approach to design. We'd rather get it right, than rush something to market.
What still excites you about lighting?
The way it evolves with technology. There are so many different segments in the industry that push and pull lighting to new levels.