Note: This article appeared as part of the 2003 Hall of Fame series.
It's one thing for a lighting designer to know how to measure light; it's another to know why that measurement is important. That is the driving force behind Naomi Johnson Miller's goal to get the word out about the importance of human factors in lighting design. “It is absolutely essential to understand the 'people' side in order for us to do our job properly”, she said. “We also have to use both sides of our brain in the design process. We need to know what makes a design work both visually and technically.”
As the principal of her eponymous lighting design firm in Troy, NY, Naomi Johnson Miller has made great strides in the areas of lighting quality, human factors and energy efficiency, to name only a few. Her design experience runs the gamut from her 20 years in the industry working for an architectural firm, an electrical engineer, a lighting manufacturer, a research institution and even as a partner at two lighting design firms in San Francisco. She chaired the Illuminating Engineering Society's Quality of the Visual Environment committee for eight years and is a Fellow of the IESNA and a professional member of the IALD.
Her passion for lighting education was stimulated by her experience directing the lighting case study program DELTA at Rensselaer's Lighting Research Center. She was able to observe and document lighting installations in use and communicate through the publications which lighting techniques worked well and which didn't. She also believes it is important to teach architects, engineers, interior designers and end users about the importance of lighting, and this is evidenced by various lighting courses she teaches each year. Well educated herself-a B.S. in architectural design from MIT and an M.S. in Lighting from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)-Miller believes it is especially important for lighting designers to continue learning about technology, sustainability issues and human factors research results, because architectural lighting designs today impact users for decades into the future.
According to Miller, human factors are how all people respond to the presence or absence of light. “Light affects us both psychologically and physiologically,” she said. “Psychologically, the lighted environment affects our moods, attitudes and responses. Physiologically, light is an essential ingredient for vision and visibility. Also, light affects our circadian rhythms, our ability to sleep, to remain healthy, and is vital for good immunological health.”
In her efforts to get the point across, Miller is actively involved in teaching architectural students the importance of human factors in lighting. Currently, she is teaching architects at RPI and Cornell University. “Hopefully, it becomes obvious to them that there is more to good lighting design that laying out circles in a plan,” she said. “The students who are listening know they need to learn more.”
Miller says that the future of lighting education is going to be more focused on sustainability and environmentally friendly lighting. “It's rather disappointing to see how little sustainability is stressed in education for architects,” she said. “They need to learn much more about energy and efficiency and the impact of architectural products so they can create healthy buildings and minimize long-term environmental damage.”
According to Miller, an abundance of natural light is a key prescription for making a building healthy. “Daylighting can help us get the spectrum we need,” she said. “It enhances physical well-being, has great color-rendering properties, and it reduces lighting use during peak demand hours.” Along with stressing the importance of more daylight within buildings, Miller feels that controls are also critical in keeping down the energy burden: Occupancy sensors, daylighting controls and timeclock systems help to keep energy use to a minimum.
Miller doesn't just espouse her views in the classroom; she also uses her knowledge base in her lighting practice. “I can count on one hand-maybe on just a couple of fingers-the number of jobs where I've used all incandescent lighting. And those were extraordinary circumstances,” she said. “Even in my own home, I worked hard to put in lighting systems that aren't traditional. It's a way for me to show that fluorescent lighting can be used in an appealing way. I want people to say, 'Oh that's great lighting,' not 'Oh that's great for fluorescent lighting.'”
Miller is quick to add that she doesn't only use fluorescent lighting. “There are halogen sources that do what no fluorescent sources can do,” she said. “Halogen is ideal for display lighting and for getting the right effects for minimal wattage in some applications.”
While some in the profession may have balked at the NCQLP's Lighting Certification program, Miller feels that it was one of the best things to happen to the lighting design field. “It really nudged us to learn more about the field we practice,” she said. “There are groups (in the lighting design world) who are conscious they need continuing education and there are those who think they already know everything. I, personally, am constantly going through the educational process from reading articles to learning about new technologies to picking my colleagues' brains. It's unfathomable that anyone would think they don't need additional information.”