The lighting world’s lingua franca has shifted from hardware to software, requiring its controls to offer simpler interfaces that pare down the complex, cloud-based web of technology that keeps the lights on. Incentives for energy management and a user’s willingness to adapt are driving innovation. As a result, individuals can personalize their environments while facility managers moderate a building’s lighting activity, fixture by fixture.

“User interfaces are ways to say, ‘That’s usually what happens, but right now this situation is different,’ ” says Evan Ackmann, Crestron’s technology manager for lighting control and energy management. “If I walk into a room that’s scheduled for a video conference … but that changes at the last minute and no one’s going to call in, I may hit a button on the wall that changes what happens in that space.”

The same is true for residential projects. Vantage Controls’ Equinox 4 LCD keypad lets a user control the lighting and eight other non-lighting scenes, such as the HVAC and home entertainment systems. Settings can be customized based on the preferences of different users or for a particular activity. Day-to-day functionality lives on a touchscreen dashboard, and users can navigate down one level to adjust the settings. “One of the advantages we have today is that people are used to using smartphone technology,” says Andrew Wale, Vantage Controls’ vice president of marketing. “It’s not alien to them to press on an app and open it up, get inside it, get back to the settings, and customize things.”

Eric Lind, vice president of global specifications at Lutron Electronics, says that product designers must consider three factors when developing the physical interface: aesthetics, ergonomics, and intuition. That is, the control interface must meld with a room’s decor, its controls must be right-sized and tactile, and the functionality must make sense to newcomers. Whether users swipe, turn, flip, or press a button, switch, or dial to activate a command depends on the functions that the interface controls.

The desire to manage energy consumption in residential and commercial settings is driving the use of centralized systems that rely on conditional logic which change settings to produce efficient outcomes. Still, Lind says: “It doesn’t buy you much if you build in too much complexity. … You want this kind of intelligence to happen behind the scenes so when you press the button that says ‘on,’ it doesn’t matter what time of day it is: It’s always going to come on to the right preset level.”