Where Are We Now?
Suzan Tillotson, President
Tillotson Design Associates,

Suzan Headshot

In response to recent events raising questions around the visibility of the architectural lighting design industry, illumni + Monica Llamas asked some the world’s top lighting practitioners how they feel the industry is perceived today both by peers in the wider design community and the public and what needs to be done in future to progress the way lighting designers’ contributions to architecture, wellbeing, the environment and more can be better appreciated. The answers are very thought provoking. 

To what extent do you think architectural lighting design is understood as a profession and valued by our collaborative partner industries and the wider community today? (e.g. architects, clients, government, urban planners)?

There is a lot more awareness of our profession today than when I entered the industry 35 years ago, back then we weren’t even listed in any RFP’s. We were invisible collaborators, often just sitting and sketching with the few architects that understood our value. I think there is still a very long way to go. We do now have a “seat at the table” for most RFQ’s where the project is noteworthy or important, “lighting designer “ is actually listed as a required consultant. I can remember being so proud when that first started to happen.

How often do you find yourself educating new clients and design partners about the role of lighting designers and advocating the value of lighting design (e.g. scope of brief, timing of being brought into design conversations)?

Not that often, since our projects tend to be high profile, and most of our clients are repeat clients, or talented architects, they already know the value of our contributions. We do however, spend a lot of time justifying the value of the lighting systems we specify. The led lighting systems now last so long they really need to be thought of as a capital improvement. Not everyone is aware of the risks involved and the quality that is compromised when low end LED products are purchased

A year on from the introduction of the Certified Lighting Designer (CLD) certification, the world’s first, international, evidence-based certification in architectural lighting design, and 6 months since the UNESCO International Year of Light, during which the industry gained some spotlight, is it just a matter of time until the profession is better recognised for the specific skills we contribute to the design process?

These are exciting and significant steps in the right direction but the general public is not necessarily aware of them. Until lighting design becomes a part of the curriculum at many more universities we will never be a widely recognized profession. It will also take a lot of grass roots types of educating at the local municipality level . Unfortunately, there is still only a very small percentage of the general public that can actually recognize the difference between projects that had a lighting designer and those that didn’t. Unless you’re a member of the design profession, or unless one can prove that our involvement translates directly to more visitors, more sales,etc it’s hard to quantify the value we bring.

What steps could we take as an industry to further raise the profile and perceived value of lighting design among our key creative partners and the wider community?

I think our key creative partners know and understand our value. That’s why we are all so busy. The wider community does not. Nor do the leaders in charge of curriculum at the universities. There are so many young people that are well suited and could benefit from a career in this amazing and fulfilling profession but they don’t even know it exists! We need to be more vocal, reach out more to mainstream media, give more lectures to other groups, not just to ourselves. Most of us are good designers, but we’re not good salespeople. We need to sell and promote our profession whenever there’s an opportunity – and create the opportunity when there’s not!

Thank you: Suzan Tillotson, Tillotson Design Associates

Read: Where Are We Now? By Monica Llamas + Leela Shanker.

Read: Where Are We Now?  Victor Palacio, IALD President + Director Of Ideas En Luz, Mexico, answers…


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