Thomas Watson, the long-time CEO of IBM was credited with the phrase, “Good design is good business” back in the 1950’s. Today, we still recognize its relevance. Well-designed products sell: cars, appliances, clothing, and of course, anything from Apple. They ‘get’ design. Even the packaging is attractive. Architecture is no different, but architecture tends to be a bit more complex than products. The design and construction of a building has so many facets that quality control is often difficult to manage. Well-designed commercial products are plentiful and often incorporated into well-designed architecture. But the true measure of successful architecture is how all of these products and materials come together. This arrangement still rests in the artful hands of the architectural or interior designer.
Tom Friedman has written many times that America has to keep up its entrepreneurial spirit and creative energy, or else we’ll quickly fall behind in a world we helped invent. He also states that we have to manage energy consumption and climate change. Architectural decisions early in the design process can dramatically affect this outcome. The many new technologies can help us reduce energy consumption, but once again, it’s through thoughtful design and creative applications that the picture is fully developed.
Like architecture itself, the lighting field has many products and components available to the design professional. Light fixtures themselves come in all shapes, sizes, wattages, and colors to appeal to the buyer. They look quite attractive in catalogs or on the web. Lighting designers are often asked by architects, interior designers, or even building owners to consider using a particular type or style of fixture that they may have seen, but lighting design is different than lighting fixture design. Sure lighting designers have to select something, and if it’s a conspicuous part of the visual aesthetics, it should probably look good. But the optical and energy performance, first cost, and life-cycle cost of that fixture must also be considered. Beyond that, as with architecture, it’s the careful integration of this lighting hardware and all the associated components into the fabric of the architectural design that will result in a successful luminous environment.
Expanding on the phrase “good design is good business”, let’s say “good lighting design is good business”. A lighting design firm that performs good lighting design, will likely have a thriving business. Clients will come back to them based on their creative problem solving and technical expertise. “Good lighting design is also good for business”. It implicates that good lighting design can be a vehicle to enhance a company’s bottom line. We’ve all seen the pie chart statistics that illustrate the fact that employee’s salaries are the number one operating expense for any company. If we can improve that function ever so slightly with well-designed, comfortable, glare-free lighting, we can improve the profitability of the company. Beautifully designed spaces command higher rents and can improve worker productivity. Sure, new technologies such as LED’s might help reduce energy costs, but the designer must be able to synthesize these technologies into a beautiful architectural environment that’s good for people.
In addition to products for construction, we have an infinite toolbox of technologies, support, and access for performing lighting design, such as modeling capabilities, photometrically accurate software, and on-line catalogs. But being technically competent is not enough anymore. Obviously computer modeling skills and rendering capabilities are important in our careers, but even these skills are being off-shored by major design firms. Creativity will not only make a better workplace, but also keep us marketable in that workplace.
The outlook looks optimistic for good quality design. Many argue that basic education today trains us to think logically by associating related concepts, thus reducing our ability to be creative. However most designers in the architectural field attended schools where creativity and approaching problems in new or different ways are the norm. As a creative profession, we must constantly strive for innovative solutions to everyday architectural issues. Good design will help us produce beautiful architecture, save energy, be more sustainable… and will be good for business.
Photo Credits: Glenn Batuyong (1), © Bruce T. Martin (2), Lam Partners (3), © Andrew Bordwin / Gensler (4)