By: Carrie Cavins, IES 

Not long ago I read an article about the lack of educators in the lighting field; this is not shocking to me because we have so many great designers that are growing in age and not as many upcoming young designers to fill those shoes. As we continue to move in this fast paced LED technological world, the profession of lighting designer seems to be shrinking even though the field of lighting is growing in leaps and bounds. As designers, we can’t keep up let alone teach what we’ve learned through our experience. I think some designers feel hampered or reluctant to share what they have learned (tricks of the trade) while others who feel compelled to educate are now retiring. We have an influx of designers that either do not know what lighting is nor what it can do; or, they understand it only as ‘here is a light in a space’. The creative perspective and understanding seems to be slipping away and unfortunately there are not many of us designers that can help fill in those gaps. 

A bit of background about my own discovery of lighting through a shared concept of education and experience. I started out as an actor, moved into design (getting a graduate degree in Theatre Lighting Design), and then naturally progressed into architectural lighting design. Because I began in the theatre I learned how to creatively think through a design using the structure of the set design, the combined vision of the director along with the use of the script, and my own vision to create a world the actor can live in. This shared concept allowed me to paint the environment with light, to build emotion, and to functionally take the audience to a different place or time. A very good friend in grad school incorporated her interest in theatre lighting, architectural lighting, and interior design to learn about the understanding of light and lighting design in a way that most interior design graduates and engineers in lighting do not possess.  

Coming out of undergraduate school, young designers do not understand that they need to further their education in lighting even more. There is an article in LD+A and the author, Jon Fox, wrote in jest that we have a lack of educators in the lighting field; that the young designers really are only exposed to a few courses of creative lighting design and that’s it. This made me wonder what are we doing as a field to help these young designers? What are we teaching them in our universities about creative design, how to use light and shadow, lighting reflectances, color, and thinking past the purpose of light to what we want the light to invoke for those experiencing it? 

I hate to say ‘think outside the box’ because it’s such a cliché but in this instance it is true. The lighting field is starting to see a downward spiral of great designers. According to Jon Fox’s article most engineers and interior designers are maybe getting courses of basic fundamentals of lighting design. This is important, of course, to understand the basics of design - the math, the structure, and the style of the building’s interior needs but it is also equally important to understand why light has more uses than to provide visual illumination. Not to mention what lighting designers actually do and why it is important for the industry to keep moving forward creatively. Organizations like Illuminating Engineer Society (IES) and American Institute of Architects (AIA) are working to bridge the gap between university learning and higher level lighting design, to show and teach creative lighting and real life perspectives of lighting design. However, it is us, the designers, continuing to learn and push the boundaries of light and inspiring more to join our industry that must reach out and continue educating the young designers in our industry.