by carly_mchugh | 18 October 2022 10:08 am
By Susan Svotelis
It would not be surprising to find bad lighting near the top of any designer’s pet peeves list. Whether it is an unevenly illuminated sign, inappropriate colour temperature for the environment, or an overly bright (or not bright enough) space, design professionals always have opinions about lighting and are not afraid to share them.
Consumers have an astonishing array of options when deciding where to spend their hard-earned money. Brick-and-mortar stores, restaurants, hotels—what drives them to these businesses? What influences their patronage? A range of motivators, including emotions, logic, and brand loyalty come into play. Multiple visual elements help shape these motivators, such as architecture, interior design and decor, signage, and of course, lighting.
Interior lighting patterns
Our brains are wired to pay attention to light, motion, and colour. Designers use this knowledge to create spaces which are not only inviting, but also help guide consumers to specific areas within the location.
Since we know light draws people’s attention, then we also know unwanted brightness or glare can have a negative effect, distracting or directing a consumer away from where we want them to focus.
In retail settings, lowering ambient lighting to create visual contrast and draw focus to a target is a winning design approach. While the old-school trend might be to blanket the entire space with even illumination, the resulting “flatness” is uninspiring and one-dimensional. The main goal is to drive sales activity, draw customers as deep into the store as possible, and steer attention to higher-value targets along the way.
An ambient lighting system should fade away in a well-designed concept. If consumers are spending more time looking up than looking at the merchandise, the lighting design has failed. One of the trends in the new era of light-emitting diode (LED) lighting is to minimize the physical size of luminaires, which has unintentionally created uncomfortable spaces. When the reduction of the fixture size leads to an aperture with an excessive amount of brightness, the consumer is distracted, and their visual comfort is compromised.
A better approach is to lower ambient lighting in circulation areas and increase the lighting levels for zones along the back and sides of the store, which will draw consumers deeper into the retail environment. This way, people will walk by a variety of products, creating more opportunities for impulse purchases. Adding supplemental (shelf or overhead) lighting along defined travel paths will also help draw attention to high-value targets.
Colour temperature and rendition
The proper choice of colour temperature (CCT) and colour rendition (CRI) is as significant as light levels. Depending on the product offering, mixing CCTs is not a terrible idea. CRI values should differ depending on what is being displayed. CRI specifications for textiles, baked goods, meats, or fresh produce are important, as the right values will enhance how the consumer perceives those products. It is also valuable to note CCT and CRI can have a profound effect on the finishes within the space. Interior designers can be mortified when they think the wrong paint or floor covering was used, only to find out the lighting specifications were skewing the visual perception of the materials.
Designers create hotel and restaurant environments to make guests feel pampered, comfortable, and relaxed. Setting the right mood encourages people to gather, linger, and enjoy a meal, a drink, or other amenities. Brightness needs to be controlled, colour temperatures need to be warm and consistent, and CRI values should be 80 or higher. In conjunction with decorative fixtures, recessed downlights are used in many hospitality spaces, creating elegant and inviting interior landscapes. Lighting truly is an integral part of a successful design and will undoubtedly affect the consumer experience. Well-designed lighting enhances it, and poor lighting can easily detract from it. Most people can recall a time they walked into a room and felt uncomfortable, but could not really put their finger on why. Often, the culprit is the lights. A good atmosphere is almost always ruined by bad lighting.
While these best practices relate to lighting and its influence on how people act in different indoor environments, it is equally important to consider how the consumer’s mindset is shaped by lighting and signage on the building exterior.
Outdoor signage and facade lighting
As mentioned previously, people are drawn to light, motion, and colour. Well-planned exterior signage and lighting design draws on these elements to create visual impact and attract people to a place of business.
From an image perspective, a poorly illuminated sign or a dark and dreary building facade does nothing to inspire consumer confidence. When it feels as if the business owner does not care enough to invest in quality products for their own space, people are less tempted to shop in that store, stay at that hotel, or eat in that restaurant.
Planning exterior signage and other visual branding elements is a complex task. Integrating the building’s architectural features is central to superior design. The positioning and sizing of lettering or logos is critical, and the proper mix of colour and light is essential.
Today’s signage illumination systems are primarily designed using LED components. The products are readily available, the cost to build signs with LED modules has dropped significantly, and in general, the quality of the technology has vastly improved. Traditional light sources like fluorescent or neon have limited design options when it comes to the physical shape and style of a sign. In other words, the form is severely restricted by the function of the lighting material used in the manufacturing process. LED-illuminated signs now have slimmer profiles and can be fabricated into creative shapes and sculptures, finally allowing form to evolve around function in signage design. New red, green, blue, and white (RGBW) lighting technology allows for dynamic colour changing and vibrant brand expression, integrating those notable concepts which make the consumer’s brain pay attention.
It was initially thought the introduction of LED technology would simplify the sign builder’s job. While it might be true LED has taken over as the industry standard for signage illumination, some might also argue this technology has made the sign designer’s life a little more complicated. What is the best CCT to use behind specific colours of translucent films? How do density guidelines differ from one LED product to another, and what criteria decides the standard? How influential is lens design, and how does it affect light dispersion and total material utilization? How does the engineering and microtechnology in a module determine the life span or consistent light output of an LED product? There are so many questions, and so many different answers, depending on who you ask.
Ultimately, the quality of the LED specified in a brand’s signage design will influence how confident the consumer feels about the brand’s own commitment to quality. This alone proves why it is so significant to choose carefully when selecting an LED provider and signage manufacturer. It is not wise to base the decision solely on cost.
Intentional illumination is best defined as the understanding and application of focused design criteria, the consideration of the human experience, and the realization a suitably designed lighting system can contribute to a brand’s value and bottom line. Lastly, and most importantly, working with qualified signage and lighting professionals will help guarantee the best finished product possible.
With special contribution from Warren Turner, general manager of North America lighting systems for SloanLED.
Based in Montreal, Susan Svotelis is SloanLED’s national sales manager for Canada. She has been a passionate sign industry professional for more than 35 years.
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