Lighting as a service: the considerations.

Jonathan Rush

Jonathan Rush, Partner

A question of quality.

The ‘light as a service’ model (LAAS) that I’ve been exploring throws up a number of further questions.

I believe the key issue of quality with LAAS is not about how good the luminaire is, or the level of light that’s provided, but rather the quality of the space as perceived by people.

My reasoning? Well, the basic premise of LAAS is to provide light – but the metrics you would use to measure this (such as colour rendering, colour temperature etc.) don’t tell the whole story.

A good way to think of it is like our TV subscription… We don’t pay for a Netflix subscription just because of the streaming technology; we can get this from numerous sites. The reason so many of us pay for a streaming service almost without thinking, is because it gives us something we desire and don’t want to live without – good quality content. If our streaming service suddenly only had terrible content, we’d go elsewhere.

Paying just for lux or lumens feels like paying for a bare minimum service. We don’t crave a certain light level – we crave a quality space that makes us feel good, or makes things easier for us.

What the Netflix analogy tells us is that the quality of the space, rather than lux levels or colour temperature, will be why people turn to LAAS. LAAS without a benchmark for quality does not sound like a very desirable subscription.

We as designers therefore need to start thinking more about how we define quality, and how we establish whether the light provided is beneficial to people.

Measuring quality.

The development of sensors and wearable technology will soon allow us to get a true picture of people’s health, wellbeing and engagement with interior environments. So, depending on the type of environment, a monthly subscription could be based around levels of absenteeism, quality of sleep, productivity, use of the space…

Many people are keen to sell the ‘benefits’ of human-centric lighting (improved sleep, increased employee engagement, reduced sickness etc) but currently the cost of the lighting equipment is the same whether a client sees these benefits or not. The lighting subscription services of the future must address these ‘measurements’ of quality, and build them into their business models.

Universal metrics.

When it comes to measuring “look and feel”, the essential difficulty is that science is trying to quantify human preference and experience.

The thing to remember is that there isn’t an all-encompassing metric for quantifying “quality of space” – it is incredibly subjective, geographic, and based on our experiences.

Perhaps we will need far greater data pools to assess a more universal metric.

For the time being, the best we have is an old-fashioned concept called the “brief”. How does the client and the architect want the space to look and feel?

The Lighting Design Concept Reports we produce are currently the only record of the aesthetic and technical expectations for a space. A viable lighting design report will include sketches, visuals, reference pictures, descriptions and imagery to demonstrate the ‘quality benchmark’ that the project should fulfil. Now, virtual reality imagery and immersive environments allow us to demonstrate this even better. This, backed by quantifiable illuminance data in the same document, could serve as a reference for the service expected. Might this define a level of quality that would form the backbone of a lighting subscription?

Ultimately, all of these questions of quality bring us to an exciting turning point in lighting design. How we choose to define, deliver, and measure the quality of a space will decide whether LAAS is as successful as it should be.