Understanding Emotion

Affect—a psychological concept or term used to describe the “experience” of feeling or emotion.

As lighting designers, we are fortunate to work with Light, as our medium in this art-form. It is a beautiful and powerful tool, but few have taken the time to consider its healing properties. Light stimulates and arouses life—humans, animals and all forms. And because ‘Arousal’ is a physiological response, it is closely linked to Emotion.

Arousal has two varying factors:

  • Valence — positive or negative
  • Strength — strong or weak

Depending on the strength of arousal and whether it is positive or negative, will it provide a particular response. The act to respond will either be to “approach” or to “avoid” the situation.

Emotional Experience is based on three components:

  • Valence — positive or negative
  • Awareness
  • Motor Activation — approach or avoidance

Emotion and Mood are related but differ in duration of time. Emotions are immediate, whereas Moods are diffuse affective states that generally extend a greater time period.

The aforementioned is a limited and generalized summation. It offers a basic understanding of ‘How’ and ‘Why’ people react the way they do, when presented to stimuli. Regardless, light is the controlling element in life, by which we exist and function. Its role allows our brain to perceive space and to determine what is best for our survival.

As lighting designers, we should truly impress upon this issue—it is more important than one might believe. Many are not utilizing light to its full potential, they do not achieve an emotional response from the viewer. The positive response to this ‘connection’ is that the experience is “remembered” and “desired.”

Unfortunately, most consumers know very little about the benefits of good lighting. And this is true of many lighting designers. The lighting industry has failed to properly educate the consumer market. This needs to change, so that progress and advancement can occur.

ELLI is part of this solution and change. We need to effectively communicate between each other so that understanding is ensured.

Design Discernment

Discernment—the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure

Have you ever asked yourself, “How” a lighting designer might fail? Failure is a harsh word, so maybe it’s best to say, “not seeing” or “not being aware.” The definition shown above describes, what is obscure, and asks the question, “What are we missing?” How should the lighting designer take advantage of the qualities within a space? Here in lies the true challenge of discernment. Far too often we are rushed through the design process and miss the opportunities to ‘See’ what is in front of us.

As much as the landscape lighting trade has progressed in the past several decades, little has been done to establish standard practices and expectations in this artform. The high bar of expectation has been set at the lowest possible level because of a lacking authority and relatively no interest. However, ELLI is actively pushing this agenda so that lighting design and composition become that foundational standard. One cannot expect to achieve a positive outcome with regards to provoking emotion without developing this primary skill set.

Going back to the question, “What are we missing?” Lighting composition is the foundation to developing effective lighting design skills. ELLI intends to teach this so that it becomes the model to follow in the landscape lighting profession. This is the only way in which designers can advance to the highest level and to ensure a separation of skills—the ‘good’ from the ‘not-good.’

ELLI would like to quote the internationally recognized landscape architect, Mr. Laurie Olin, “If the majority of work is Ordinary, then the Extraordinary will be recognized.” This is so true, and part of our battle has to do with the lack of understanding most people have of our work—they do not know what is good or bad. By educating all parties, we can improve these practices.

Failure to Develop

There are several reasons of why lighting designers fail to develop. The following explain why this occurs:

Not Allowing Time to Understand – You must spend time in a space to absorb its quality and everything about it. Too many are hurried to just plot notes or ideas down on paper, take pictures and then, race to the next job. Most employers are pressing their designers to get in and out of the job quickly—‘time is money!’ Yet, this behavior hinders understanding. Many leave the job site and these qualities are still hidden or obscure.

Not Allowing the Mind to Think – The mind is a powerful tool, and if we allow it to work for us, we can gain incredible insights. One must question their senses—to allow the cognitive function to proceed, as we study our environment. What do we see, hear and feel within these spaces? If we are rushed and not relaxed enough to experience this, then we will limit this gathering of information. One must be patient.

Not Allowing for Growth — One should never settle for the ‘minimum’ standard or limited knowledge in order to just get by. This is Art and it should be treated as such. Another way to understand growth is in this statement by internationally recognized lighting designer, Howard M. Brandston, “Rules are a substitute to thinking.” Rules tend to hinder people from thinking outside of the box—we live in a world of average expectations.
Growth should be in the form of learning through experiences. It should also be in the learning to visualize. This visualization is the ability to ‘see’ in our mind, that which is not present in physical form. Unfortunately, most are not gifted with this ability, so it takes time and practice to develop.