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.

If one honestly evaluates the vast majority of outdoor lighting work present, then he or she could say, “It’s not that good.” In many cases it seems possible that a template was used to develop the scene. I believe this commonality is bad for the profession. Why? Because it sets the ‘standard’ of what to expect in this trade profession.

In addition to this lower measure of expectation, the lighting industry has placed much of its attention onto the entry and mid-level practitioner. The reason for this is because, this group accounts for a majority in revenue. Manufacturers are the largest component of the industry, and they have the most power to direct decision making. Therefore, if their revenue comes from this group, then they cater to this level of experience. Sales are the driving element of any business, so this is completely understandable. However, this provides for little growth or advancement.

As for a positive aspect to mediocre or average work, one must consider the following statement by the internationally respected landscape architect, Mr. Laurie Olin. He states, “If the majority of work is Ordinary, then the Extraordinary will be recognized.” How true is this?

There are three reasons why many lighting designers fail in their approach:

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.

Photography as a Design Tool

As you will soon learn, ELLI is a ‘Tool’ for the lighting designer, and it should be encouraged as a beneficial means towards advancement. Photography is a key component in this effort, because it allows us to see and understand this art-form, as best we can. Another benefit of photography is that it allows us the opportunity to ‘feel’ through this visual association.

The Educational Gallery is an excellent representation of professional and emotive work, and it should provide the viewer with a higher level of expectation. The point to these inclusions is to advance the discipline of outdoor lighting design, and to allow lighting designers the opportunity to cognitively explore ideas.

One should consider the professional level of artistry shown in ELLI gallery. It addresses both night-time photography, as well as lighting design. It provides an insight to what the aspiring ‘standard’ should be for this profession. Poor photography, as well as poor design, devalues the craft.

Both consumer and trade craftsperson can utilize these photos as a meaningful tool. It allows the viewer to identify “good” from “not so good,” and it allows one to segregate those with experience from the rest. Good photos can isolate those which are seasoned professionals—they act as a competitive advantage.

Affective Lighting Design Goals

Affective Lighting Design is a term that has not been pursued in this field of study. I believe it is because very few consider “feeling” and “experience” within this process. In other words, it’s relatively a new consideration. No industry or professional goals have been established for the lighting design community. It is ELLI’s intent to do so, as there are four key areas of development within this learning. These goals are encouraged to allow those interested to excel in implementing emotional states within their lighting designs.

There are 4 primary goals associated to this learning:

1. Observation:

As lighting designers, it’s extremely important that we “Observe” everything we do. We must have a deep understanding of this in order to effectively develop natural spaces, which emotionally stimulate viewers. It is highly suggested that notes be taken, so that this observation can be better understood.

  • Observe the Types of Human Emotions. This includes the psychological & physiological responses in humans towards stimuli from the environments which surround them.
  • Observe Nature and Varying Types of Natural Spaces. Place emphasis on plant materials—their forms, textures, and growth habits. Learn how they fit together and develop a setting.
  • Observe Light and Shadow. How does it work in consideration of various living and non-living materials? Does the light reflect or absorb with these materials? Is there any shadow play?
  • Observe the Colors of Light. Concentrate on the color of light you see. How do these colors make you feel? How are others affected by this light? If it is ‘white’ light, then what color temperature are you observing and present to?
  • Observe the Theatrical Applications of Light. What lighting techniques or applications are used to create this scene? What mood do you feel when presented with a specific application of light, as well as color? One should consider their level of arousal with each of these states and conditions.

2. Experience:

To be considered an effective lighting designer, one must possess “Experience.” Experience is only gained through actual application and over time. It’s very important that we continue to grow and add to our experiences. The best form of experience is that which is, first-hand. Reading or hearing about it never compares to what is experienced.

  • Experience Nature and Natural Settings. This is usually done during the day time hours and it should provide enough time to encounter these natural changes. These changes include color of light, shadow patterns, as well as changes in mood.
  • Experience Light and Shadow Applications. As mentioned previously, this play is another perspective of feeling. One should consider these differences as light interacts with varying materials. Does it reflect, absorb or refract off of these materials? Again, how do these varying experiences make you feel? The lighting designer should also explore the similarities and differences between natural light and man-made light.
  • Experience Working with Lighting Equipment. Not only does this provide the technical learning necessary to provide these systems, but it provides the insight to understanding light distribution. How does beam spread impact the subject? What wattage is suitable for the lighting application? How much glare is present with varying positions? These questions are all challenging to explain outside of experiencing them first-hand.Lighting designers need to perform ‘Aiming’ adjustments, as this process is very valuable in understanding light placement. New designers should spend quality time working with equipment in this way, and they should start with just one light fixture. Take the time to practice and play with varying positions with this single source—enough until fully versed in how best to apply one light.

    As experience develops, the new lighting designer should incorporate two or more light fixtures, and repeat this practice. Notes should be taken once again, so that a deeper learning experience can be obtained.They should include what they see and how they feel by these changes. One might even draw sketches of these illumination patterns, so that further thought can occur.

    This type of experience is the best means to advance one’s self in this art-form. Most lighting designers fall short in this effort, as they limit their learning to only a few techniques and sessions. One can only gain, grow and realize when they employ effective time into this practice.

  • Experience Working with Other People. The point to this is that greater learning comes from spending time with other colleagues or people. Not only do you experience different ideas, but you observe natural and emotional impacts. Remember, everyone is different, and they can all provide valuable feedback and learning.

3. Communication:

Lighting designers must be able to communicate their thoughts, visualizations and questions in order to gain understanding from the consumer. Good communication can only exist when the designer has proven experience to extract crucial information.

The lighting designer must act accordingly, like that of a doctor or counselor in order to determine root Desires. This will also include the understanding of one’s Fears and Concerns. Although much of this questioning is geared towards the ‘Sales Process,’ it does provide an excellent measure towards design and the evoking of emotions.

  • Communicate effectively to Gain Information. Although this sounds easy to do, many fail to gain understanding in the “Why” and “What” of the communication process. The designer needs to ask enough questions to understand the consumer’s daily life, including activities.What is their work environment like? How is their health—are they sick a lot, headaches, stress? How do they relax and what do they find pleasing? Do they have children or aged parents that live with them? Do they sleep well?

    Each of these questions is very important. The goal is to provide the type of space that most impacts a positive and healthy experience. In many cases, they require a restorative and peaceful setting. In other cases, they require a happy and joyous setting. Every person has different needs and sometimes one might require multiple settings depending on the need.

Our ability to effectively communicate identifies that we are considerate of their needs and ailments in life. It provides an understood credibility and ‘perceived value.’ And value is in the eyes of the beholder—communication equates to ‘connection,’ which is a shared venture.

4. Application:

Every landscaped scene must utilize the proper application of light to arouse emotion. This is the final goal which proves the ‘Affect’ of a setting. Our goal in Application is to understand how to employ lighting to evoke varying emotional states.

As ‘effective’ lighting designers, this is where our value is measured—in the response of those stimulated by our designs. We must have the skill set and knowledge to arouse individual states of emotion. The following emotions are most desired in this art-form:

  • Application of Happiness, which includes the descriptive nature of Joy, Delight, Elation, and Desire.
  • Application of Intrigue, which includes the descriptive nature with Curiosity, Interest, and Fascination.
  • Application of Awe, which includes the descriptive elements of Inspiration, Wonderment, Mystery, and reverential Respect.
  • Application of Contentment, which includes the descriptive nature with Calm, Peace, Tranquility, and Serenity.
  • Application of Fear, which includes the descriptive elements of Apprehension, Tension, and Mystery.