Lighting Design | WBDG - Whole Building Design Guide (2023)


Within This Page

  • Introduction
  • Description
  • Emerging Issues
  • Relevant Codes and Standards
  • Additional Resources


While observing lines of dirt and debris frozen in a glacier, the British physicist, John Tyndall noted in 1860 that more light on an object did not necessarily increase its visibility. Despite this observation, cheap and abundant electricity led to lighting design in the mid twentieth century that meant little more than sizing branch circuits large enough to safely deliver power to the light bulbs. A philosophy of, "More light, better sight" summarized the approach to architectural lighting. Lighting control was unnecessary as illuminated (but empty) buildings defined the nighttime city skylines.


Recognizing perhaps what John Tyndall observed over 150 years ago, the relatively new lighting design profession takes a more refined approach to providing visibility for the occupants and enhancing architectural forms rather than flooding a space with light. The approach also represents an enormous business opportunity in the form of energy savings in new and retrofit construction. The Energy Information Administration estimates that electricity used for lighting in US commercial buildings totaled 297 billion kWh in 2010. This represents about 22% of total commercial building electricity use in the United States. Ironically, much of this commercial building occupancy takes place during daytime hours when daylight could provide for some or all of the lighting requirements without any electricity use at all. Contemporary electric lighting design captures this electricity savings opportunity while improving visibility in the built environment.


Role of Professional Lighting Designer

A lighting designer brings knowledge and expertise of a quickly expanding array of available lighting equipment and technology. Because a designer neither sells nor installs lighting equipment, the design is based on an objective understanding of the project goals and budget. While electrical engineers can design a lighting system, that design is most likely based on electrical requirements and code standards but may lack the aesthetic sensitivities to the overall architectural design.

Art and Science

Lighting design requires a technical understanding of electricity, light sources, and vision while also a sensitivity to architectural and aesthetic issues. The end design needs to meet the visual requirements for human eyes performing an endless array of tasks while also illuminating the architectural forms and immediate environment.

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Providing Visibility

Lighting designers understand that most building occupants do not necessarily want LEDs or wireless control—they want to comfortably see what they are doing. How to provide for this visibility summarizes the role of the lighting designer. How to provide this while enhancing the architecture, integrating with the available daylight, minimizing building energy use, and aligning with the overall construction process and budget summarizes the role of the lighting designer in a whole building design process.

Lighting in Whole Building Design

In the whole building design process, effective lighting design integrates with many other building systems and design disciplines.

Lighting Design | WBDG - Whole Building Design Guide (1)

Probably the largest impacts on electric lighting requirements and design come from the architectural orientation, massing, ceiling height, and section profiles that determine daylight availability in the building. Typically, south facing orientations, narrow floor plates, high ceilings, and open sections tend to bring more usable daylight into the building and correspondingly reduce the electric lighting use. Lighting designers should be brought onto the project team early in the design process so that they might have an impact on these early siting and massing decisions.

Lighting systems should illuminate the architectural forms and surfaces and needs to be well integrated. It may take the form of coves that uplight the ceiling or walls. Or it may be carefully selected luminaires that respond to the architectural elements or style.

Designers must understand the use of each space and the tasks that need to be lighted. The criteria for both quantity and quality of light depend on the type of task performed in each space and work area.

Lighting Design | WBDG - Whole Building Design Guide (2)

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Interior Design:
Interior design choices, such as surface finishes, can have a dramatic impact on the lighting system and how much light is required to make a space feel bright. Dark wood finishes require more light (and electricity) to brighten a space than light colored surfaces. The visual elements of lighting equipment must also coordinate with the interior design. Lighting designers need to work with interior designers so that both understand the impact of the other's design decisions.

Lighting Design | WBDG - Whole Building Design Guide (3)

Electricity Use:
Lighting designers have control over one of the largest energy consuming services in the building. As mentioned previously, visibility does not always increase with more light and more electricity. While much attention focuses on minimizing power density, total energy usage also depends on the total time that lighting is activated.

Lighting designers have the opportunity to not only reduce the electric energy use of lighting system, but in turn reduce the cooling load on the HVAC system. Coordination between the lighting and mechanical designers can capture this opportunity. Keeping plenum space low and avoiding conflicts between luminaires and ductwork also requires extensive coordination. Without this coordination, HVAC systems may be oversized and miss energy saving opportunities.

Lighting Design | WBDG - Whole Building Design Guide (4)

Structural Coordination:
Lighting designers must understand how a lighting system might be incorporated into structural elements: coves, beams, and columns; as well as what structural components may become lighted surfaces.

Effective Design (Sustainability)

As part of a whole building design process, lighting designers develop an electric lighting solution that addresses:

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Lighting designers must show how their design affects the project budget and provide a cost-effective solution. In retrofit projects, which frequently involve lighting changes, an economic analysis should compare the various new options with the cost of doing nothing. It should also evaluate the net present value of design options and consider:

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  • Initial material costs
  • Energy costs
  • Maintenance costs (lamp life, light source replacement, labor costs to replace, disruption costs during maintenance)
  • Ease of maintenance
  • User satisfaction

Historic Preservation

Many historic luminaires were not designed for energy efficiency or to meet the glare and performance standards of contemporary lighting equipment. When addressing these design challenges, the designer attempts to improve the performance and efficiency of these luminaires while maintaining the original aesthetic. This may mean adding internal shielding to the light source or a reflector that in improves the distribution of the light. Historic preservation may also limit how lighting can be integrated with the building architecture such as coves and facades.

Safety and Security

Lighting energy use is often increased (especially in exterior applications) as a response to safety and security requirements. A lighting design that minimizes glare, reduces shadowing, and provides appropriate contrast addresses safety and security far better than a simple increase in wattage and light output.

Building owners, developers, and municipalities increasingly place more emphasis on security lighting. Designers have not only the responsibility to provide adequate, low glare lighting but also avoid overlighting. This responsibility also extends to working with the rest of the design team to coordinate all aspects of security design.

User Productivity and Non-Energy Benefits

Lighting designers also recognize the non-energy benefits that a well-designed lighting system can bring to the building project. Studies have shown positive correlations between daylight, views, and control of electric lighting with improved productivity, higher student test scores, faster patient recovery time, and overall comfort. Characteristics of a poor lighting system can have significant impacts on building occupants including headaches and fatigue.

To achieve these non-energy benefits, designers need to consider daylight and views as well as electric lighting integration with daylight availability; personal lighting control as well as automatic lighting controls that save energy; proper commissioning of lighting controls as well as the specification of photocells and occupancy sensors.

Professional Lighting Design Certifications

Today, professional lighting designers are not required to be licensed, but two credentials designate a certain level of experience and knowledge.

International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD) membership requires a certain level of experience and completed projects. It also signifies that the independent designer abides by a code of conduct that maintains an objective design practice. For example, IALD designers cannot both provide design services and sell lighting equipment.

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The National Council for the Qualification of Lighting Professionals (NCQLP) provides a Lighting Certified (LC) certification. This requires a tested level of technical lighting knowledge, three years of experience, and continuing education credentials to keep the certification.

Emerging Issues and Industry Advancements

Solid State Technology

Solid state lighting such as LED and organic LEDs (OLED) products are quickly coming to market with a wide range of capabilities, performance, and quality. Not only do lighting designers require a thorough understanding of these technologies, but must also must be able to pair multiple components and assure their compatibility. Because solid state lighting is a non-linear load, it influences the building electrical system power quality with increased total harmonic distortion, poor power factor, and repetitive peak currents. Solid state lighting equipment must be specified to minimize these effects. To dim LED sources properly and prevent flickering of the system, solid state sources need to be paired with dimmable drivers and controls that make up a compatible system.

Better Understanding of Human Vision (white light effectiveness)

As our understanding of human vision evolves, so does the approach to lighting design. Light spectrum plays a significant role in overall visibility. In addition, the spectral distribution of light sources also has an effect on circadian rhythms. White light effectiveness factors have been developed for use in design under low exterior light levels. Exterior lighting designs should incorporate these factors when designing for these low light conditions.

Relevant Codes and Standards

Additional Resources




What are the 5 steps in lighting design? ›

The steps are: identifying the requirements, determining the method of lighting, selecting the lighting equipment, calculating the lighting parameters and adjusting the design, determining the light control system, checking the fittings and finally checking the installation when finished.

How do you arrange a lighting plan? ›

We will outline these helpful steps below:
  1. Step 1: Make a plan. ...
  2. Step 2: Outline what takes place in each part of the room. ...
  3. Step 3: Indicate where the light should come from. ...
  4. Step 4: Identify where sockets and switches are located in the chosen space. ...
  5. Step 5: Select specific light fixtures for each part of the room.

What are the seven key steps in the design process seven steps in lighting design? ›

Essential lighting design tasks are assigned to each of the following stages of the design and construction process: Programming Phase, Schematic Design Phase, Design Development Phase, Contract Documents Phase, Bidding and Negotiation Phase, Construction Phase, and Post-occupancy Evaluation Phase.

What are the 7 functions of lighting design? ›

Functions of Stage Lighting
  • Visibility. If the audience can't see the actors, everything else the lighting designer does is a waste of time. ...
  • Mood. “Mood” (or “atmosphere”) is the evocation in the audience of the appropriate emotion. ...
  • Composition. ...
  • Plausibility. ...
  • Reinforcement. ...
  • Revelation of Form. ...
  • Punctuation.

What are the 3 rules of lighting? ›

Three-point lighting is a traditional method for illuminating a subject in a scene with light sources from three distinct positions. The three types of lights are key light, fill light, and backlight. 1. Key light.

What are the 4 qualities of lighting design? ›

Lighting for the stage involves manipulating the four major Controllable Qualities of light; Intensity, Color, Direction and Movement; to influence the four functions of stage lighting listed below.

How do you calculate lighting requirements? ›

To determine the needed lumens, you will need to multiply your room square footage by your room foot-candle requirement. For example, a 100 square foot living room, which needs 10-20 foot-candles, will need 1,000-2,000 lumens. A 100 square foot dining room, which needs 30-40 foot-candles, will need 3,000-4,000 lumens.

What are the four basic elements of lighting design? ›

The Four Elements of Lighting
  • Direction. This is where you are shooting in relation to your light. ...
  • Intensity. This is referring to the brightness of your light and how the brightness relates to other lights in the shot. ...
  • Softness. ...
  • Color. ...
  • Learn more about the Muse Film School here.

What are the three steps in lighting design? ›

The key steps in the design process are:
  • Identify the requirements.
  • Determine the method of lighting.
  • Select the lighting equipment.
  • Calculate the lighting parameters and adjust the design as required.
  • Determine the control system.
  • Choice of luminaire.
  • Inspect the installation upon completion.
3 Aug 2015

What are the 3 most important functions a lighting designer are responsible for? ›

Lighting Designer's Main Responsibilities

Coordinate with director and artistic director to understand the production's goals and their overall vision. Create lighting design plans to achieve the desired result. Write lighting plots to outline when lighting changes occur and how the lighting changes are executed.

What are the 10 stages of the design process? ›

The 10 Steps to Design Thinking
  • Identify needs. This is the most critical and most difficult step. ...
  • Gather information. This is the research phase. ...
  • Stakeholder analysis. ...
  • Operational research. ...
  • Hazard analysis. ...
  • Specification creation. ...
  • Creative design. ...
  • Conceptual design.
15 Feb 2019

What are the 11 steps of the design process? ›

Stages in the Design Process
  • Analyze the situation. Before beginning the design, sort out what problem you are trying to address.
  • Write a brief. ...
  • Research the problem. ...
  • Write a specification. ...
  • Work out possible solutions. ...
  • Select a preferred solution. ...
  • Prepare working drawings and plan ahead. ...
  • Construct a prototype.

What are the 8 stages of the design process? ›

Eight Steps in the Design Process
  • Feasibility Study.
  • Programming.
  • Schematic Design.
  • Design Development.
  • Construction Documentation.
  • Bidding and Negotiation.
  • Construction Administration.
  • Post-Occupancy Training.
22 Oct 2021

What is the most important part of lighting design? ›

Color Plays a Role, Too — but it's Easier to Adjust Lights.

Color is the most important aspect in lighting and mood. However, Alcon's Hakimi notes that It's much easier to adjust lighting than to paint walls. In fact, you can change the color of your room just by brightening or dimming it. Save this picture!

What is a lighting design concept? ›

Introduction to lighting design concepts

“Lighting design is a process. Specifically, it is the process of integrating light into the fabric of architecture.” Image 1. Lighting is the means to express the desired character of a space. A successful lighting scheme should be integrated into the design at an early stage.

What is the basic lighting technique? ›

The most basic lighting in film is the three-point lighting setup. Lighting from three directions shapes your subject and sets them apart from their background. To achieve this, your film lighting equipment needs to face your subject from three directions: front, back and side (generally).

What is the OSHA rule for lighting? ›

Minimum of 5 foot-candles: The standard lighting for general construction areas, warehouses, corridors, hallways, and exit ways. Minimum of 10 foot-candles: General construction plants and shops including indoor bathrooms and mess rooms. Minimum of 30 foot-candles: First aid stations, infirmaries and offices.

What are the fundamentals of lighting? ›

Light is an electromagnetic wave that spreads in space and time. radiation spectrum like radio waves, radars, microwaves, infrared, ultraviolet and X-rays.

What are the 6 qualities of light? ›

Angle, Size, Distance, Shape, Duration, and Color are each qualities of light that photographers can combine and manipulate these qualities in setting the look of their photograph for impact beyond just illumination.

How do you calculate the lighting load of a building? ›

General lighting and receptacle loads

Table 220.12 in the National Electrical Code considers a residence a listed occupancy at 3 VA per square foot; therefore, the general lighting load is determined by multiplying the square footage. For example, 2,800 square feet times 3 VA is 8,400 VA.

How do you calculate kW for lighting? ›

Going from watts (W) to kilowatts (kW) is a pretty straightforward calculation: 1kW is equal to 1,000W. To convert W to kW, divide the total wattage by 1,000. Here's an example: if you turned on ten 100W light bulbs, that would equal 1kW of energy usage.

How do you determine how many can lights per room? ›

Formula: total sq. footage x 1.5 = total wattage needed. Total wattage divided by 60 watts (or whichever wattage you select) = total amount of recessed can lights. Example: 240 square foot room x 1.5 = 360 divided by 60 (the bulb wattage I'd like to use) = 6 recessed lights needed.

What is the 7 elements of design? ›

The elements of design are the fundamental aspects of any visual design which include shape, color, space, form, line, value, and texture.

What are the 5 key elements of design? ›

The Elements of Design are the things that artists and designers work with to create a design, or composition. The Elements are: line, shape, space, value, color and texture.

What are the 7 components of light? ›

White light is composed of seven components. These colours are violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange and red.

What are two of the biggest challenges for a lighting designer? ›

Seven Challenges Lighting Designers Face when Using LEDs
  • 1) LED glare and shadowing. On the design side, luminaires strong glare and shadowing can be problematic. ...
  • 2) LED dimming not as smooth as claimed. ...
  • 3+4) Lack of color and measurement standardization. ...
  • 5) Thermal management. ...
  • 6) Interchangeability. ...
  • 7) Need for lower costs.

What challenges do lighting designers typically face? ›

One of the biggest (and most common) challenges for any lighting designer is budget. You can conceptualize a stunning, elaborate, beautiful design, but if the tour can't afford it, the world will never see it. Sometimes management will want to see a design before the budget is in place.

What does LD stand for lighting? ›

A lighting director, also known as an LD, is the person on tour that's responsible for the stage lighting during the show.

What are three questions to ask when designing a lighting? ›

So, to ensure everything is as clear as possible for you, we've shed some light on 7 of the most commonly asked lighting questions.
  • Why is lighting important in design? ...
  • When should I plan my lighting? ...
  • How much does lighting design cost? ...
  • Should I hire a lighting designer? ...
  • What are the layers of lighting design?
9 Dec 2020

What are the 12 steps of design thinking? ›

Terms in this set (12)
  • 1) Define a problem. *Identify a problem that exists. ...
  • 2) Brainstorm. *Present ideas in group. ...
  • 3) Research and generate ideas. ...
  • 4) Identify criteria and specify constraints. ...
  • 5) Explore possibilities. ...
  • 6) Select an approach. ...
  • 7) Develop a design proposal. ...
  • 8) Make a model or prototype.

What are the 9 steps of the design process? ›

  • Identify the Problem.
  • Do Research.
  • Develop Possible Solutions.
  • Choose One Solution.
  • Design and Construct a Prototype.
  • Test the Prototype.
  • Communicate Results.
  • Evaluate and Redesign.

What are the basic principles of design? ›

What are basic design principles? There are twelve basic principles of design: contrast, balance, emphasis, proportion, hierarchy, repetition, rhythm, pattern, white space, movement, variety, and unity. These principles work together to create visually appealing and functional designs that make sense to users.

What are the stages of design in construction? ›

Building design process
  • 1 Definition.
  • 2 The growth of the design team.
  • 3 Establishing the need.
  • 4 Feasibility Study.
  • 5 Selection of designers.
  • 6 Concept design.
  • 7 Detailed design.
  • 8 Production information.
19 Oct 2022

› learn › design-process ›

Learn the steps of the design process and how to use them. You'll become more reliable and creative if you do. Design patterns, trends, and inspiration.
Download scientific diagram | Three major stages of a design process [3]. from publication: Design Analytics in Consumer Product Design: A Simulated Study | A g...
We agree that no one can actually nor should formally define a design process. There are way too many contexts that get in the way of structure. However, within...

What are the 6 design steps? ›

The Engineering Design Process includes six steps. For each step, click the button for an example of how engineers might go about designing a new car.
  • Step 1: State the Problem. ...
  • Step 2: Generate Ideas. ...
  • Step 3: Plan and Select a Solution. ...
  • Step 4: Build the Item. ...
  • Step 5: Evaluate. ...
  • Step 6: Present the Results.

What are the 4 types of lights? ›

What are the 4 types of lighting?
  • Ambient lighting.
  • Task lighting.
  • Accent lighting.
  • Decorative lighting.

What are the 4 parts of a lighting control system? ›

Part 1 looks at four common types of lighting controls: panelboards, dimming controls, addressable controls, and relay-based systems.

What are the three layers of lighting design? ›

Today, lighting design lives in three distinct layers: Ambient, Task, and Accent Lighting. LED technology has vastly expanded the forms and options available to today's lighting designer or homeowner. Following a few simple guidelines can help ensure beautiful and effective lighting for your space.

What is a lighting design concept? ›

Introduction to lighting design concepts

“Lighting design is a process. Specifically, it is the process of integrating light into the fabric of architecture.” Image 1. Lighting is the means to express the desired character of a space. A successful lighting scheme should be integrated into the design at an early stage.

What are the 7 stages of design? ›

Seven Stages of Design Thinking; An Essential Tool for Customer Experience Manager
  • Stage 1: Understand the Customer. ...
  • Stage 2: Definition. ...
  • Stage 3: Research. ...
  • Stage 4: Ideation. ...
  • Stage 5: Prototype. ...
  • Stage 6: Select and Implement. ...
  • Stage 7: Learn.
29 Apr 2016

What are 7 design methods? ›

the considered methods will include: (1) the ad absur- dum method, (2) the symbol method, (3) the initial target method, (4) the meta-observer method, (5) the discretization method, (6) the sign method, (7) the dwelling method.

What are the 10 stages of the design process? ›

The 10 Steps to Design Thinking
  • Identify needs. This is the most critical and most difficult step. ...
  • Gather information. This is the research phase. ...
  • Stakeholder analysis. ...
  • Operational research. ...
  • Hazard analysis. ...
  • Specification creation. ...
  • Creative design. ...
  • Conceptual design.
15 Feb 2019

What are the 8 stages of the design process? ›

Eight Steps in the Design Process
  • Feasibility Study.
  • Programming.
  • Schematic Design.
  • Design Development.
  • Construction Documentation.
  • Bidding and Negotiation.
  • Construction Administration.
  • Post-Occupancy Training.
22 Oct 2021

What are the 4 phases of design? ›

Through a rich and often boisterous discussion, four teachers collectively broke down the engineering design process into four main phases: problem definition, design exploration, design optimization, and design communication.


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