Exponential growth in multiple technologies including Bluetooth mesh, real-time data, Internet of Things (IoT), Light Fidelity (Li-Fi), etc. are forcing rapid transformation in the way lighting is being designed. This article however, orientates lighting design towards a unique form of creative activism – that promotes a culture of largo without adhering to the time constraints of economic or technological growth, while delivering pluralistic values of wellbeing and sustainability for design – called ‘Slow Design.’ Slow does not dispute the fact that actual fastness or speed can be good or useful. Rather than opposing helpful speed, slow stands against unnecessary acceleration and aggressive rapidity in action, against our habitual thought of what time is and how it should be utilised. The article explores how the principles of slow design can be applied in this fast-paced world of IoT and Connected Lighting, so as to find fresh qualities in lighting design research, ideation, processes and outcomes.
Slow Design – The Definition
Slow design can be defined as a design process that is deeply conscious of the lifespan, materials and processes used in the creation of its end product, resulting in ecological soundness and consumer enjoyment. Slow, as a philosophy, stands against the possible degradation of life by fast consumerism and constant want. Fast, in opposition to slow, does not necessarily mean physical speed but more the hurrying along of natural pace. Designs created through the slow process are made with actual need and wellbeing in mind, using renewable or recycled materials and energy, and with their futures thoroughly mapped – be it biodegradability or recycling, following zero-waste or cradle-to-cradle philosophies.
Slow Design – The Origins
Sustainable design has always been considered the ‘trinity’ of economy, ecology and equity. However, design often has been more reactive to the needs of economy, commerce and the marketplace. Literature indicates that none of the economies – ‘industrial,’ ‘consumer’ or ‘knowledge’ – are equally or equitably distributed; thereby creating a need for a new sustainable design paradigm to not only ‘save the planet’ but to ‘save designers’ and the professional reputation of design. The ‘industrial economy’ commenced some 200 years ago creating means of mass production; the ‘consumer economy’ emerged 75 years ago producing things for mass markets; the ‘knowledge economy’ emerged in mid-1970s; the ‘human economy’ emerged at the cusp of 2000 harnessing Internet technology to break the monopoly of communication held by governments and commerce; and finally, the future is of ‘intelligence economy’ that will merge real and virtual worlds by blurring the boundaries between natural and artificial intelligence.
Slow design emerged as a new paradigm for sustainable design, where design balances socio-cultural and individual needs with environmental wellbeing. Although design being a creative process, most of the energy of designers has been applied to oiling the wheels of various economic models consequently leading to the progressive commodification of time, as time is the basis for economy. Slow design on the other hand does not conform to shortening time spans allocated to life cycles of products in marketplace; it doesn’t celebrate smallest, biggest, and fastest; however, it does celebrate balancing anthropocentric needs with planetary needs, and the de-commodification of time. ‘Slow’ because time constraints of economic growth and expediency are removed, and design goes beyond fabrication of things for the marketplace, consequently avoiding competition in an increasingly accelerated game of technological progress, brand positioning and commercial globalisation.
Slow Thinking in Lighting Design
As the lighting industry is morphing into an IoT concept, based on seamless digital interconnectivity across all facets of human life, acceleration and innovation is key to survival. Smart city concepts are further leading lighting into the IoT where connected lighting enables digital technologies critical to the expansion of city services. All these paradigm shifts in lighting have seriously challenged traditional ways of designing with light. In such a time of change, embracing these agents of change and developing a new standard for lighting design seems to be a way forward. This new standard requires universally agreed upon metrics, measurement methods, limits and criteria that would set strong baselines for energy efficiency, functional performance and address key parameters of connected lighting.
Slow thinking will allow lighting professionals to focus on the decisions, research or processes that are the most vital for developing such a standard. Slow design is where lighting professionals can experience real freedom, when connected lighting improves our lives while simultaneously improving our societies and cultures, when connected lighting contributes to restoring the health of our environment. Six principles of slow design have been posited to more intimately understand one’s own identity as a designer, reflect upon one’s own design processes, evaluate tangible outcomes, and imagine new scenarios. These principles are used to carefully and continuously explore the core concepts of connected lighting.
Slow Principles for Connected Lighting
Slow principles can create appropriateness, as they allow for time throughout the design process for thinking about the intended design outcomes and how best to reach those goals while keeping the integrity of the design intact. These principles were put forward as a set of criteria against which designers can interrogate and appraise their ideas, processes, motives, and outcomes; in effect creating a ‘shifting brief’ and a mutable outcome as the design process unfolds. Each of these principles is reviewed in detail to understand how interrogation and appraisal can begin at the initial phase of implementing connected lighting concepts. Lighting professionals can return to these principles several times during the design process, and apply them again to evaluate the final design outcome and better understand its potential future impacts.
Slow Principle 1 – Enlarge
Slow design enlarges the real and potential expressions of environments beyond their perceived functionalities, physical attributes and lifespans. Connected lighting environments can go beyond mere functional or physical attributes such as energy benefits, and consider temporal attributes and the form of interactions that take place with users over time. Temporal attributes can include an expansion into user interactions that permeate into daily life. For example, lighting in supermarkets can be used as an infrastructure to create a higher level of interaction with customers and enable a better shopping experience, boosting sales in the process. IoT sensor networks deployed inside each individual luminaire can provide customers with real-time push messages, location-based offers, help in finding a particular product and the option to request missing products while they shop via a smartphone app. Therefore, such IoT-integrated interactive lighting systems will form the core of user-based interactions. This in turn will lead to an intimate and symbiotically interdependent relationship with the lighting system.
Slow Principle 2 – Divulge
Slow design divulges the often forgotten or missed experiences in everyday life, including materials and processes that can be easily overlooked in the creation or existence of designs. Augmented Reality (AR) is a technology that brings components of the digital world into the real world through immersive sensations. Introducing AR-enriched connected lighting systems into physical architecture and immaterial space can divulge the under-observed phenomena of the built environment. For example, these systems can be deployed in a university campus to create a more engaging, adaptive and immersive environment for students and faculty. Students can be guided to different learning environments, which they normally would not be interested to enter. The idea is to create a learning environment that slows the student down, allowing time and emotional space for reflection and transformation. Therefore, the lighting experience will unfold at an extremely slow pace with visually rich cues revealing unexpected aesthetic pleasures embedded in seemingly banal spaces. This in turn will stimulate social interaction by raising awareness of the surroundings and its diverse ecosystems.
Slow Principle 3 – Engage
Slow design engages in open-source and collaborative processes, relying on sharing, cooperation and transparency of information so that designs may continue to evolve into the future. Cross-disciplinary collaborations and interdependency between IoT and lighting systems can make geospatial indoor navigation services such as way-finding and asset-tracking more affordable with their combined power and geographic density. For example, in healthcare facilities, connected circadian lighting with real-time location system (RLTS) technologies inside patient rooms or nurses’ corridors can be used for resource tracking or patient monitoring. Clinical staff can monitor locations of patients with disabilities such as Alzheimer’s or dementia. If a patient needs to walk three laps around the unit or sleep a certain number of hours, lighting can be used to connect to other devices in the building to track assets and data points. Additionally, geo-fences can alert the security staff when patients cross any virtual barriers within the building. Therefore, information sharing will leverage and exist through the connected lighting network. This in turn will ensure that despite the power of modern technology, one does not lose sight of the fact that people and place matter.
Slow Principle 4 – Contemplate
Slow design environments and experiences induce contemplative consumption. As lighting control interfaces facilitate lighting consumption, they can slowly reveal user patterns thus rendering them increasingly precious to the user over time. For example, personalised lighting control interfaces in an office environment can show visible traces of their relationship with the users who use them over time. The varying states of adornment on each interface can directly reflect the relationship with its user, so that the users’ favourites have the greatest wealth of decoration while others may remain quite plain. Over time, the user begins to contemplate the interface’s life, imagining the impressions it may have absorbed. The user sees the interface not as an inanimate object, but as a living, breathing thing with its own life and its own story to tell. To unravel its secrets, one must interact with the interface, examining its every intimate detail. Therefore, the lighting control interface moves beyond being a mere functional object to being a site of discovery, infused with layers of meaning that challenge and delight those who use it. This in turn will embed new layers of experience into lighting environments, enriching their meaning well beyond mere function and convenience.
Slow Principle 5 – Participate
Slow design is a participatory design process, where users actively exchange and embrace ideas so as to foster social accountability and enhanced communities. Smart cities can gather even more momentum with connected lighting as city dwellers can be invited to connect with the histories and patterns of lighting through empirical observation, sensory awareness and intuitive imagining. For example, city dwellers can be encouraged to annotate local area maps with their thoughts, memories, sensations, fantasies, drawings, and design gestures so as to capture local knowledge and public imaginings about the evolving nighttime identity of the neighbourhood or surrounding area. Participation can therefore generate awareness about the unseen or forgotten aspects of those urban areas. This in turn will remind smart city dwellers of their own part in and responsibility towards the life of their localities, and be encouraged into ongoing creative investigations.
Slow Principle 6 – Evolve
Slow designs are behavioural change agents promoting richer experiences that evolve from the dynamic maturation of environments and systems over time. Connected lighting systems can be designed as co-sharing tools for reorganising neighbourhoods, instigating our relationship with our neighbours and our connection to the natural environment. For example, an IoT-based lighting system provides a perfect framework to evolve from “cold data” to “hot data”. Cold data is information that systems communicate about their current state of operation which is stored to allow for trend analysis over time such as, “a light switch is on with a current draw of 0 watt.” Hot data, however adds the element of immediate action, where instead of reading and deciding a course of action, analytics provide the necessary course of action such as “send engineer to look at light switch without any current draw.” Therefore, the same in-building information will be mixed with external data streams to evolve into specific actionable data targeted at different stakeholders far outside the building management. This in turn will lay the foundation for new habitats to take shape in which community stewardship of projects determines their evolution over time.
Connected lighting with slow features – its financial viability
Incorporation of connected lighting with slow features requires a larger calculated vision and value that looks far beyond the old return on investment (ROI) energy story. While sceptics may argue against the financial viability of these slow features, there is a good possibility that economic interests will soon gather around these features. The simple reason being people, societies and cultures in the future will actually purchase products, services and environments that provide deep satisfaction of human needs while scoring positively on environmental and sociocultural balance sheets. And lighting being that one ubiquitous element in all built environments can certainly provide the required framework for implementing such deeply satisfying and positive features.
(This article is based on a paper presented at the 8th Professional Lighting Design Convention 2019 in Rotterdam, The Netherlands)
Dr. Amardeep M. Dugar,
IALD, MIES, MSLL, Founder & Principal,
Lighting Research & Design