The list of skills, traits and attributes required for an aspiring lighting pro is, in a word, endless. In the interest of time and brevity, LD+A columnist and University of Washington research assistant professor Edward Bartholomew managed to pare it down to a half-dozen in his article on career development in LD+A, December.
Here are his super six:
- Business Aptitude. Above all else, lighting is a business and the sooner we recognize this, the sooner we can contribute to the success of the companies that employ us, especially if we work for ourselves. A healthy dose of business aptitude, then, is critical.
- Technical Foundation. Disruptive lighting technologies such as LEDs change markets in ways that we cannot always anticipate. Since technology changes so rapidly, it cannot be fully mastered, only monitored. This requires a skeptical mind willing to ask questions to verify specious claims made by lighting manufacturers. Designers should take a hands-on approach by acquiring fixture samples, doing mock-ups to evaluate new products and going on factory tours with a clear set of discerning questions. And, of course, stay abreast of technology by reading trade publications and attending lighting conventions.
- Creative Problem Solving. The difference between an engineer and a designer is that the engineer solves challenging problems. The designer creates beautifully challenging problems to solve. Both of these vocations require creative problem solving. Creative problem solving uses parts of the brain that must continually be exercised. Abstract and divergent thinking require a flexible mind. Be willing to let go of dogma and embrace not knowing; this can open the path to a better way of doing things. A child’s mind is open and able to make connections that our rigid and worn pathways won’t allow, unless we practice this state of mind. It can be hard, because the tendency when practicing our craft is to repeat what we have done before. It is uncomfortable to step out into something new and different. But this is where the magic happens. We all have to start with nothing and trust that brilliance (or something like it) will show up in the nick of time.
- Communication Skills. Communicating the qualities of light in a project can be daunting. It requires not only graphic, but verbal and writing skills that go beyond the use of plans and sections to reveal how light is reflected and distributed throughout a space. Being able to articulate these ideas in a meeting can go a long way toward persuading a client to spend money to implement your ideas.
- Industry Participation. By being engaged in the lighting community, you have the opportunity to influence the direction of the industry. By participating as a lighting professional in community organizations you help advocate for a quality visual environment and provide an informed voice in the debates around lighting and the environment. By volunteering at a local section of IES or any other lighting organization you gain critical knowledge of the politics, policies and codes in your region. By mentoring, you can solidify your knowledge while passing it on to the next generation of lighting professionals. Finally, there is teaching; if there are no lighting classes or programs at your local university, start one.
- Inspiration. We should always be reminded of the reasons we got into lighting. What was it that inspired you? Was it a project that you got to work on and then found that lighting was the most fascinating part of it? Or perhaps it was a painting that rendered light in a fantastic way that took your breath away. Or is it the look in people’s faces when you tell them that you work with light? Either way, you are inspired to continue. And it is important when things get tough to stay inspired. Re-energize yourself by visiting the newest building to see how the lighting was done. Attend an art exhibit where the artist is exploring light as a medium, and talk to them about their ideas. Go to a lighting design class and look at the student work. Students create projects without the limits of budgets and sometimes even the laws of physics, but it can still be inspiring. Read about architects and designers and the ideas that defined their passions. See a fantastic movie and leave inspired.