Paul takes to the stage in Copenhagen

Paul Nulty took to the stage at the PLDC 2013 to discuss “Redefining the working relationship between the LED manufacturer and the lighting designer” with Philips Lighting’s Pete Earle.

The proceedings were as follows:


Take a random light source manufacturer, a market leader in its field with exceptional strengths in conventional light source innovation, and now at the forefront of the LED transformation, redefining all its established processes… Add to that a small, eager, successful, independent, lighting design practice, adapting itself at lightning speed to the ever changing landscape and challenges that LED technology presents while attempting to deliver lighting design solutions and you have a typical business relationship that is multiplied all over the world with different combinations of players.

LED is a disruptive technology and it forces everyone to re-examine their lighting knowledge, their internal company processes and their way to market. It is interesting to stop and consider the impact and the resultant changing needs in the relationship between manufacturer, specifier and end user.

Is it still business as usual in the new LED era? Will the old business practices and ways of working suffice and allow for a continued successful working partnership? Or is it time for a new, redefined relationship?

Philips Lighting’s Pete Earle and Paul Nulty from Nulty will explain and debate, from their own particular angle, how they view the LED market transformation and how it affects their relationship: the positive and the negative aspects and the challenges the new LED world creates for both individuals and for both together. How is the existing relationship and way of working of the lighting designer and the light source manufacturer being stretched and redefined? What different needs have emerged for both and how will both parties work together in the LED market of the future?

Lighting Across the Centuries:

Setting the scene – Paul and Pete will explain how their industries have evolved over time, for the designer, for the manufacturer and the impact of that on the evolution of lighting design. Manufacturers can have a perspective that starts from company inception, whereas lighting designers think about light and the thought process way before that… like the master painters/buildings of worship, mosques and churches, Greek/Roman architecture like the Pantheon for instance.

Are designers driving technology or is technology driving design? Are manufacturers coming up with self-serving new ideas and innovation that the design community needs to work with regardless of the new technologies being suitable for their applications?

Who is the expert?

Quality of light is different to quantity of light of course. But do the design and manufacturing communities understand the differences in reality?

The UK is a global design hub. We know that lighting designers can be ‘divas’. Some only want to look at quality of light and are way too precious about their designs and specifications. Some pretend they are experts in light but are clearly not and hang on to some misinformation or popular phrase like ‘CRI’ or ‘Macadam Ellipse’, as if being able to say 98 CRI is better than 92 CRI justifies their existence.

Product designers like to come up with curves and fins to add into their luminaire designs but there is less thought sometimes around the light source and quality of light coming out and they call the final result ‘bleeding edge’ design.

Manufacturers tend to have a technical background, designers have a creative background, so manufacturers can pigeon hole technology through tick boxes and specification criteria through datasheets rather than looking at things holistically. Just look at typical entries for lighting awards – manufacturers tend to think it’s all about entering projects that use their latest and greatest luminaire/technology rather than delivering a holistic, sympathetic solution, empathic with the needs of the end user.

Is a candle maker a designer? Is it not the person who locates the candle who is the designer? Does it really matter who locates the luminaire so long as the right quality is used in the right place at the right time? What criteria are we using to benchmark ‘quality’? How can it be objectified without manufacturers ruining it? Look at typical lighting guides – In the UK we had LG7 that was supposed to have been about delivering the right light to surfaces within a space and in the end it’s become about manufacturers delivering LG7 ‘compliant’ products.

Painting with Light:

Wherever there is architecture there is light. Beauty is in light before the product. It is in an empathy with the needs of the space and the users, understanding how the space will be used. Luminaires on the other hand are ugly and intrusive which has in turn bred a ‘race’ of lighting designers all too keen to seek out bespoke solutions. Individuality is important, but at what cost to the client?

Perhaps modern technologies now represent a tipping point, where bespoke luminaire manufacturing solutions are required less as technology allows better integration into the fabric of the architecture. Have manufacturers come 180 degrees and now providing sources for designers to use?

What is quality? How do manufacturers define it? How do lighting designers differ? The future is LED, is the future now? Manufacturers make many claims, are they all true? When is good enough, good enough?


The LED market has long been thought of as the ‘wild west’ with manufacturers making a variety of claims about their products, some of which are true and some of which are unsubstantiated or ‘finessed’ to paint their particular product in the right light. When does representing data in your favour become misinformation? Is this really the fault of the manufacturer or is it the fault of the designer for not understanding how to read the data? There are many examples where this happens. Surely the whole industry should be doing more to standardise data representation as it’s so easy to present misinformation, for example by extrapolating data.

The current trend is to offer LED products that are ‘total’ solutions, with integrated LED circuit boards and occasionally integrated drivers. Does this mean throwing away the whole fixture at end of life? Is this an acceptable scenario given the life expectancy of the LED chip? Interchangeable LED module and driver systems solve this issue to a point, but then are we just trying to shoehorn a new technology into an old way of doing things? If we have standard module form factors, does that not just open up the market to cheap copied modules, driving quality and cost down? What is the real life expectancy of LED chips and why would a reputable company only offer a 24-month guarantee on a product that should last 10 years? On the other hand can you trust a manufacturer that offers a 10 year warranty on his products? How can he do that, based on what kind of testing? Will the company in question even be around in 5 or 10 years’ time to deliver on its warranty?

Do we want LED fixtures that can be treated as ‘lamps’ so that we’re not throwing away the whole fixture? Perhaps LED fixtures should be treated like a commodity? Have we not been throwing toasters and TVs away at the end of life for years? Yes we have… If your kettle element goes wrong do you replace the element or just go and buy a new kettle?

Performance Standards:

Surely better joined up thinking is the way forward? Perhaps it’s now time for the designer and manufacturer to really work out how LED technology is presented, tested and specified? Quality, longevity, performance are just part of the story…

Take Zhaga as an example – some specifiers have misunderstood what this is meant to be. And the industry has perhaps not explained it or positioned it well. Zhaga is meant for the manufacturers, not for the end user or specifier. What about LM-79 and LM-80? These are US performance standards adopted in some part by ourselves in Europe, but only in the absence of any other standard performance and quality measurements. How do we create and adopt a commonly measured and understood system for manufacturers, specifiers and end users? Should it be driven by the market-leading manufacturing brands? What about the lighting designers’ voice in all this?

Sometimes designers don’t care about energy or cost or quality… sometimes manufacturers don’t care about design or ‘value’, occasionally we meet in the middle, how do we make that happen more often?

Does technological innovation open us up to new ways of thinking? Does it open us up to new ways of legislating?


The lighting community has typically worked with the Lux measurement. But with new technologies opening up the opportunity for illuminated surfaces surely we must review the way regulation and guidelines require calculations to be performed? How can it be that (from a regulatory perspective) a rear-illuminated light box can be permitted to be more intense than an advertising hoarding?

Are manufacturers driving legislative change? Just what power do manufacturers have? Does this impede the power of the design community? For example, banning of technologies such as the incandescent lamp – manufacturers have clearly lobbied policy making committees yet bans focus on technologies not the way that light is used. The LENI calculation is the first time it recognises the contextual use of sources. Standards of efficiency must be solution driven, not luminaire driven (that happens to conveniently give manufacturers a ‘tick-box’ USP.


Sustainable design is only sustainable if it’s genuinely sustainable! Is LED one of the most polluting products in terms of its embodied energy? Or is it about whole life embodied and consumed energy calculations? One might assume that embodied energy in a standard GLS lamp would be much less, but have we really undertaken the research and do we really have the knowledge to be pushing LED so hard and fast? What happens when the rare-earth materials run out? Are we shifting from one problem to another? Did banning of incandescent sources happen too soon? Do we really want ‘light sources’ that are more effective heaters than actual light sources?

Philips is working on a real model of how we measure life cycle analysis (LCA), taking into account all elements of the cycle, including production, packaging, transportation, usage, end of life.

What is the Right Lighting Solution for the Client End User?

How can a lighting salesman guarantee ‘best value’ and ‘best solution’ when he can only use one catalogue? How do you guarantee ‘best price’ when the quantities, positioning and specification are being dictated by the manufacturer?

Manufacturers are sometimes doing lighting design and cut out the designers in the process, selling lighting design and turnkey services, they might think they understand about light but it’s nearly always from a product perspective.

And the designers like to be choosy about what projects they want to be on. Cut and paste lighting in an office building is okay for a manufacturer to do the lighting design, it seems, but to go after the flagship, cool projects seems to be a step too far. Isn’t it?

Independent advice can save costs by finding the most cost-effective solution and light quality for the client – but the value perception is from the end user. There is more to providing a lighting system than just hardware with a specification. Brand is very important, if you work with a brand that you can trust, that is reliable, that can support you in the years to come, that can bring added value like education and information to the table, then this can be as important if not more important than the hardware. It’s a cliché, but in the end you get what you pay for and surely the designers reputation is dependent upon it lasting?


Peter and Paul will sum up individually and then together on how to build on the relationship between the manufacturing community and the design community. Perhaps a more vocal and engaged design community might prevent designers from feeling forced into using certain technologies. Lighting Designers need to step up to the plate and take more responsibility. Manufacturers need to provide honest data and information about their products and solutions.

Is it not time we started to pull together as ONE lighting industry with a common technological and commercial goal?