A focus on retail

When it comes to architectural lighting design my ethos is less about fixtures and fittings, and pretty much everything to do with creating the right sort of atmosphere.

Innovation continues to be one of our driving forces here at Nulty. As well as pursuing clever concepts, we investigate lighting design approaches that are sustainable and environmentally friendly. Energy efficiency, light pollution and environmental impact also feature high on our list of concerns. And, an important element of our work is the impact that the quality of light has on the built environment, and the emotional connection light facilitates between a person and their surroundings.

High-quality lighting encompasses a number of factors including colour rendering, consistency, light levels, intensity, direction, layering and contrast/drama. These attributes are tools that are used in our architectural lighting schemes – to build a composition of light, to enhance a space and create an engaging atmosphere for the people using it.

The shift towards human factors in lighting has been interesting. As designers, it’s something that’s been spoken about for a long time: using light to get people to engage with their environment. Finding that human connection with light is crucial and yet it can be underestimated.

The collaboration between light and technology is stronger than ever. LED is now being used as an advanced marketing and sales tool and this, combined with smartphones, is radically changing the way consumers browse and purchase. With two-thirds of consumers using smartphones to shop online, there’s a need to bring customers back to the high street.

Today’s state-of-the-art luminaires can communicate via smartphones, tracking consumer movements and subtly increasing light levels to focus on particular products and offers. Light’s power is that it’s functional and aesthetic; it enables people to act and also feel. Get the combination right and it can positively encourage people to visit shops, buy and connect with the brand.

There’s a move towards the blurring of retail and e-tail by enabling smartphones to gather and retain information on a shopper’s previous purchases. Customers can be alerted with reminders as they walk past specific stores and light can be automatically adjusted to match the ambiance, depending on what they’re buying. This is particularly beneficial to the cosmetics industry, marking a new era in which in-store lighting can finally enhance and offer a truer representation of customers’ skin tones, as they buy cosmetics (I talk about this detail later).

If you look at technology in the industry, it certainly has its place in “lighting”. However, some technologies — control systems, for example, especially in retail environments — generate cynicism. Daylight linking around store entrances is a case in point because dwell times aren’t very long in these spaces. Once you get into the deeper planned department stores, daylight linking almost becomes irrelevant and in some circumstances, there needs to be more light in the day than in the evenings.

Moving from traditional lighting
 to LEDs

In some cases the shift towards LEDs has made lighting quite challenging, as they don’t quite provide the “sparkle” or peak intensity that traditional light sources do, rendering some spaces a little flat.

Until recently it’s also been rather difficult to justify the additional cost associated with LEDs.
 Historically, the tipping point between energy saving and increased capital expenditure has been three to five years, and most retailers only work on a three-year programme. As costs are obviously coming down, this is becoming much easier. The landscape is changing and it’s great to see the shift towards LEDs now becoming more cost effective.

Gradually, there’s been a move away from “traditional” halide light to LED, which is positive. On the other hand, there’s still an issue with LED products. Many of these light sources have spectral outputs skewed towards blue or red wavelengths — it’s rare to find a source that has both. So, it can be challenging. This is particularly the case in fashion retail where you have to think about trends — where clothing and colours change rapidly from week to week, season to season.

In general, LEDs are especially difficult to use as accent sources in jewellery stores or other shops, where retailers need to make products “pop” and “sparkle”. It’s slightly frustrating when it comes to CRI (Colour Rendering Index), because when manufacturers produce LED sources to fit the CRI measurement criteria, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the gaps in between those CRI measurement points are good. This too can be challenging. Ideally, there would be a better way to compare LED chips on a broader spectrum than a small number of specific colours or wavelengths.

Bespoke lighting

At Nulty, we’ve conducted intensive research for the cosmetics industry with University College London (UCL), in collaboration with LED manufacturers, to see how we can blend sources of light to ensure an authentic quality
 of light to match make up colours
 to the skin. The results have been implemented in two of our clients’ stores in London: the new Charlotte Tilbury boutique in Westfield London and Cosmetics à La Carte, just off Sloane Square.

Creating bespoke solutions for our clients is crucial, especially in the kind of environment where the right lighting is imperative to ensure a successful sale, and ultimately a happy customer. Essentially, the key thing about lighting in retail is that it can be used to enhance a brand and increase its awareness.

Close relationships with our clients are essential to ensure we understand their aspirations and their specific brand values. For instance, trend-led retailers who aspire to have a dark and moody feel will need to have the appropriate lighting to reflect this. But we also work with retailers who need their space to be light and airy. Cosmetics à La Carte, for example, had a beautifully bespoke LED lighting scheme with simple track lighting and carefully positioned downlights, to create the most flexibility and ensure the spotlight is always on the merchandise – encouraging the customer to buy.

A creative shift

There’s a shift towards better quality light sources, towards better efficiency and towards more cost-effective light sources. It’s a “win-win” situation as
 costs are going down and the quality of sources going up. Historically, there have been too many manufacturers simply “shoehorning” LED chips into traditional housings or copying each other’s designs. Now there’s also a shift towards better products. Ultimately, in this day and age, a light fitting is simply a biscuit tin that houses a LED chip and reflector (this maybe oversimplifying a little). It’s also positive to see more originality and creativity in product design and that’s producing a wider palette of aesthetics to choose from.

Finally, when employing innovative design techniques to engage and attract customers to a space, a lighting designer needs to be part consumer psychologist – we need to understand the moods and emotions of customers, in order to drive their behaviour.
By engaging early on in the design process, it’s possible to achieve the perfect lighting solution to illuminate 
a space. Lighting is and continues to be a formidable tool in retail design. Technology is clearly a key factor in this. But it’s also the considered application and emotional empathy that sets apart the very best lighting schemes.

Image: © James French