The Fifth Layer of Light

Have you ever found yourself in a space; a concourse or an atrium for example, and have no idea how to get to where you need to go? This an all-too-common occurrence that often has one simple solution… light. Those in the lighting industry know that the key to a successful lighting scheme lies in the four layers of light: ambient, accent, feature, and digital light. But we at Nulty incorporate an equally important, yet often overlooked fifth layer: wayfinding lighting.

Whether you’re aiming to encourage a high turnover or increase dwell time in a hospitality environment, if you’re designing a fast-fashion or boutique retail space, or maybe you’ve a corporate office or a cool tech start-up space that needs a comprehensive lighting scheme, light defines how we use any space and that includes how we find our way around it.

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Wayfinding can be defined as a lighting solution that helps guide users through a space. It can highlight key features and indicate where certain elements are to aid people in their navigation. Ultimately, it helps people figure out their location and work out where they need to go next.

So how can wayfinding be successfully incorporated into a lighting scheme? Is it just a case of adding some obvious bright lighting that leads the way? Unsurprisingly no, it’s not as easy as all that.

Successful wayfinding needs to be, dare we say it, imperceptible. It should be employed as a subtle yet effective technique that works with the lighting design as a whole and doesn’t detract from its purpose. To successfully achieve this feat in design, a coordinated and collaborative response is key.

Our mantra? Start macro, build micro.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, for us to holistically design in a way that is respectful of all the needs of the space, including effective wayfinding, is to draw on our lighting expertise from the very beginning. Hire a lighting designer as early as possible in a project to ensure subtle, beautiful, effective wayfinding.

With us on board, a dedicated and thoughtful system of illumination that helps users seamlessly navigate a space can be fully integrated into the overall design ethos. Allow for creativity to shine from the outset and save yourself the headache of retrospectively incorporating wayfinding – which will inevitably detract from the design and only add to the cost.

Signage, colour, and typography create clarity when it comes to wayfinding. There’s a constant interplay between illuminating surfaces and the perception of that light and so marrying lighting design with wayfinding requires a thoughtful, detailed design. From the outset we can ensure that the vernacular of a product ties in with the identity of the space, generating a dialogue between lighting and wayfinding.

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If we are using wayfinding illumination internally and projecting light within a space, then we must be especially careful not to ruin the ambiance created by our carefully curated design. Wayfinding is not necessarily in our scope as lighting designers, but we believe in going above and beyond to unify these parallel entities to ensure that quality and atmosphere are protected. Why spend our efforts in generating a beautiful space that we can be proud of only to have it compromised by uncollaborative over-illumination. And that’s not just from the perspective of a lighting designer, undoubtedly clients will notice the difference in the final result too.

Establishing effective wayfinding can be one of the most creative aspects of being a lighting designer. There’s a lot of fun in employing colourful illuminated arches, curves of contoured light or integrated linear luminaires to determine how we shape a space and guide occupants. Wayfinding lighting can be crucial in helping us meet the overall intention of the space and when used effectively, light is a medium that can encourage interaction and elicit an emotional connection like no other, fundamentally helping us to achieve our goal of adding value to businesses.

Listen to Paul Nulty discuss wayfinding lighting in a recent podcast, Wayfinding X Change hosted by Endpoint.