SIL STRIKING POINT: Designers can develop ‘delicious illumination’ concepts with LED lighting

Feb. 23, 2016
The LED Show chair James Highgate and speakers Randall Whitehead and Clifton Lemon discuss how to achieve balance between smart and beautiful LED lighting schemes in home and garden applications.
The LED Show chair JAMES HIGHGATE and speakers RANDALL WHITEHEAD and CLIFTON LEMON discuss how to achieve balance between smart and beautiful LED lighting schemes in home and garden applications.

For the first time, internationally renowned San Francisco lighting designer and author Randall Whitehead will speak at The LED Show, co-located with Strategies in Light, in Santa Clara, CA on Mar. 2, 2016. Here, James Highgate, creator of the LED Show, and lighting/Internet of Things (IoT) guru Clifton Lemon talk with Whitehead about the current trends in LEDs for residential use.

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James Highgate:Randall, I’m curious — What’s “delicious illumination”?

Randall Whitehead (left): LEDs got started as an energy-efficiency initiative, which is good, but for the longest time no one talked about how good the quality of light could be, or should be — it was mostly complaining about how bad LEDs were (and with good reason). I was one of the first lighting designers in the US to realize their true potential in residential applications. Now that higher-quality LED light sources are widely available, I’m thrilled to be able to use them to make lighting that’s better than ever before — truly delicious illumination that can transform our lives through better lighting. Since a lot of our lives at home revolve around food and gathering in the kitchen, light there is more important than some other areas of the house, so I tend to feel it when it makes food look more delicious. I also feel good lighting this way; it’s…well, delicious!

Highgate: But doesn’t an emphasis on aesthetics tend to detract from efficiency goals? For instance, higher CRI sources can have somewhat lower efficiency.

Clifton Lemon (right): To me, it’s always been very simple — it’s about getting LEDs to the highest adoption rate as quickly as possible. People have a memory of how bad CFLs [compact fluorescent lights] were, and in residential use, they largely did not replace incandescents with CFLs because of quality of light issues. We can’t afford to make that mistake again. There’s still a huge base of installed incandescent lamps and fixtures to change out to LEDs, so if you want to argue for energy efficiency alone, the rationale for higher quality of light is very strong. But energy efficiency is not the final goal; no one craves energy efficiency like they crave the good feelings we get from great lighting, delicious food, and friends and family. For Randall and for the best lighting designers, lighting is about making people look and feel better. And that will also ultimately result in higher adoption of LEDs and higher energy savings.

Whitehead: We all know that while the commercial market has widely adopted LED technology, the consumer market still has a ways to go before customers are completely comfortable with LED products. Residential customers need a lot of information, explanation, and reassurance that LEDs can provide a quality lighting experience in their homes. Today, many homeowners still aren’t fully convinced that LEDs are good enough to replace incandescents in residential use. But those of us in the industry know that many LED products are as good as, and even better than incandescents. They’re getting better and more affordable all the time, and their energy efficiency will make a significant contribution to slowing climate change. This message needs to reach residential customers: It’s not either/or, efficiency or quality; we can have both. And intelligent, connected lighting on top of that. What’s not to love?

Highgate: Speaking of intelligent connected lighting, what do you see in the future for residential use of smart lighting?

Whitehead: We’ll all soon be using some of these in our homes, including many of my clients who usually shy away from complex control systems, even when budget is not an issue. I’ve begun to see many exciting products like LED lights that are integrated with high-quality speakers and cameras. I think that there will be a lot of surprises, and a lot of “they-know-they-need-it-when-they-see-it,” like with Steve Jobs and the iPhone. With the smart home, tech companies can’t predict everything, even though they won’t stop pretending they can. A lot of people only know about new technology through the Internet and haven’t yet experienced it. My approach is that if I think something’s cool, I will recommend it to my clients and try it out. I love those new speaker lights — both the LEDs and the speakers are great, and it solves some practical problems. And most of all, they’re easy to use!

Highgate: Not to get too cosmic here, but how will this change the lighting industry?

Lemon: Like Randall said, it’s hard to predict, but that doesn’t stop us from pretending to be able to! Beyond saying that, we all really need to think hard about this in a constructive way. What these developments — I call them “connective innovations” — mean for customers and specifiers is that we have to remain open to experimenting and trying new things, as long as they’re flexible, easy to use, and add real value, as many new products clearly do. We designers and specifiers need to quickly learn about new types of integrated products and how to incorporate them into our designs, and homeowners need our guidance in helping them to use these new products while getting the high-quality lighting that’s now so much easier with LEDs. I mean, if the average homeowner thinks that lighting is about to become as complicated as trying to control TVs and other media devices, the human race is doomed! Those things are the ultimate example of really, really crappy, user-hostile UI designed by electronics engineers. While it may not be ideal to make controlling absolutely everything with an iPhone, it’s certainly much better than what we’ve come up with so far. It also does not have to be the “death of the light switch.” We can incorporate static controls with mobile ones quite easily.

Highgate (below): Clifton, you and I were talking about the history of smart homes the other day. In the 1990s I was involved in a smart home company and it was way too ahead of its time. I thought everyone wanted the Jetsons lifestyle. The adoption rate was dismal. So what has changed?

Lemon: Few of us realize that the dream of a “smart home” has never really gone away – we’re just seeing the most recent incarnation of it. The smart home idea got started in the early 20th century when electrification radically changed our lives and ushered in what we call the modern era. Smart homes were mostly about labor-saving or other non-lighting devices: While lighting was the application that drove residential electrification, the first use of electricity in the home was for a burglar alarm. Unfortunately, most of the solutions developed back then were lacking in ease of use, affordability, and the ability to communicate. Now devices and products are quickly being introduced to the residential market that combine lighting and audio, security, wireless communications, and a broad range of other capabilities.

Whitehead: I’m excited about the future, even though it seems chaotic at times. What I see is new innovative companies taking advantage of the things that LEDs and connected technology can do that we never were able to do before. Not all of it makes sense, but we often don’t know what does make sense until we start using it and enjoying it. So I say, stay open to new possibilities in lighting and smart home. And more of us will be able to enjoy much higher-quality lighting than ever before — this is truly transformational!

Register now for The LED Show, co-located with Strategies in Light!

JAMES HIGHGATE, the founder of The LED Show, is a consultant with PennWell ( and chair of The LED Show conference. Visit for more information on the event.


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