Interview: Antoine Jean of Zumtobel Group discusses how social changes influence smart lighting technology

Interview: Antoine Jean of Zumtobel Group discusses how social changes influence smart lighting technology

The area manager at the Austrian firm sheds light on the new forces driving innovation in the lighting industry

Antoine Jean, Zumtobel Group; Photo: Rajesh Raghav, ITP Media Group
Antoine Jean, Zumtobel Group; Photo: Rajesh Raghav, ITP Media Group

When we talk about lighting, we usually visualise a light bulb or a luminaire but lighting is much more than that. How do you define it?

Absolutely, we perceive lighting in a much broader sense, it is not just a light fitting for us. Lighting is a tool and an emotion, it is a solution to achieve a desired effect, be it a certain standard, a physiological or psychological reaction. We try to create lighting for people rather than just for the sake of lighting. Hence the concept of active light is very human-centric.

The human-centric lighting is much talked about. Is it a universal concept or there are exceptions in its application?

The need for a human-centric lighting aroused from the office where we spend the most of our productive hours and supposed to reach the peak of productivity. The irony is that biologically, the hours we spend indoors are the daylight hours — something that a human being’s alertness is strongly affected by.

Even more ironic is the office layout which has not changed much over the past century. In most cases, we still have the same huge open space areas divided by our desks forming cubicles and uniformly lit to 500 lux.

The working conditions and those who are using the office spaces have drastically changed: pen and paper have been replaced by keyboards and screens; desktop computers with laptops and mobile devices; and nine to five timing with flexible hours.

Is lighting informed by sociologists, not architects or designers anymore?

We are all ruled by the sociological trends when we design something for humans, that becomes the essence of the human-centric lighting. The millennials and generation Z are born and brought up with the mobile devices in their hands, and they look at lighting as a technology they can play with — so it has to be adaptable, connected and easy to change. It has to be active.

The office is turning from a static environment to an activity-based, flexible office, full of collaboration spaces, hot desks, the places that merge a cafeteria with meeting rooms and leisure areas. The office space is blending with hospitality. And the lighting has to adapt to that move.

The new-age workspace is designed for creativity, inspiration and relaxation. How can lighting support these elements?

The workplace has to be different based on time and task. It has to adapt to a new era of technology and a new type of people. The workspace has to be an extension of the people and a differentiator that showcases the values of the company.

Sitting has become the new smoking; holistic wellbeing is seen as a central part of workplace design and planning. Office design trends revolve around human-centric environments that enhance wellbeing.

How does it translate into lighting? The light has to be right in specific time, for the specific task and specific person. The key word is connectivity: use of sensors to make it personalised and be able to collect and transfer data (e.g. li-fi).

What about the economical benefits of investing in smart lighting for businesses?

Employees are the largest investment and biggest resource in any business. Employee costs far outweigh the cost of energy in a typical business (according to the statistics, employees costs are 90% of the business on average, the building being only 9.9% and energy only 0.05%). Improved wellbeing is directly related to increased productivity, better job performance and fewer absences. And lighting is among the top three factors promoting movement and productivity.

What do people expect from lighting in their workspaces?

According to the research we conducted, dynamic lighting conditions are perceived better than static light. To be in control of your lighting makes people happier, and people want more light. If the lighting is felt good, it can reduce up to two sick days per year. But the most significant benefit is the increase in productivity, up to 4.5%.

How can it affect the lighting design?

The study results can be easily translated into a  planning guideline for lighting designers: bring dynamic lighting indoors with colour temperature and intensity change over the day 3,000K- 6,000K; provide more light than indicated in the norms, more than 500lx (800lx). Use LED for energy efficiency; use direct/indirect light for more natural illumination of task areas and surroundings; use lighting controls to enable light dynamics as well as personal preferences.

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