Focus: Lighting


In-store lighting design has to be cleverer and even more flexible with store interiors changing constantly


Words by Kay Hill

Constant Changes to product ranges and store layouts help keep customers interested and coming back for more, but for retail lighting designers it can be both a challenge and a headache. ‘We have to design for change,”’ stresses Paul Nulty, founder of lighting design company Nulty. ‘Our schemes have to be much more flexible than they were a few years ago – the biggest change to retail lighting in the past 20 years has been Amazon!

‘The internet has almost killed the high street so retailers have had to be chameleons and change their offer,’ he explains. ‘The high street has become more and more experiential, so now it’s not just about selling, it’s about buying into the brand. The consequences, as the store visit becomes all about having an experience, is that there is greater emphasis on using lighting to create mood and atmosphere.’ Phil Caton, principal at PJC Light Studio, has noticed similar trends: ‘Good lighting helps to make the store interesting and capture the interest of the shopper for longer.’

Nulty was the lighting designer for Bloomingdales in 360 Mall, Kuwait, with retail design by Uxus and Al Tayer Insignia. The flexible lighting scheme includes a choice of lighting ‘scenes’ in the changing room that can flick from daytime to evening, or to the perfect lighting to take a selfie. The clean, bold lighting scheme in the store was designed to complement the architectural forms and create contrast between the merchandise and the surrounding areasNulty was the lighting designer for Bloomingdales in 360 Mall, Kuwait, with retail design by Uxus and Al Tayer Insignia. The flexible lighting scheme includes a choice of lighting ‘scenes’ in the changing room that can flick from daytime to evening, or to the perfect lighting to take a selfie. The clean, bold lighting scheme in the store was designed to complement the architectural forms and create contrast between the merchandise and the surrounding areas

The headache comes when a few months after the perfect lighting scheme has been delivered, the store manager decides to rearrange everything. ‘I’m forever walking into stores and seeing that the lights are illuminating the floors instead of the product,’ complains Nulty, ‘It drives me up the wall.’ Caton has noticed the same issue: ‘You need contrast between product and circulation so the product stands out, but any changes are reliant on the store’s in-house team. If the store moves things around then the lighting needs to be refocused – we make it as refocusable as we can, but often they either don’t notice it or don’t have time to refocus it. It can be frustrating.’

The extremely rapid turnover in fast fashion has also prompted specific changes in lighting design. The days of the Spring and the Fall collections are ancient history; most fashion retailers have nearly a dozen ‘seasons’ a year, and at the cheaper end, some introduce new lines on a weekly basis. Nulty notes: ‘Higher end fashion shops need more contrast and specific lighting on the products, whereas with fast fashion, where the merchandise comes and goes so quickly, the lighting needs to be more flexible and you are basically lighting the space.’ Caton agrees: ‘We are looking for more drama in a boutique store so we increase the contrast levels. But in larger stores we decrease the contrast levels so it is not tiring for customers who are in there for longer.’

Nulty was the lighting designer for Bloomingdales in 360 Mall, Kuwait, with retail design by Uxus and Al Tayer Insignia. The flexible lighting scheme includes a choice of lighting ‘scenes’ in the changing room that can flick from daytime to evening, or to the perfect lighting to take a selfie. The clean, bold lighting scheme in the store was designed to complement the architectural forms and create contrast between the merchandise and the surrounding areasNulty was the lighting designer for Bloomingdales in 360 Mall, Kuwait, with retail design by Uxus and Al Tayer Insignia. The flexible lighting scheme includes a choice of lighting ‘scenes’ in the changing room that can flick from daytime to evening, or to the perfect lighting to take a selfie. The clean, bold lighting scheme in the store was designed to complement the architectural forms and create contrast between the merchandise and the surrounding areas

The rise in experiential retail also means that customers may be sharing their shopping experience through social networking, which also changes lighting requirements.

Advises Caton: ‘We do now have to consider social media more when designing store lighting, as customers like to take selfies on their phones – particularly in fitting rooms, but also elsewhere in the store. This may result in an increase in ambient lighting levels to soften contrast in the store and flatten shadows on the customer – sometimes a departure from the past methods of higher contrast lighting, especially in smaller, high-end boutique stores.’

PJC Lighting created the dramatic lighting scheme for the new Beymen clothing store in Istanbul, with retail design by HMKM. Photo Credit: Ugur BektasPJC Lighting created the dramatic lighting scheme for the new Beymen clothing store in Istanbul, with retail design by HMKM. Photo Credit: Ugur Bektas

Fitting-room lighting can be a particular challenge – with an evident dichotomy in what customers appear to want and what might be best for retail sales. Rich Ford, director of new business at retail design consultancy Sherlock, believes that more retailers are likely to adopt the ‘smart’ changing room lighting that MUJI has recently introduced into its Oxford Street and Kensington stores.

The interactive lighting is built into the mirrors and can be adjusted so the consumer can view what the outfit would look like in different settings. Nulty, which recently completed the store lighting for Bloomingdales in Kuwait, included a similar concept: ‘There’s a trend for giving the public flexibility when trying on clothes, as they want to see what it looks like in the day and in the evening.’

PJC Lighting’s project for the high-end Stella McCartney store in Florence lights the merchandise items as if they were exhibits in a gallery, emphasising the value of the products. Photo Credit: Ugur BektasPJC Lighting’s project for the high-end Stella McCartney store in Florence lights the merchandise items as if they were exhibits in a gallery, emphasising the value of the products. Photo Credit: Ugur Bektas

Phil Caton is less impressed with the idea: ‘Fitting rooms benefit from soft lighting from above washing the walls with light, combined with integrated forward lighting in the mirror with a warm colour temperature to enhance skin tones and make the customer look good. We tend not to go for daylight in fitting rooms as it can have a negative effect – soft light and warm tones make the customer look healthy.’

Another area where designers are divided is on the merits of lighting control systems that can provide different lighting settings throughout the day. ‘We are living in a time when technology is changing so rapidly,’ says Nulty, but I always caution against lighting controls in retail. The reason for using them is to have lighting that is dynamic and changing, but average retail dwell is only about 20 minutes, so when people are not in a space long enough to see the lights changing it usually doesn’t merit dynamic lighting. I’m all for lighting controls when used carefully, but in retail you are usually wasting your clients’ money.’

Nulty is more impressed by the technology of LED lighting and the way in which the colour can be adapted.

‘With LEDs it’s possible to tailor them and tinker with the quality and type of light,’ he explains. ‘For example, we invented a new LED with a special mix for Clarins to emphasise skin tone and enable better foundation matching. It’s like alchemy. Gucci even has special lights to make whites look whiter.’

As the needs of retail continue to evolve, the technology already exists for lighting design to play an even bigger role in the stores of the future. ‘LED control systems can be intelligent enough to change or dim lighting during the day, and using lighting systems connected to the internet is becoming a possibility,’ says Caton. Nulty sees an even more integrated future: ‘It’s even possible for lights to be linked to data collection, so if a customer walks in whose buying history shows they like red dresses, the lights could intensify on a rail of red dresses as they walk past.’





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