Beyond Lighting

Together with the latest media technology, light has the power to influence human behaviour and transform interior spaces, says Tapio Rosenius, founder of Lighting Design Collective.

Edited By Jill Entwistle

THE USE OF LIGHT and media in interior design has evolved far beyond mere illumination. It has developed to a point where it is now possible to actively influence human behaviour and experiences. It is potentially transformative. Achieving these environments involves a fusion of technologies, which can be summarised under three headings: ambient communication, generative digital content and remote management. It is possible for design professionals to use this synergy to create spaces that not only captivate but also drive positive change.

Ambient communication: shaping spaces with subtle influence

The light artist James Turrell once said that ‘Light is not so much something that reveals, as it is itself the revelation’. The essence of this is captured in the concept of ambient communication where subtle changes in lighting are strategically tied to particular information or goals. In other words, the lighting itself is the message.

Imagine an office space that intuitively anticipates an upcoming meeting, eliminating the need to check calendars. Or nudges people towards positive habits such as choosing the stairs, taking a break, or drinking water. In other words, providing calm information that adds value through special experiences for specific purposes at specific moments.

In the reception of the London office of, live trading data creates a generative ambiance, communicating the market status. This is combined with interactive features responding to people. (Poet Creator system integration by Arcstream Systems for Modus Workspace). Image Credit: Tom Fallon

To systematically build ambient communication into designs involves considering three key points: light as a nudge, pre-attentive processing and contextual scheduling.

  • Light as a nudge: drawing inspiration from the principles of behavioural economics, the concept of a ‘nudge’ involves using lighting as a subtle yet immersive tool to influence behaviour without imposing restrictions. An example might be a staircase illuminated in such a way that encourages individuals to choose it over an adjacent elevator, promoting physical activity and wellbeing.
  • Pre-attentive processing: this involves using people’s subconscious processing of visual information. Ambient communication focuses on colour, form, movement and spatial positioning. These elements, processed without conscious thought, can be manipulated through lighting and media to create immersive and memorable experiences.
  • Contextual scheduling: timing is key for effective ambient communication. Visual changes must be synchronised with live data from the environment, creating intrigue and surprise. The dynamic interplay between data inputs and real-time content generation ensures that the effects are non-repetitive and relevant to the particular space.

Generative digital content: crafting the visual clues

To realise the potential of ambient communication, it’s necessary to delve into the realm of generative digital content. Whether used to control lighting, projections, pixel features, art or LED screens, generative content is the linchpin that takes spaces to a new level of engagement.

Flexible meeting room light and media set-up at Utoquai 55 office development, Zurich, where visiting companies’ logos and digital art are projected by concealed projectors on to a fabric wall. The space has a range of uses from video conferencing to cocktail parties with customised digital content updated remotely, sometimes with a few hours’ notice. (Design by EXH Design with Lighting Design Collective) 

Content engines, like those found in our Poet Creator software, provide parameters that can be modified at will and linked to data sources. The result is a visually dynamic and responsive environment that evolves automatically based on real-time inputs. In other words, lighting changes are prompted by and responding to what is happening moment by moment rather than operating simply according to preprogramming. This ensures that the same control preset will consistently generate contextual, correct and optimised output instead of being stuck in a loop.

Remote management: navigating the unpredictable terrain

Attempting to drive human behaviour is a tricky business. As US psychologist and behaviourist BF Skinner once said: ‘The only thing we can say for certain about human behaviour is that it is unpredictable’.

To ensure sustained value for clients, remote management of the light and media system in the building is necessary. The ability to iterate content remotely is crucial for refining designs over time. And so is the collection of real-time usage data to prove the design achieves its goals.

This is not solely a technical task. It requires fundamental understanding of both the targeted behaviours, and the look and feel of the space. Hence it should be the responsibility of the original concept designers. I would encourage architects, interior designers and lighting designers to weave this new service into their offer either directly or through a specialist ambient communication partner. And where once the project opening meant the end of a contract, it now means a start of a new one...

Remote management extends to the continuing customisation of the light and media features, as well as touchscreen interfaces, digital twin integration (a digital twin is a virtual model of a physical object, spanning the object’s lifecycle and using real-time data sent from its sensors to simulate the behaviour and monitor operations) and tailored data collection. It provides the client with the flexibility to call up frequently personalised scenes at the touch of a button and allows the continuous evolution of the ambient communication.

This adaptability ensures that spaces can effortlessly transition between different moods and functionalities for years to come and continue providing surprise and added value to the owners, operators and guests.

Benefits: tangible impact on human behaviour

As an example of the impact lighting can have for the building occupants, we conducted a study in a recent project with the Centre for Behavioural Decisions, a research firm focused on the application of behavioural science on design.

An interactive chandelier was suspended into an existing spiral staircase of an office building and used to research the influence on human behaviour. The study started with a six-month period of observation and static light settings. Our AI sensors tracked stair usage over seven floors, forming a baseline. We then introduced dynamic upward light motion and recorded a 6% increase in stair use. Subsequent activation of interactive lighting propelled this to a remarkable 8% increase.

Interactive chandelier connected to AI sensors and suspended in the middle of this 1960s office staircase was found to increase stair usage. (Design and Poet Creator integration: Lighting Design Collective)

The significance lies not only in the aesthetic boost but in the quantifiable impact on human choices. From research literature, we know that a single step up burns approximately 0.17 calories, extends life by four seconds, as well as contributing to sustainable mobility by saving lift rides. Over a six-month trial, the effect was profound – 78,342 extra calories burned, a 21-day extension of life, and an impressive 11,549 elevator trips saved.

This study underlined the tangible benefits of responsive lighting in the built environment. Beyond the physical advantages, it speaks to the conscious and subconscious choices individuals make when influenced by an engaging and dynamic ambiance. The interplay of light and technology not only enhances user experiences but yields measurable outcomes – improving physical wellbeing, saving time and promoting sustainable practices.

The humble staircase becomes more than a physical structure; it becomes a canvas where light shapes choices, fostering a dynamic and eco-conscious approach to navigating the built environment.

Control solution: pioneering technological advancement in experiential spaces

Traditionally, combining light, media, data and interactivity within permanent installations has meant complex integrations, onerous programming and operational challenges.

The Aurora light experience at Setas de Sevilla, Spain, used generative lighting control and remote management to help to increase the ticket pricing by 200% and the opening hours by 30%, leading to a new revenue stream for the venue (Design and Poet Creator integration: Lighting Design Collective and Skandal Technologies. Image Credit: Sacyr

Six years ago, we embarked on a mission to address these issues by developing a system to meet the requirements of the emerging breed of experiential spaces. Poet Creator premiered at Infocomm in Orlando in June 2023 and won the title of Control and Management Technology of the Year at the AV AWARDS in London in November.

With its sophisticated AI sensing, real-time content creation and no-code work­ ow, Poet Creator seamlessly joins the concept design process with control over lighting, projections, media screens and interactive features into a cohesive system.

It not only massively opens up design possibilities for architects, interior designers and lighting designers but also revolutionises the operational landscape. Its capacity to handle diverse functions within a single system dramatically reduces the costs associated with integration and operation. It means that managing and refreshing intelligent and interactive spaces has become affordable for most projects.

An entrance feature at Clarivate HQ in London generates ever-changing interactive visuals driven by swarm intelligence, brand guidelines, London weather and people movement. (Poet Creator system integration by Arcstream AV)

Our goal has been to automate and conceal complexity, addressing the operational challenges of 24/7 architectural spaces, all while placing the designer in the driver’s seat. of is enables maximum creative freedom to craft new kinds of experiences never thought possible in permanent installations. The technology allows interior design industry to transform their visions into reality and redefine the landscape of intelligent and responsive spaces.

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