Comment: What is the lighting world and design all about nowadays?

08. Mar 2016

Some thoughts on Light+Building

by Joachim Ritter

Have you had – or found – the time to think about what Light+Building will be coming up with this year that is new. We do tend to rate this industry highlight as a kind of reflection of the status quo, after all, and a sign of the challenges we are likely to be facing in the coming years. I get the feeling that it won’t be easy to gain a true overview this time round, though. This applies as much to the issues that are likely to be focussed on during the show as to the market itself, which is far from consistent.


Photo: Messe Frankfurt

Ever since the lighting industry packed their bags and moved from the World Light Show in Hanover to Light+Building in Frankfurt, the fair has appeared to maintain a confident position in the fast lane. The number of exhibitors and visitors has grown from event to event. This year they are again expecting 250,000 visitors to make their way through the halls to see what the 2500 exhibitors have on show. A success story.

And yet a few critical voices can be heard. Not that anyone is complaining loudly about anything in particular, but there is definitely something in the air. It is worth taking a closer look at which exhibitors and planners are avoiding Light+Building this year. The reason for a renowned supplier and “driver” of LED solutions of the likes of Cree not to be exhibiting in Frankfurt this year cannot be linked with success. Even manufacturers who have proven to be successful in past years are not to be found in this year’s Light+Building list of exhibitors: companies like Lumenpulse or Sharp, or a concern such as GE. Specialist companies such as Ansorg and Martin Professional are focussing on their own respective fields of expertise, and will be presenting at fairs such as Euroshop or Prolight + Sound. The list goes on and encompasses companies of all sizes, from all over the world, and with a wide variety of product lines. It is not that the lighting industry is known for its lack of self-assurance. And Messe Frankfurt is not backward at coming forward on this point. As long as there are still others around willing to book stand space that has become available because others have opted out, it is not really an issue for the lighting industry.

Manufacturers have been complaining for years about the escalating costs for the event. And everyone knows that the return on investment is by no means in proportion to the expenses incurred. And still there are companies happily investing vast amounts of money to secure their trade fair presence. Budgets of more than ten million euros are not unusual. But nobody ever wanted to give the impression they were not up to it – apart from the fact that nobody was sure what message it would communicate if they were not present at the show.

The average time a visitor spends at the fair has slowly diminished over the years. Right now it stands at around one and a half days. At the same time, more and more suppliers try to ensure that this time is spent with them and they purposefully set out to convince visitors that they are the only ones with cutting-edge products, technologies, solutions … The trouble is: everyone is doing the same, and slowly but surely people are becoming aware of the fact that merely being present at the show does not ensure success. Many exhibitors are just stuck with the high costs.

The exhibitors are there to sell their wares – their products and solutions – to their customers and clients. Light has become so complex, however, that it is not possible to provide qualified advice or support to someone who simply “calls by your stand”. The event can only swim on the surface of a wealth of information.

Continuing professional education in the form of serious seminars or workshops have not been developed consistently. Some years back Light+Building used to stage some very high-quality conferences that designers paid to attend because of the quality content. More than 800 planners are known to have attended the seminars – compared with the 200,000 actually visiting the show, which was not an issue at all for the fair authorities. The seminars staged nowadays tend not to attract so much attention or attendance. The programme this year, compiled by an international association whose prime goal is to promote the interests of their members, leaves a lot to be desired. Lighting designers who get up on stage to chat about life in their own practices can be entertaining as part of a social gathering, but is not indicative of a serious continuing education programme – which is actually what the lighting design industry is in dire need of. At least it doesn’t cost anything. They will have to see what kind of response it gets given all the other interesting stuff going on at the fair.

We are also hearing from a number of designers that they are not planning to go to Light+Building this year, or have only scheduled in a short visit. Not that this makes much difference to the costs involved. What you have to pay for a hotel room for one night today would have covered two nights four years ago. And nobody can claim that Germany and the refugee dilemma are responsible for this. If you have not yet organised your hotel accommodation, prepare yourself for the worst! You are looking at 400 euros for a four-star hotel – per night, I hasten to add.

With regard to content, as a visitor you are going to have to gear yourself up for topics and issues that don’t immediately appear to have much to do with lighting design per se. But in future they will be the driving force behind design:

1. Smart Cities
2. Connectivity
3. Internet of Things
4. Energy efficiency
5. Human Centric Lighting

Hang on, the last one may have something to do with lighting design. But why is it listed as point five? Then again, it wasn’t much different in the past. But what can we learn from this list?

It is a sign of the times that technology is the key to design. That is exciting and creates huge scope for creativity. But as a designer you also need to be informed about the latest research findings in order to be able to make an educated decision as to how a design should be developed. This is complex and there is not sufficient and suitable specialist literature available to communicate what research has been done or is ongoing. Pretty pictures and technical data are not enough to be able to design well.

That wasn’t much different in the past either. It seems as if the lighting industry have not really learnt that much over the last few decades, or are drifting away from what should be a focus on design and reverting to superficiality and self-adulation on the part of the associations.

When it comes to international associations, it appears to hold true that competition is “good for business”, or has been – as what the world has experienced in the case of FIFA in the professional football world has shown.


My opinion:

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