Running a business has nothing to do with lighting design. What can you offer to the next lighting design generation who doesn’t know what’s involved in owning a business?
It’s eye-opening, I’ll tell you that. For my path, the answer was to have a good partner. When I was with Rick Chamberlain, back in the Norfolk Group days, he had a real penchant for business, and I was pretty good at design. So, we each had our own groove, and complemented each other. When Rick moved on, I struggled to manage my workflow, clients and other aspects of the business. My wife quit her job and joined me to run my company; for years, she was our Managing Director. Eventually Rick Chamberlain returned to Available Light as the Managing Director, and my wife became CFO. We operate like a theater company, and it has served us very well. In any regional theater company around the United States, you almost always see two people on the letterhead: one responsible for the artistic choices and one responsible for the business. It’s hard to trust yourself enough to split responsibilities that way because a managing director position often isn’t perceived as a revenue-generating position. But, in fact, it actually is because it allows the creative people to focus on the work product we sell.
How do you sort through a huge universe of lighting technologies to maximize the aesthetic benefits of lighting?
This is really about innovation in lighting, and how much it has exploded. In the first 20 years of my career, as long as I went to conferences and read magazines, I could keep up with the lighting innovation curve; it was incremental. Along came LED technologies, and now, it feels like, every day, we’re drinking from a firehose. Things change so quickly, and when data that we use to justify an idea changes, we often have to rethink our approach. This is where our team approach works very well, because the lighting designers here pick up on important developments and disseminate this information the team. We also depend a lot on our sales reps and manufacturers to help us understand new innovations in light sources, luminaires and controls. We have to think how these products best serve our clients, not only on opening day but decades from now. A big percentage of my time is spent learning and researching, but it’s part of our value, and good for business. The more complicated lighting becomes, the more projects require a lighting designer. It builds clients and a healthy respect for what we do among architects and interior designers.
How do you keep pace with changes beyond lighting technologies and controls, like deciding what software tools to use?
In the United States, most professional lighting people use AGi32 for lighting calculations and rudimentary lighting renderings, while European designers prefer using DIALux. Our IALD colleagues overseas are so adamantly in favor of using it that we’ve started to research this a bit more, including running parallel calculations between the two programs. We’re in the genesis of this testing, so haven’t come to any conclusions yet, and of course, we have to figure out how everyone, including other designers and architects, can play in the same sandbox, so to speak. Nothing is ever set in stone in this industry. The same is true in rendering and drawing programs. For years, the architecture world revolved around AutoCAD. Then along came an upstart called Revit with building information modeling (BIM) software. It’s amazing how quickly that was adopted.
Steven Rosen’s photo in the title banner (c) Lisa Abitol.