Lighting can only be evaluated together with the environment. If there is light present in a space or architectural environment, we can have a visual sensation of this scene with our eyes. Lighting thus affects how the physical scene with its objects and surfaces appears to us humans. The luminous environment is transformed into the retinal image which is the stimulus for the visual process that provides information to make possible the perceptual process of recognizing objects and surfaces which form the visual basis for the perceived environment [1]. Lighting is clearly a part of the physical environment and lighting conditions such as illuminance and the correlated color temperature of the lighting have been shown to change people’s mood [2].

Thus a designer can expect that lighting can be orchestrated to create luminous environments that are meaningful and relevant to people. They may believe to help people to relax and withdraw into a world they have created themselves. They may believe to help them to transform a space so as to project a certain mood. They may believe to provide a mode of self-expression. They also could help a client to show off, e.g. by conveying luxury. But how to get to know if it is like that? One answer is to build a room and test with users. Clearly that is not always possible, but if it is the question arises: How to design the room to get responses that can attributed to lighting and not other elements in the room? My experience is that starting with a scenario to which user can connect to is essential. Although ensuring familiarity to the known the environment should stretch beyond and envision what the future might bring.

I may take one of my designs as example to illustrate the relationship between visual ambience, key light qualities and perceived atmosphere as it was studied in that built bathroom. Future consumers had therein a prominent role to play, especially during the analysis and evaluation phase. That we could succeed in tracing effects of lighting was mainly due to a close collaboration between researcher and designer.

Impression of the realized bathroom

The result from the actual  consumer evaluations of the bathroom shed a very positive view on the potential of lighting:

  • Lighting is able to add a completely new dimension to the bathroom experience. Light makes it possible to transform space: the originally functional bathroom becomes a
    totally different space.
  • Light has a very strong and positive impact on creating atmosphere in the bathroom and is also able to influence one’s mood/state of mind. It helps to create a certain mood.
  • The actual experience of what light can do to the atmosphere and your mood is extremely important. This is especially true because (on a conscious level) the bathroom is still perceived as relatively practical and functional, and also because light (as it is currently perceived) is still primarily functional.
  • There is a playful aspect in preparing your own settings and experimenting with light. Dynamic settings (sequences) arouse curiosity and were very well received.

All together the bathroom example manifested that it is essential for studying emotional responses to use a real lit environment. This seems the only adequate way to consider the multifaceted nature of interactions between lighting and the environment that impacts peoples perceptions of a surrounding.

Design issues and research results from mentioned bathroom project are described in my paper titled ‘Bathroom moments – light and water as intimate experiences‘. It was presented at the Design & Emotion conference in Hongkong in 2008. Herewith I would like to thank again Philips Lighting and my colleagues Gerard Harkin and Liesbeth Ploeg for their contributions to this extraordinary lighting project.


[1] Cuttle, C. (2003), ‘Lighting by Design‘, London: Architectural Press.

[2] McCloughan, C.L.B., Aspinall, P.A. and Webb, R.S. (1999), ‘The impact of lighting on mood‘, International Journal of Lighting Research and Technology, 31(3), 81-88.

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