Why do some lighting control systems seem so disappointing?

Edmund Blackadder, Lighting Designer

In the “Amy and Amiability” episode of Blackadder III, Edmund and Baldrick are discussing how to marry off the “unbelievably thick and gittish” Prince George.

Blackadder: Well there’s Grand Duchess Sophia of Turin. We’ll never get her to marry him.
Baldrick: Why not?
Blackadder: Because she’s met him.

Sometimes we feel the same way about lighting control systems. If someone’s had a poorly programmed system or more likely had a lighting control system installed to accompany a poor lighting design they’ll be pretty resolutely against having another one. So why can lighting control projects lead to such opposition and what can you do to avoid disappointing results?

Focus on the lighting design

Lighting Control and Lighting Design support one another. Great lighting frequently involves multiple circuits of lights with very different characteristics.  Lighting “scenes” see those multiple circuits set at different levels to change the balance, shape and focus of the lighting in a space. So the balance, the focus, the “mood” of the space is altered by the lighting. You can actually achieve that without using a lighting control system at all. It means setting each circuit of lights to pre-determined levels individually rather than using a control keypad to control all the circuits from a single button but the magic is created by the lighting itself, not the control system.  The lighting control system simplifies things enormously.  Backlit, engraved buttons can call up a “dining” scene, an “entertaining” scene, a “cooking” scene.  Simple and intuitive.

Turn that scenario on its head.  Imagine the lighting design isn’t an interesting design but rather a formulaic grid of downlights designed without reference to focal points, layout or how the space is used.  It’s unlikely that altering the levels of each circuit is going to have any effect on the feel or mood of the room.  Now put a lighting control system with a keypad in to control the scenes in the design.  The scenes aren’t really differentiated and so the buttons don’t seem to do anything apart from complicate matters.  The keypad suddenly seems to be an overly complex control mechanism and it’s rather frustrating to use.  The tendency is to blame the lighting control system.  Really though, the issue is that the control system can’t fix the deficiencies of the lighting design.  It can’t inject magic where there is none.

So that’s one reason (and we believe it’s the main reason) why some lighting control projects turn out so badly.  Fortunately there are many reasons why they work so well.  Have a look at the new Lighting Controls section on the Brilliant Lighting site for 7 good reasons why you might use a lighting control system

Unrelated Info

Amy and Amiability – the script for Blackadder – Series 3, Episode 5. Not related to lighting at all but any episode that has this gem deserves a closer look.

Blackadder: Sir, I come as emissary of the Prince of Wales with the most splendid news. He wants your daughter Amy for his wife.
Josiah Hardwood: Well his wife can’t have her! Outrageous, sir, to come here with such a suggestion!


Iain Shaw
Founder partner at Brilliant Lighting responsible for Marketing, PR and IT. When I’m not writing about lighting, design and technology I love horseracing, cricket and cooking.

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