The long and winding road – a benefit for all concerned
The need for a career path in Lighting Design.
by Alison Ritter
There is a lot to be said for school leavers taking a gap year – even if they are relatively clear about what they eventually want to study or train for. A gap year may take the form of a social year, a trip to another country or continent, or simply a year spent recovering from school exams and preparing for the next phase of learning.
Many schools provide a career advice service to support school leavers deciding on a university or a specific study programme, or to open young people’s minds as to what kind of career they would like to pursue. At the age of 18 or 19, not many school leavers are clear of where they envisage themselves to be five years down the road. Some have known they wanted to be a doctor, nurse, judge, journalist, teacher or pilot since their early secondary school days. Why? Because such professions are known to them: they can imagine what it would be like to get up every morning and don a white coat, a smart uniform, judicial robes, or grab a bag full of marked exercise books or the necessary photographic/recording equipment to carry out an interview with a politician, a film star or a football player … All imaginable. All possible.
How would anyone of school leaving age hit upon the idea of becoming a lighting designer? Good question. Who is able to explain what a lighting designer is, and what s/he does for whom and why? Ask any practising lighting designer from anywhere in the world and you will get a clear overview of the scope of work performed, the size of the design team and possibly names of award-winning projects. However acknowledged or even renowned the lighting designer providing the facts and figures may be, the information will vary considerably. The know-how and experience gathered over the years, and the creative skills that have developed with each commissioned job, need pooling into a clearly defined structure that anyone can follow – however long and winding the road may be, it needs to makes sense.
Piecing together the puzzle
There are a number of Bachelor and Master programmes in place in different countries, and some universities maintain contact with partner universities to enhance student opportunities and balance learning efforts. Graduates from recognised academic programmes find placements in design practices or in the lighting industry relatively easily, thus embarking on the first chapter in their working lives. Nothing is coordinated. It is up to every individual to find his/her way around.
The situation is very different in recognised professions. After a period of study, the graduate of Law, Medicine, etc. is expected to move forward in a coordinated fashion, following a defined route with tests and goals along the way to ensure specific skills and competences have been acquired. To be clear: a career path is comprised of a sequence of jobs that lead an individual step by step towards his or her goals and objectives. The process may involve performance appraisal which takes into account the interests, knowledge and skills of the employee. Continuing education (CPD), training or work assignments may be included as a way to further qualify employees for subsequent roles. A career path doesn’t need to be a straight line up the career ladder. Career paths traditionally imply vertical growth or advancement to higher level positions but they can also entail lateral movement within or across industries.
This all sounds realistic and sensible: to be able to practise a profession you naturally need to prove that you are qualified. If this is part of gaining recognition for Lighting Design as a profession, then a career path needs to be put in place as fast as is humanly possible.
Lighting associations around the world certainly serve a purpose. They serve their members and represent their interests by encouraging meetings and networking, and demonstrating the value of what their members do on a daily basis through a variety of marketing strategies – website, open activities, newletters, and involvement in educational initiatives, such as conferences and workshops. But to date they have not come up with a generally accepted Career Path in Lighting Design.
This is not an easy task given the pace at which lighting technologies are developing and the scope they have opened up for designers. Lighting design projects today encompass the know-how and skills inherent to other disciplines. The IoT and digitalisation has sparked creative minds to move towards interaction design and communication design – and not only in the field of event lighting, entertainment or light art. A sensitive response to human needs is required in any space “inhabited” or used by humans. Light can support human bio-rhythms and healing processes in people of different ages, and light can also be applied – or avoided – in the interest of flora and fauna.
What has to be done in the lighting design community to enable a young individual embark on the steady process in the line of work s/he finds potentially attractive and interesting? If a career path is interpreted as a map that leads to a final career goal or destination, to create that map, we need determine what is key to that map and consider what steps will lead there.
As mentioned above, it is now possible to study Lighting Design to Bachelor and/or Master level. If these programmes agree to adhere to a defined core curriculum, the graduates completing the respective courses would be at a similar level. As a newly qualified lighting designer (cf. newly qualified teacher NQT), it would make sense to complete at one year “on the job” – an induction year – before entering Junior Lighting Designer stage.
Lighting design practices today tend to classify their team members in the same way, using titles such as Junior Lighting Designer, Project Lighting Designer, Senior Lighting Designer, Associate Lighting Designer, and so on. At the same time, there are EU Directives dedicated to defining the levels of a qualification framework to determine the general requirements to be attained through the education system and for professional levels of a professional system.
For example, at Level 1 an individual is expected to have the basic (lighting) knowledge and skills required to carry out simple tasks, and to work or study under direct supervision in a structured context.
At Level 2, a newly qualified individual needs to possess the basic cognitive and practical skills required to use relevant information in order to carry out tasks and to solve routine problems using simple rules and tools, working under supervision with some autonomy. Level 3 incorporates individuals with a knowledge of facts, principles, processes and general concepts in the field of activity (lighting design), plus the ability to accept responsibility for the completion of tasks and to solve problems.
To be classified as Level 4, the individual must demonstrate s/he has practical and theoretical knowledge in the broad context within the field (of lighting design) and the skills required to generate solutions to specific problems on a specific project. Furthermore, s/he must be able to self-manage projects within the guidelines of work contexts that are usually predictable, but may be subject to change, and supervise the routine work of others.
Level 5 requires the individual to have comprehensive, specialised, practical and theoretical knowledge within the field (of lighting design) and an awareness of the boundaries of that knowledge. With a comprehensive range of cognitive and practical skills, an individual classified as Level 5 is able to develop creative solutions to abstract problems, has the ability to exercise management and supervision in the contexts of work or project studies where there is unpredictable change, as well as the ability to review and develop the performance of oneself and others.
At Level 6, the individual has highly specialised knowledge, some of which is at the forefront of knowledge in the field (of lighting design), as the basis for original thinking and/or research, plus specialised problem-solving skills required in research and/or innovation in order to develop new knowledge and procedures and to integrate knowledge from different fields. Level 6 individuals take responsibility for contributing to professional knowledge and practice and/or for reviewing the strategic performance of teams.
Level 7 is the top of the tree, the owner of a practice or company, possessing the most advanced and specialised skills and techniques, including the synthesis and evaluation, required to solve critical problems in research and/or innovation and to extend and redefine existing knowledge or professional practice. This individual demonstrates substantial authority, innovation, autonomy, professional integrity and sustained commitment to the development of new ideas or processes at the forefront of the field of work/practice (lighting design), including research.
So where do we go from here? One cannot deny the existence of practising lighting designers around the world. But what will they leave behind them when they retire in the way of professional heritage? They may be highly skilled, outstandingly creative, pioneers in their own right, but they have inspired others to follow in their footsteps. Lighting Design can now be studied, but where is the value of an academic degree if it does not provide the young generation with a perspective of a real profession.
The solution cannot lie solely with a political body. It requires the commitment and meaningful input from experienced lighting designers today, people who have fought their way through their professional lives doing what they sincerely believe in. I know I have used these words before, but there is no other way to put it: it’s up to you!
Suggestion only – input required!
Level 1 Student (Bachelor, Master)
Basic lighting knowledge, basic skills required to carry out simple tasks, work or study under direct supervision in a structured context
Level2 Newly qualified lighting designer (one year minimum of qualifying employment)
Basic cognitive and practical skills required to use relevant information in order to carry out tasks and to solve routine problems using simple rules and tools, work or study under supervision with some autonomy
Level 3 Junior lighting designer
Knowledge of facts, principles, processes and general concepts, in the field of lighting design; responsibility for completion of tasks, ability to solve problems
Level 4 Project lighting designer
Practical and theoretical knowledge in the broad context within the field of lighting design; skills required to generate solutions to specific problems on a specific project; self-management within the guidelines of work contexts that are usually predictable, but may be subject to change; supervise routine work of others, take some responsibility for the evaluation and improvement of work
Level 5 Senior lighting designer
Comprehensive, specialised, practical and theoretical knowledge within the field of lighting design and an awareness of the boundaries of that knowledge; a comprehensive range of cognitive and practical skills required to develop creative solutions to abstract problems; ability to exercise management and supervision in the contexts of work or project studies where there is unpredictable change; ability to review and develop the performance of oneself and others
Level 6 Associate lighting designer (team leader, project manager)
Highly specialised knowledge, some of which is at the forefront of knowledge in the field of lighting design, as the basis for original thinking and/or research; specialised problem-solving skills required in research and/or innovation in order to develop new knowledge and procedures and to integrate knowledge from different fields; take responsibility for contributing to professional knowledge and practice and/or for reviewing the strategic performance of teams
Level 7 Principal lighting designer
Practice owner; designer with the most advanced and specialised skills and techniques, including synthesis and evaluation, required to solve critical problems in research and/or innovation and to extend and redefine existing knowledge or professional practice; demonstrate