Are We Sell Outs?



About twenty years ago, a fresh and eager younger me was hired into his first professional architectural lighting design job.  I was thrilled.  I knew everything already (of course!!) because I was twenty-something and had two college degrees.

Over the last twenty years I’ve been learning that I did not, in fact, know everything back then.  Whoops.

I did learn one important lesson back then, which I’ll call RULE #1: Real Lighting Designers Do Not Sell Fixtures.  This keeps Real Lighting Designers from recommending fixtures or quantities to their clients while under the influence of profit motivation.

You pay us to develop a design that works for you, not for our pocketbooks.  I’ve heard scary stories of lighting-designers-who-sell-fixtures selling clients junk the designer happened to get on clearance.  In those cases it is not the client being served.

Yet sometimes, when I see how much our clients spend on fixtures compared to our fees, I wonder if we should be selling fixtures or taking a cut or kickback.

Then I remember RULE #1.


There is one small problem with strict obedience to RULE #1: our clients have to buy fixtures from Someone.  And that Someone may or may not have their best interests in mind.

Here’s a far more common scary story: A Real Lighting Designer specifies products to deliver the design and meet the clients’ needs.

The client passes off the specifications to their builder, who passes them off the electrical contractor, who passes them off their procurement person, who passes them off to a distributor, who passes them off to rep.

The rep makes a substitution or two to keep things within their lines, the distributor makes a substitution or two to use up existing inventory, the electrician makes a substitution or two to simplify installation and increase profit.

The client ends up with almost nothing the Real Lighting Designer specified.

The only solution is to shout in anger, require the electrician to remove all the substituted fixtures (including ripping out drywall if needed), ask the client for more money, slow down the construction schedule, and make everyone grumpy.

Sure, lighting designers can make a boatload of money selling fixtures and even discount their design time and hide it within the fixture sale.  But it also makes designers happier to know the right product is getting installed.

This is why we partner with Custom Integrators to sell the lighting fixtures.

Custom Integrators, also called AV Integrators, partner with us to serve our clients.  We help the Integrators choose fixture manufacturers to sell and sort through the fixtures to find the ones we think will best serve the client.  We specify the fixtures, but receive no financial incentive to do so.  The Integrator sells the fixtures and works closely with us in case there need to be any substitutions because of supply chain issues (Tariffs?  Virus Outbreaks?) or construction issues (oops- there is a joist there?).

Quite simply, this arrangement allows us to design with the client’s interests at heart.

And know that the design will be carried out the way it should be.

And that is what our version of Real Lighting Design is all about.  Shouldn’t it be?


Images courtesy DMF Lighting.

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