A Second Language of Light

Last week I delivered a webinar with the same title as this blog post and it was one of the hardest presentations I have done in quite some time. Change does not always come easy for me, but it is a vital part of the creative process.

When I pitched the webinar idea to the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES), I thought it would be an easy presentation. I already have a language of light that I started sharing on this blog several years ago. Our team uses this language of light and we embed it into training modules and marketing materials and….

The preparation started out smoothly enough. I broke down what I thought were some of the biggest problems facing the lighting industry and some of the best opportunities available to us all. Then I briefly outlined my language of light that includes the five promises of light. I wrapped it up, ready to deliver, or so I thought.

I ran through the presentation in 36 minutes. The presentation was supposed to be 55 minutes long.

I panicked. I started adding in little bits here and there. After a lot of work I got to 42 minutes. I felt like a college student trying to stretch out a paper to meet a 10-page minimum but without anything else to say.

I panicked some more. I did not want to randomly add meaningless content, and I did not want to come in at 42 minutes. I felt a lot of pressure to look my best in front of the professional audience. The IES is, after all, the leading authority on lighting. They develop the standards that govern most of the world’s lighting. Their membership spans the globe and includes the most significant companies and individuals in the industry.

And over one thousand people had signed up to listen in live.

I love the way our brains work on problems even when we are doing other things like going for a jog or clearing the table after dinner or even sleeping. My brain was working on the problem of not having enough content while I went about my week, meeting with the team, spending time with my family, and living life.

The solution turned out to be simple…and very hard. My brain told me it was time to re-examine my own language of light. The result was a 62-minute presentation that changed the way I think about my job. Judging from the flood of comments, emails, and LinkedIn conversations, I ended up changing a few other minds, too.

I still like the five promises of light. I’m overly fond of my own creations. Look at what I made, mom! But I had grown stagnant in my development of language and it took this webinar to shake me loose. All of the lessons that I had learned in the past from leadership books, Sarah Susanka’s Not So Big House books, and even Simon Sinek’s TED talk on starting with “why” bubbled up to the top. The past mixed with the present, with recent client discussions, new podcasts like Twins Talk Clear Cut Communication, and design process upgrades that seemed good but not great.

I have been critical of the lighting industry for its over-reliance on terms like task, ambient, and accent. I am suddenly struck by the realization that I live in a glass house and should not be throwing stones, as the parable goes.

Language, as it turns out, is not one-and-done. Language is a living organism that needs to grow and expand and change and respond and evolve.

I believe in the power of light to help make the world a better place for everyone. I started out creating a new language of light a few years ago and found great personal satisfaction and professional success in its birth.

It’s time to start again. Not to start over, not to create a second language of light. The language of light just needs to be alive.

It will not be easy. But I am as excited as when I started this journey years ago.

4 thoughts on “A Second Language of Light

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  1. I first heard you when you recently participated in the BS and Beer video. Enjoy reading your subsequent blogs and have been a long-time fan of Sarah’s architectural design. But I’m a technician at heart and continually ask myself (of all things building science) – “How can I implement that?” I remember the huge bundles of very thin multi-strand wire that the electricians built into my parent’s 1960’s home for future telephone use (that was never used); the phone lines/jacks that I installed in our house and quit using several years ago when we went totally cellular; the cable tv lines/jacks that I installed in our house and quit using after we went WIFI. I’m afraid that trying to implement built-in technical solutions that provide lighting coverage you describe will be quickly outmoded with advancing technology. How best to “future proof” the wiring, switches, lighting devices to accomplish your recommendations?


    1. David, that’s a great concern! My crystal ball is a little fuzzy, but I’m betting that all control and switching moves towards wireless technology, with power delivered to lighting via low voltage. In other words, if you pull 14/2 w/ground to lights now I suspect we’ll be able to use that deliver power for a very long time…and the guts of the lights will swap out to accept wireless controls.


    1. Thanks for asking! The followup post…with new language…is written but it’s too long and rambling. And I don’t feel like the language is “right” yet, but maybe it is time to put it out there…I bet others can help me get it across the next finish line.


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