Lighting Exploration Project

A year long exploratory project for Advanced Higher Art & Design exploring perceptual relationship with nature through a semiotic analysis in the context of lighting design.

Art and Design, as opposed to the engineering-based Product Design, focuses less on tech-based skillets or problem-solving as it does on theme exploration and expressive content with theoretical frameworks applied. I started with a basic idea to explore the geometry and regular patterns in the natural environment, evolved from the abandoned theme of ‘capturing motion’; exploring movement in form.

lighting tests in the dark room
Images from some initial dark room experiments on form development.

This interest in geometric form in nature morphed into an exploration of what certain patterns and shapes mean to people, observing the boundary between organic form and the more geometric patterns which often underpin them and how this can be used loosely as a method to explore a broader conception of ‘nature’ and the built environment.

Given the long timescale format, I decided that I wanted to introduce a more technical element of my own accord, learning over the course of the year to use Arduino and constructing multiple prototypes and methods of lighting and interfacing with light. This foundational knowledge in code laid the path to my later interest in JavaScript and other technologies.

a triangle-based prototype
A collage of images from the ‘triangles’ development route.

One particular branch of exploration which interested me was this exploration of triangular formations. The triangle or triangular-pyramid provides a repetitive tiling structure but the angles of 30 and 60 degrees added an element of rapidly expansive complexity (akin to polygons in CAD modelling) which opened a great many possibilities in a short amount of time.

In addition to Arduino controlled lighting, polymorph plastic played an integral role in the projects outcomes. Polymorph is a polymer with properties very close to polymethacrylate that can be moulded at around 60 degrees, allowing it to be melted down and moulded over and over again. As it turns out, it also has great optical properties as well.

final presentation board
The final outcomes in various scenarios showing the Arduino controller and capacitive touch panel.

The final design was a range of units, designed to be placed apart as part of a set, which function as sculptural pieces as well as mood lighting and manipulation. The units are lined with RGB LED’s to diffuse light across their bodies, hooked up to an Arduino controller and optional control panel.

Several programs were written for different effects. Capacitive touch and proximity detection was used whereby the Arduino could detect electro-magnetic interference near a circuit and respond. Once program had the panel respond to toggle colours on and off on touch. Another detected user’s proximity to an individual unit and lit the rest up like a ‘heat map’, in response to the relative position.

The idea was that, with more psychological user research, the units could read the users mood and respond with an appropriate stimulus colour.


The Margate Art tour is a conceptual piece of service design to link cultural hubs along the Kent coast.

Intended to strengthen the growing artistic trend, it is hoped to provide economic opportunity and regeneration.

The Margate Experience Project was a broad speculative piece, focusing on the design process as applied to a real world context.

Unit four of the course is the last unit in stage one and focuses on applying the design process to a real world context by asking us to consider the situation of Margate and how it, through design, could be improved.

The brief for this project was much more open than anything considered previously and offered a great scope for creativity, experimentation and consideration of wider socio-political factors.

margate image from beech
A symbol for modern Margate; the closed Dreamland centre overshadowed by an unmaterialised modernist vision, surrounded by scaffolding.

I was very excited for this project, not only was it the first structured project of my return to the course but it was a chance to act on the idea of using design to effect positive change in a real-life context, to break away from the established idea of physical, consumer-based product design.

In addition, I personally had a bit of a head start in that I had visited Margate before and given some amount of thought to the basic premise of this project.

margate in-person research
Day one of our group trip to Margate conducting research. Even Arlington can look good with strategic lens flares.

Research formed the backbone of this project to arguably a larger degree than some other past projects. This involved interviews, primary and secondary research, the creation of a ‘cultural map’ in groups, a three-day site visit and personal observations and anecdotes.

final presentation board
First Final Presentation Board
second final presentation board
Second Final Presentation Board

My design solution was a conceptual ferry service operating an ‘Art Tour’ around Margate, connecting visitors to key areas of cultural and artistic significance around the east coast.

The core of this idea is to place Margate at the centre of a broader artistic context and culture.

Margate has a rising art scene as personified by the greatly successful Turner Contemporary gallery but is somewhat stunted by its remote location and lack of other attractions. By offering figurative and literal links to other such locations, a coherent experience can be created centred around Margate with connections to London and Dover to entice tourists.

Reflecting back on the project I would have liked to delve deeper into specific aspects of the design like what the onboard commentary would have consisted of, more detail put into the design of the vessels and in general, added more user touch points to make the idea more unique.

In addition I think the project could have benefited from more primary research mid-way through but overall it was a greatly interesting brief to tackle.