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.

Station Lighting

One of my oldest projects, done in early high school; A UX and Lighting project for use in redeveloping rail stations.

As part of the Higher Product Design Course, as with Intermediate Two, we must produce a Design Proposal as a prelude to the Design Assignment which comprised 50% of our final grade. The brief chosen was to create a platform lighting system for a fictional lucrative rail operator to use on all its station platforms with few restrictions placed on functionality and cost.

scan of project brief
The main brief with the chosen project.

This project was our first real chance to experiment an innovate as the product typology, its placement (multiple units on a platform) and restrictions placed by the brief were all very open.

Four of my original ideas were built on the premise that a lighting dimension could be built into an alternative function, that the functional part of a light is the light emitted and that the product to emit the light was merely a ‘casing’, a means to an end.

In this way, a lighting project can be thought of as a project to design a new way to achieve the generation and projection of light.

sketch of early idea for screen integration
The initial sketch for design idea two, floor directed lighting with a timetable display.

My first chosen idea was built around the idea that timetables could be placed on the ground level and used to project light along the ground. This was built on the idea that ground-level light projection was less intrusive and more ambient than excessive overhead lighting and that to build this into the platform would create a floor level intrusion. If the unit had a secondary purpose, the obstruction could be justified.

sketch of old concept
Design idea five, expanding sculptural light.

My second idea was built on the idea that a piece of lighting could be ornamental as well as functional, as most platform lighting is purely functional. The opens to emit light, transforming into a solid sphere during the day to evoke a sense of mystery and intrigue by being a piece of sculpture as much an emitter of light.

manual render sketch
The final manual render.

The final design chosen was the media display unit which incorporated elements from other ideas such as the rotating light cover from idea six.

The final design refined the notion of projecting light along the floor by emitting light directed down from the floor to about chest height allowing for some ambient spread.

Looking back on the project I am still pleased with the outcome but have some reservations about the means by which the outcome was created.

The brief’s looseness on function, cost and location allowed for some inventive ideas but none of those ideas really solved a problem. I tried to make ideas which enhanced the user experience but the lack of research to form the foundations was, in hindsight, a hindrance.

If I were to take on this brief now, I would want to do a great deal more research, finding a comparable rail operator and defining a set of problems, areas for improvement and constraints to follow.