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Human-Centric Lighting: What it is and why it matters.
June 01, 2022

Light. It’s a fundamental necessity. Without light, our eyes simply do not work. From torches, to candles, to oil lamps, to electric light - humans have developed continually improving lighting methods. For centuries, however, these improvements have focused on enabling optimal visual acuity via quantity, quality, and distribution of artificial light. Energy efficiency became a target in more recent decades. How can we deliver lighting that provides the best visual acuity with the least energy consumption?

But is that all that light can do?

It turns out that light affects humans in ways that go far beyond simply being able to see. A human-centric lighting design considers the effects of lighting on humans, beyond sight, and proactively uses lighting to derive positive effects. Human-centric lighting is a broad strategy including, but not limited to, circadian-affective methods. Although circadian lighting systems can be quite complex to implement, other human-centric lighting methods are easier to achieve and can produce positive practical results.

Lighting can be strategically designed to engage users’ psychological state, affecting factors such as mood, attentiveness, productivity, and general sense of well-being. It can address personal preferences by allowing individual user control or be pre-programmed based upon the purpose of the space, time of day, etc. This may seem like “touchy-feely stuff” that is nice to have but can’t be justified by practical impact. That’s not so. For example, studies have shown higher retention rates when employees feel a greater sense of well-being at work. Other studies positively correlate productivity and environment. Still other studies show a positive impact of human-centric lighting on student performance in classrooms.

Lighting manufacturers have made human-centric design easier with tunable lighting products that adjust both correlated color temperature (CCT) and intensity level. Dim-to-warm is a sub-category of tunable lighting that controls dimming and CCT together, reducing intensity at warmer CCTs and increasing intensity at higher CCTs. However, tunable systems that allow independent control of CCT and intensity allow greater flexibility and impact.

Control systems are available that allow custom programming of CCT and intensity as quick-select “scenes” or with pre-programmed/canned scenes out of the box. Scenes create the simplest user interface with single-touch button control for each CCT/intensity setting. Remember, the easier a system is to use, the more likely it will actually be used. So, if generalized scenes are workable for a given application, this is a good way to go. Just make sure that button labels are intuitive to the user.

Tunable lighting is also great for consistent, cohesive lighting layouts. Use the same luminaire throughout a facility but “tune” it for lighting characteristics that are optimal for the purpose of each individual space and/or user community. Even better, if the purpose of the space changes with time (think: re-org), the lighting can be quickly changed to suit. Some call this a “future-proofing” feature!

So how might you use tunable lighting in a practical application?

Here are a few examples:

  • Commercial Office Lighting can be programmed to automatically adjust with the clock, warmer and dimmer early in the morning, cooler and brighter in the afternoon, especially right after lunch for an added energy boost. Alternatively, employees can be given individual control of lighting for their own workspaces, which has been shown to increase job satisfaction and, in turn, motivation and productivity.
  • Education Teachers can use bright, cool light to stimulate and energize students, enhancing concentration and focus. Dimmer, warm light is calming, a useful transition at the start of the day or right after recess.
  • Healthcare There are so many different types of spaces in healthcare facilities, each with a distinct purpose that can be reinforced by the lighting. Waiting areas should always be inviting, comfortable, and ease anxieties - perfect spaces for soft, warm lighting. Diagnostic rooms such as MRI, PET, CAT require bright white light for visual acuity when tests are being set up and then dimmer, warm lighting to ease the patient during testing.

When human-centric lighting is done well, occupants of the space just feel better. Depending upon the particular space, the target effect might be calming and relaxing or invigorating and productive – or somewhere in between. Tunable lighting is a powerful addition to a lighting designer’s toolkit, with opportunities to make impacts that far exceed simply delivering light by which to see.

Check out all the tunable lighting solutions at LightAZ.