Job Description: Lighting designers plan, create, focus and plot theatrical and architectural lighting for homes, businesses, store displays, films, television and theater productions, and special events. In amateur theater, the lighting designer may also operate the lighting equipment during a production. Lighting designers work with the set and costume designers to capture the mood and dramatic effect envisioned by the director.
Training and Educational Qualifications: Lighting design is part of the larger industrial design occupation. A bachelor’s degree in industrial design or theatrical or stage design is required for most entry level commercial and industrial design positions. Many persons in industrial design also pursue a master’s degree in order to increase their employment opportunities. Creativity and technical knowledge are crucial in this occupation. Designers in the lighting field also must have a strong sense of the esthetic an eye for color and detail and a sense of balance and proportion. Those designers working for professional theaters or in film are usually expected to have specialized knowledge in those industries.
Job Outlook: Employment of commercial and industrial lighting designers is expected to increase at a rate comparable to the average projected for all occupations through 2016. The availability of more employment opportunities in this field will be the outgrowth of an expanding economy and a rise in consumer and business demand for new or upgraded products. However, competition for jobs will be keen because many talented individuals are attracted to the design field. The best job opportunities will be in specialized design firms, which are used by manufacturers to design products or parts of products. Designers with strong backgrounds in engineering and computer aided design, as well as extensive business expertise, may have the best prospects.
Salary: The median annual earnings figure for commercial and industrial designers is $54,560. The middle 50 percent earn between $41,270 and $72,610. The lowest 10 percent earn less than $29,080, and the highest 10 percent earn more than $92,970.
• About 30 percent of commercial and industrial designers are self-employed. Many designers work for services firms.
• A bachelor’s degree in industrial design, architecture, or engineering is required for entry-level positions. Some lighting design professionals have degrees in theatrical or stage design.
• Lighting designers who want to work in professional theaters or in film are usually expected to have specialized knowledge in those industries.
Did you have an internship in this field prior to starting your job?
I was given the opportunity to do contract work for Cooper Lighting building models and prototypes with the chance that I might be given a full time design gig. I’ve been here ever since then.
Which companies have the best internships in this field and are known to help launch successful careers?
In the Southeast, Ryobi/CCI and Electrolux are the best I know of. Interns get to work on a large variety of products and learn the latest tools and disciplines.
Where are the best cities to live to find jobs like yours?
Anywhere in Ohio, California, or New York is good because of the large creative presence of business HQ’s. Most large cities are good as well, for example, Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami.
What is your typical day like?
I show up at 8:00 a.m. A normal part of my day is to spend a half hour or so doing trending and checking out new products. I also spend a good bit of time sketching and working in CAD. I’ve learned that too many meetings can be anti productive.
What are your job responsibilities?
I basically work through the whole design process of bringing an idea into a sketch then into the computer and into a tangible product that can be made. We work very closely with marketing and engineering as we go through this cycle. I also do almost all of our in house computer rendering and Photoshop work.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I like getting out of the office and doing research. I find it very gratifying to talk with customers and the people that deal with our products. There’s no substitute for this work. Creativity blooms when you leave the office. When you lose the computer and the phone, it’s almost Zen-like.
What do you dislike about your job?
Meetings. I work in a corporate environment and we have meetings about the tiniest obscure details.
Have you had any turning point or “light bulb” moments in your career that have helped you get to where you are today?
I think I’m having one now. I’ve come to the point where I want to start my own business, either a consultancy or a manufacturer of a few products I’ve designed and really latched onto. I’ll have to get back with you to see how the future pans out.
How did you know you wanted to pursue this career?
Growing up I loved drawing, working in my dad’s shop, taking stuff and modifying my toys. I had always loved cars and as I looked into getting into that, I found this whole industry based on products. Before then, I thought engineers were the only ones to develop products. Now I see product design as the perfect career.
Describe how you got into this industry and how you got your most recent job.
As I was figuring out that “product designers” exist, my cousin told me about an art and design college. Within six months, I was enrolled and taking “Intro to Industrial Design.”
If you weren’t doing this job, what similar careers might you consider?
I’ve always liked the psychological aspect of creating products that part of design that makes people become emotionally attached to their products so ethnography and psychology would definitely be high on the list of alternate careers.
To what professional associations do you belong and what professional publications do you read?
I’m a member of Industrial Designers Society of America (ISDA). I read their newsletters and magazines. In fact, I’m a magazine hound so I look at everything I’m either interested in or draw inspiration from. Magazines are a sort of visual anthropology for me.
What advice do you have for others who would like to pursue this career?
Be aware that you are always working and thinking, whether you are at home, at the mall, or getting a latte. You constantly need to be subjectively looking at things for opportunities, inspiration, and direction. Always keep an open mind and try new things.