Gatekeeping the Specification

So, tell me, how do you decide on a specification? What’s going on that you choose that fixture instead of that one? What’s going on?

The things that you get asked in a supermarket queue.

But it’s a decent question to ask of any independent lighting designer. I have no loyalty to any manufacturer nor any commitment to use one product over any other. But choices need to be made – I’m supposed to be an expert on this sort of thing!

Clients expect their designers to be sound of judgement and robust in knowledge of product, and to deliver a project that meets their needs – and their imaginations . . . and they certainly don’t expect every project from a designer to look the same as their last one. Choices need to be made.

In effect, the lighting designer acts as a gatekeeper, sorting wheat from chaff and only allowing quality into their specifciations. This is how my own wheat-sorting mechanism goes:

I ask three questions of every product that is considered for a project:

  1. Does it Work?

Now that might seem like an obvious thing, but that small word ‘work’ covers a lot of ground. It doesn’t only mean ‘does it perform in the way that I require for this component of the project’. It also covers how long it’s likely to survive, its likely maintenance profile and what happens to it once it reaches its time limit. It also means ‘does it suit the ambience that’s being created for the project’, aka does it look good?

  1. Is it Safe?

An important mindset to establish – Assume Nothing. A fixture might work as I’ve just described but that’s no good if it’s likely to fall out of the ceiling; kill you by electrocution; cause migraines because of bad (invisible) flicker; the list goes on.

  1. and Can the manufacturer / supplier prove it?

Just because a maker says it’s good don’t make it so. There are some unreliable people out there. Independent third-party accreditation via testing is the way to go. That will come in different forms. Some companies will simply point to their testing documentation and say ‘help yourself’. Some product comes to market via an extended supply chain that may include a number of ‘gatekeepers’ before it gets to the designer’s screen.  

The point of ‘proving it’ is essential. I don’t know of any lighting designers who have the testing facility to confirm the quality of any product on offer; we all rely on the supply chain to provide us with that data. And that’s why it needs to be a trusted independent voice for best certainty.

And that’s all that specification comes down to, really. Three small questions  – that call for three VERY BIG answers.

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