Subjectivity and objectivity

Singapore 30th May 2011

It is that time of the month where I am writing my column for Lighting Today magazine again. I have been doing that for the past 8 years or so and always enjoy sitting down and reflecting on life as a lighting designer. This blog is a daily short form, but the magazine article allows me to spend a bit more time, sit back and reflect. My next subject will be about subjectivity and objectivity. Lighting designers are professionals who are supposed to make objective decisions based on experience and technical lighting design knowledge. But yet their decisions still carry a substantial amount of subjectivity in their judgment. Commercial projects like branded retail shops, hospitality, corporate buildings and food and beverage outlets generally have little subjective influence as the design is directed by company guidelines, operator manuals and so. These design criteria and decisions are therefore fairly objective. It is more the interpretation of the design guidelines that is left open for personal interpretation…subjectivity in objectivity.

Designs in the private residential sector depend very strongly on the subjective likes and dislikes. In the past I have gone out shopping with the client’s wife to select table, floor and ceiling lamps, but it is difficult to argue about taste, now can you? The role of the lighting designer in the private sector is more to bring the objectivity in the subjectivity…

A third component influencing subjectivity and objectivity are someone’s personal relationships. We like to deal with people we know, right? Lighting designers are not perfect and therefore we need to work or recommend people who understand the design business. This means that our objectivity may at times be clouded by who we know, not necessarily guided by what we know.

Finally, while objectivity may show the value for money of certain lighting solutions, it does not mean that the “subject” can afford it. So, objective recommendations may become affected by the subject’s means.

While objectively this all makes sense, subjective influences like affordability, personal taste (still any people hang on to the good old incandescent lamp) and preferences may swing lighting decisions either way! People may think objectively but mostly act subjectively…  

In Light Watch today my focus is on Vivid Sydney, the Festival of Light and Music that started over the weekend and will be on till mid-June. The 3D projections on the Sydney Opera House look awesome. Take a peek at


Light Watch 99: picture from the Vivid Sydney website

30. May 2011 by Martin Klaasen
Categories: light and art, light watch, lighting and culture, lighting and the economy | 1 comment

One Comment

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and experience about lighting design.

    I am very intested in this subject and think of looking for a short course in near future. However, I totally believe that reading your blog is the best way to learn and understand about lighting design.

    Again, thank you for your time and effort. I wish all the best to you and your career.

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