Designing with Light-Helpful Tips


One challenge in describing lighting is the language we use. When talking with fellow lighting
designers, it’s great to use technical terms—but it’s easy to lose your customer with this
language. Understanding your audience is extremely important. Sharing your design concepts
with customers in a non-technical way will pay off in the long run.

Anticipating Needs

When designing with light, discover your customer’s needs at the start—this effort will ensure a
smooth project. Identify design objectives early on during a design consult. Example: If the
customer mentions they like to entertain a lot, that statement might be a hint to use a dramatic
approach, rather than a “safety and security” approach.

Probing Questions

Ask the customer some lifestyle questions, such as:

·         Where do they spend the most amount of time?

·         How do they use their outside areas?

Viewing Angles

Knowing the viewing angle of the object that you are lighting is crucial. There are installations
where a fixture was installed “per plan”, but the fixture is on the wrong side of a block wall—and
the light effect was not viewable from the customer’s patio. It’s also helpful to observe an object
you want to light from multiple angles; move around the area (indoors and/or outdoors) with the

Tactics for Small Areas

If the proposed area proposed to light is quite small, it might feel even more cramped if you only
light architecture and plants within that area. A method used to make small spaces feel bigger is
to capture objects that are farther away, but still in view. This strategy will help draw your eye out
to a focal point rather than the immediate space.
This same concept can be used to light focal points in a landscape that are far away.


Layering light within a landscape lighting plan creates a dramatic look. Achieved this effect by
using different lighting methods, such as uplighting, downlighting, backlighting, and path lighting.

Hardscape Plans

Another useful design technique: Build hardscape features to accept the lighting you plan to
install. For example, use a large cap stone for a knee wall to help disguise the light source. Or,
install an LED light strip underneath the ledge of an outdoor kitchen just by planning and having a
slightly larger overhang. The options are endless when designing the hardscape around a lighting