Lighting designer

 13 March 2013

Lighting designers work to ensure effective lighting for a commercial or residential property. They aim to enhance a building's environment through lighting.

Design and coordinate lighting projects from inception to completion. Image: University of the Creative Arts
Design and coordinate lighting projects from inception to completion. Image: University of the Creative Arts

What is the job like?

Lighting designers working in an architectural setting are involved in the design of the lighting for buildings. This can include residential accommodation, such as houses and flats, and commercial properties of all kinds, including: 

Lighting designers usually work as part of a team alongside architects, interior designers and other specialists.

  • offices
  • restaurants
  • cruise liners
  • bars
  • hotels
  • health clubs
  • churches
  • hospitals
  • museums
  • historic buildings.

Effective lighting enhances a building’s internal or external environment, making the best use of the available natural light and delivering energy-efficient and sustainable solutions. Lighting designers need an understanding of the impacts of lighting pollution and how light can affect wildlife or a dark sky.

Lighting designers usually work as part of a team alongside architects, interior designers and other specialists.

Your work will usually involve:

  • Designing and coordinating lighting projects from inception to completion.
  • Making sketches and using 2D and 3D computer assisted design (CAD) packages to prepare detailed drawings,  schedules, plans and specifications.
  • Holding meetings with the client to present ideas, mood boards, mock-ups and costings and amending designs where necessary.
  • Sometimes working with product designers to commission specialist lighting.
  • Briefing electrical installation contractors and ensuring wiring and building regulations are complied with.
  • Project management and supervising the work of contractors.

You might work for an interior design company or specialist architectural lighting design consultancy. Freelance work is also possible once you are experienced.

How do I become a lighting designer?

You will need:

  • an understanding of architecture and lighting, and how light works in the built environment
  • a high degree of creativity
  • technical ability and resourcefulness
  • a willingness to work as part of team with creative and technical colleagues
  • excellent organisational and numerical skills to manage projects and budgets
  • good written and verbal communication skills
  • close attention to detail and the willingness to work hard to tight deadlines
  • good visualisation and 3D modelling skills.

It is important to demonstrate an interest in lighting and the built environment. Explore different kinds of buildings, look at the interior and exterior lighting schemes and examine their impact on the environment and people.  

Relevant school subjects include Art and Design, Graphic Design, Photography, Design and Technology, IT, Physics and Business Studies.

What training and qualifications do I need?

Most lighting designers are graduates, and some are qualified to postgraduate level. You could stay at school for A levels or study a relevant further education course at college. Either route can lead to university.

Relevant college courses include:

  • BTEC National Diploma in Art and Design (3D Design, Interior Design) Level 3
  • BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in Architecture, Interior and Product Design
  • BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in Art and Design (3D Design, Technology and Interior Design)

The BTEC level 3 courses last for two years full-time and are an alternative to A levels. You will need a minimum of four GCSE A-C passes or equivalent level 2 qualification, such as the BTEC First Diploma in Art and Design.

The BTEC level 3 courses can lead onto higher education courses, such as HND, foundation degree or degree courses. You may be asked to achieve a merit or distinction in your BTEC level 3 qualification.

It is also possible to progress onto a level 3 qualification from a level 2 qualification such as a BTEC First Diploma in Art and Design.

Another route to degree courses in lighting design is via a one-year foundation course in Art and Design. You will need a good portfolio of work and a minimum of one or two A levels or equivalent.

Degree courses

Degree courses in interior and/or lighting design are listed on the UCAS website. Course titles include:

  • BA Lighting Design
  • BA Interior Architecture
  • BA Interior Design
  • BA Spatial Design.

There are also various degree courses in lighting for live events, and some of them may include architectural lighting design.

Research course content very carefully as courses vary in their emphasis – always visit the university open day before applying.

Entry requirements

You will normally need a good portfolio of designs as part of your application for design courses. If you can demonstrate 3D and 2D skills then this is an advantage – admission tutors will be looking for evidence of creativity, drawing ability and your original ideas.

You can include:

  • freehand drawings
  • conceptual sketches,
  • photographs
  • CAD designs
  • paintings
  • collages and models
  • at least one sketchbook.

Be selective about what you include and check requirements with the art college or university you are applying to.

The entry requirements for a degree are a minimum of two A levels or equivalent such as a Level 3 Diploma, plus a portfolio. Some universities may ask for three A levels, often at specified grades, or a UCAS points tariff.

Relavant courses include: 

Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships in interior design are sometimes available. 

Vacancies may be found in the 'Design' section of 'Arts, Media and Publishing'. 

What can I earn?

Newly qualified graduate lighting designers can expect to earn around £16,000 to £22,000.

Junior lighting designers may earn between £25,000 and £32,000. Senior lighting designers can earn between £35,000 and £45,000.

Salaries usually vary according to where you work, and earnings are generally higher in London.


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