Wayfinding the Future

April 3, 2023

John Williams, Founding Director of Manchester-based interior design studio SpaceInvader, discusses the future of hospitality design and the role lighting has to play in it.

For interior designers, lighting is one of our greatest tools, perhaps nowhere more so than in hospitality design, where lighting’s ability to conjure a particular mood, tone or atmosphere is unparalleled. Light, the core element of any artist or photographer’s craft, is certainly one of ours too when it comes to ensuring a scheme has impact, not only when a customer enters a space but also from the outside too, acting as a beacon to draw customers in, aiding wayfinding or serving instantly to establish the personality of a brand or offer.

What are the main trends in hospitality lighting right now? Well, we could talk about micro-trends, such as using layered lighting with three or more types of lighting at once, for example, but we’d rather pull the lens a little further back and focus on some of the challenges we’re facing currently, as well as looking to the future and particularly to the major driver of sustainability.

In the hotel sector, we’re seeing increasing client demand for artful ways to strip back, re-purpose and be imaginative with existing buildings and interior fabric. The result will be that lighting design plays an increased role as a theatrical element in the form of sculptural pieces or installations, with simple and adaptable wall and flooring surface textures playing host to exciting and controllable dramatic lighting, more akin to what we see in event spaces.

The converse major trend is about less, rather than more, and relates to upcycling. Hoteliers, hospitality operators and developers – at the sharp end of ‘selling’ spaces to consumers – are looking to speed up their sustainability credentials and reporting. When it comes to refurbishing an existing space, the onus particularly falls to interior designers, while we in turn look to consultants and suppliers for help. Would it be unfair to say that lighting design and manufacture – beyond the easy win of using LEDs – is one of the disciplines that has responded least to this to date? Flooring manufacturers are definitely the pioneers in our industry, followed by those producing wall coverings and textiles, with both furniture and lighting design lagging behind.

We still want to bring new and bespoke elements to our projects of course, so we’re not talking about the simple, automatic reuse of existing lighting. Could lighting manufacturers instead collect pieces stripped out of old projects and give us more reuse options that way? Or could we alter the lighting temperature and brightness on existing fittings via new control elements that allow for increased flexibility? We’d also like to see much more information supplied on the materials and processes used in manufacturing each fitting, as well as hard pledges on end-of-life recycling.

In terms of energy usage, great advances have been made in daylight-balancing lighting, which emits lower lighting levels near windows and prevents a space from being over-lit, as well as colour temperature control fittings. Cost, however, remains a huge barrier with the latter, with these types of lights one of the first to be value-engineered out of schemes. Could the lighting design industry help make these solutions more cost-effective and also provide research on long-term cost benefits, to help us win the argument on client investment?

As designers, one of our greatest bugbears in hospitality spaces is where the food and atmosphere don’t match. Think of a tapas bar where the lighting is cool and white, for example, instead of warm and rich. A great recent example of a scheme really getting it right in terms of both the type of food/drink being served and a different kind of sustainability – business longevity – is Foodwell/Firefly in Manchester, whose offer transitions from Foodwell – a bright, soft and airy Californian brunch vibe in the daytime – to Firefly, a glamourous cocktail bar, at night. This is achieved mostly through lighting and music, without compromising on two very different atmospheres.

As a studio, we’re also always on the lookout for the cross-fertilisation of ideas across sectors. The shifts in the post-pandemic workplace saw the design of offices moving ahead of the game, certainly in the provision of zonal variety within a single space to accommodate not only different personality types but addressing neurodiversity and age inclusivity too. Lighting is a key element here. We’d like to see more variety of lighting by both interior designers and lighting designers within single hospitality spaces to address different audiences beyond the median or generic.

Integrated lighting and materiality is a really interesting area right now, especially with the possibilities afforded by 3D printing. We recently created a feature wall in a wellness space, for example, which interacts with light settings – particularly the colours of dusk at the end of the day, when the effect is mesmeric. The relationship between light and materiality is another area we’d love some industry help on. When we pull together a palette for a hospitality scheme, we use natural lighting to get the truest colours. Ideally, we’d like to represent exact lighting conditions to show how materials will look in the final space, relative to the proximity and temperature of proposed lighting, especially when we’re creating CGIs. This is very difficult to achieve digitally. It would be amazing to have a physical testing space – perhaps in a showroom location? – where we could test various different material samples under a number of lighting conditions. Is that a realistic request or will we have to await programmable lighting in order to alter and refine lighting on site to achieve true fidelity to our original vision?

When we’re busy with projects, we tend to be too close to the task at hand to do more than select the best lighting currently available. It’s great sometimes to step back and think about future needs too, seeking out possibilities for improvement, evolution and innovation. It’s always a conversation. Let’s continue to talk!

Image: Pip Rustage