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Sick of spec-busting? Here’s what the experts say on how to avoid it

Everyone who works in lighting knows how it goes: a great lighting scheme is conceived, the right products are specified to ensure the ideal lux levels, colour rendering and maintenance scenario, energy efficiency is taken into account to make sure you get that NABERS rating, and everything looks set to be a shining success.

“Sometimes you’re not given the true price of the “Rolls-Royce” from the start”

David Mramor, Barnwell Cambridge

But then somehow, somewhere in the process, the spec breaks: lighting products that were specified because they were right for the job get swapped for a cheaper alternative that supposedly does the job just as well. Or the solution that was proposed turns out to be more expensive to realise than expected, and you end up having to compromise on quality to make up for unexpected costs.

The consequences affect us all, so Lux, in association with Aurora, invited a selection of the people who operate within this chain of events – specifiers, consultants and manufacturers – to a roundtable discussion in Sydney, to see if we could identify the problem and find a solution together (watch our video from the event here).

The key, it transpires, is for the end user to know what they actually need. Not as easy as it sounds. With new products coming out every six months, it’s getting harder for building managers to work out what’s possible and at what cost.

‘If I was a facility manager and I was dealing with a specification, I might not have enough knowledge in a particular field, or particular information about the rapidly changing lighting technologies. I’d need to get back to my specifier to clarify all those points,’ said Ian Eastman, director of consultancy Light Years Ahead.

 “If the food and beverages manager didn’t get a say in the layout of the bar, you might get a disconnect between the brief from the client and what’s actually best.”

Lance Stewart, Creative Lighting

But turning to a consultant or a manufacturer for help doesn’t always solve the problem. Adam Haark, who specialises in tunnel lighting at UGL Electrical Engineers, has experienced how real-life situations don’t always match the consultant’s projections. ‘Sometimes the consultant thinks, “We’ve done this before, so we’ll just maximise the same brief.” But with projects that take long to come to fruition, the products will have changed in the meantime.’

‘Sometimes you’re not given the true price of the “Rolls-Royce” from the start,’ added David Mramer, a design manager at contractor Barnwell Cambridge.  ‘So you end up compromising on the back-of-house lighting to get the best possible result at the front of house.’

‘Often, when the client sees the reverse brief, it’s too late,’ said Lance Stewart, managing director of Creative Lighting. ‘If the food and beverages manager didn’t get a say in the layout of the bar, you might get a disconnect between the brief from the client and what’s actually best.’

Rick Morrison, national design manager at Citelum, suggested that consultants don’t always ask enough questions. ‘When I worked in electrical sales, we were taught to identify what the client wants and needs  – now it seems the consultants don’t have that key sales skill of first identifying what the client actually wants,’ he said.


Mending a broken chain

If neither buyer nor seller knows what the buyer wants, asking for it becomes difficult. Sometimes, driven by the desire to sell or the fear of losing a commission, requests that should have been answered with a “no” are instead answered with a “yes”. ‘People need to learn the short word “no”, and they need to say ‘no’ more often than “yes”,’ said Glen Haron, managing director of design consultancy Haron Robson. ‘They say yes far too easily and therefore the client thinks that things are easy.  If we say no we put up barriers, we raise the bar and we get a better result.’

Rick Morrison of Citelum agrees: ‘There seems to be a disjoint between the understanding of a design value and the budget the client has. That means designers aren’t doing their homework, to give the client a realistic budget expectation.’

Clear and honest communication from the consultant goes a long way towards avoiding disappointment later on, but so does clarity from the manufacturer. Lance Stewart recalled the lighting industry facing a similar challenge in the past, and overcoming it. ‘In the 80s we won the battle of explaining to people the value of light, but now we’re back to having to explain again,’ he said. ‘There are so many driver currents, glare versus non-glare – now it’s the difference between lights, rather than the value of them that isn’t understood.’

Anja Stolte from Aurora recognised the scenario: ‘LEDs are confusing – we find there are a lot more people we need to inform now,’ she said.

Rick Morrison suggested that rather than having to explain everything in lay terms, it’s better for the lighting industry to focus on building trust. It’s a difficult task, though. Perhaps, Lance Stewart suggested, there is a need to ‘communicate persuasively. Not just the watts but the ‘why’ – the benefits of good, efficient lighting.’

The Lux Australia & NZ specification forum was sponsored by Aurora