Comment, IoT/Smart Lighting

Manufacturers and specifiers: The best of frenemies?

Why oh why can't lighting designers and manufacturers just get along, asks Lux applications editor John Bullock.

AMONG ALL of the talks that will be going on at LuxLive this year, I’m lucky enough to be hosting a discussion session looking at the relationship between designers and manufacturers (lightspace arena, Wednesday 15 November, 2pm)

It’s a topic that has extra resonance because it comes at a time when I’m hearing from manufacturers that they’re finding it more and more difficult to get into lighting design studios to present their new product ranges. How did that situation come about?

Maybe it’s a generational thing; I took one of the typical asymmetrical routes into lighting design and went through engineering, marketing and – yes – manufacturing before finally pitching up as a lighting designer back in 1984. As informal apprenticeships go, I can’t think of anything much better, but you don’t get a certificate to hang on the wall at the end of all that palaver, just loads of experience in the memory banks.

What I know is this: of all the people that I need around me when I’m producing detailed lighting design specifications, the one group of people that I MUST have at my shoulder is the small army of manufacturers who actually do the donkeywork of making the stuff. Maybe I’m lucky, but the design comes easy. It’s the detail of the specification is what keeps me awake at night.

I don’t claim to be a great lighting product designer, but I know what I want, and I want friends on the other end of the line who understand my foibles, my crazinesses and psychoses. 

I work in a collegiate way. I don’t claim to be a great lighting product designer, but I know what I want, and I want friends on the other end of the line who understand my foibles, my crazinesses and psychoses. 

That way, I get the fixtures that I want; the client gets a job that works; and the manufacturer hopefully gets something that might be useful to next year’s new product range without having suffered too much heartache and cost.

So, if I imagine myself standing in the no-man’s land between design studio and manufacturer’s technical office, what would I hope to see?

From the designer, I’d welcome an open-door policy on the examination of new product. This doesn’t mean letting any old crap in through the door. We know the good guys and we suspect the cowboys, and we only need to let in the good guys. But don’t be too hasty on the new kids. There may be something special there – and we all had to start somewhere.

What makes a good designer? An open mind and a creative heart. What makes a bad designer? Believing that you know everything that you need to do your job. Wrong.

From the manufacturer, I’d say: know your place. I’m a designer and I know what I want. Please don’t try to sell to me because it won’t work and I’ll just get annoyed. Know what it is that you need to tell me and don’t just pitch up on the chance of a decent coffee. I WILL be interested in what you have to say . . . providing what you have to say is interesting to me.

What makes a good manufacturer? Understanding the design process and why a catalogue full of commercial blandness may not cut it. And someone who’s prepared to sit alongside me in my existential design angst and share my pain. 

What makes a bad manufacturer? Thinking that a catalogue of commercial blandness does cut it and not understanding the process. Oh – and don’t think you can buy me for the price of a factory visit or a decent lunch.

See you at the debate!


  • Designers and manufacturers: Best of frenemies? takes place at the lightspace arena on Wednesday 15 November 2017 at 2pm.
  • Panellists include James Poore of JPLD, Jonas Lundgren of LED Linear, Jonathan Rush of Hoare Lea Lighting, Martin Valentine of Ligman Lighting, Nick Hoggett of DPA Lighting Consultants and Ulysse Dormoy of Atrium. This panel of three lighting designers and three manufacturers will explore the space between suppliers and specifiers. Ideally it’s a symbiotic relationship where the emphasis is on win-win for all, including the client. But is it always like this in the real world, where cost pressures are all too real? Lightspace dot london is co-located with the LuxLive 2017 exhibition at ExCeL London, taking place on Wednesday 15 November and Thursday 16 November 2017. Entry is free if you pre-register HERE.