Lighting up the post-COVID-19 era with human-centric design

Photo by kimi lee on Unsplash

Combating the pandemic in a million ways, and yet progressing. That’s how resilient the human race is. It is already thinking of the post COVID-19 era. And why not? We are hopeful beings who have strong survival instincts. The strength of our species is reflected in our actions. While one half of the world is busy in saving ‘us’, the other half is redirecting its energy and resources towards building a -new –tomorrow-.

Lighting is an essential element of this future living; it is deeply experiential and influences how one functions and feels. Lighting design in post coronavirus times will undergo a revolutionary change to complement spatial design. Every aspect of living will encounter a lifestyle transformation, from eating habits, to education, travel, communication, fashion, to most essentially working scenarios. This mammoth task at hand is the only ray of hope that unites us today in resurrecting our planet. Utopia is now!

There is a surge in researches on the psychological impact of this dreadful pandemic. After a century, the human race is being attacked by the unknown. While we are giving it a tough fight, we are also undergoing a humongous change in our perception. We are witnessing a paradigm shift in our perception of our very existence. This is leading to the emergence of the ‘happiness quotient’. The thought of running on the green grass, hugging your loved ones, walking the corridors of our workplace, are more precious than the materialistic notions of driving that posh car, or sitting on that business class seat.

The pandemic’s economic fallout will redirect all the construction funds to other avenues, but only momentarily. The design of cities, buildings, and spaces will now be guided by the principles of ‘smart working’. Hence, the design fraternity must brace itself for the next level of innovation for achieving smart spaces.

This unprecedented pandemic is an eye opener in many ways. It questions our years of medical research and scientific knowledge. Evidently, a healthy body and a sound mind is on a winning streak. Let’s not forget that no matter how dreadful it may sound, we are hopeful beings. It’s time to boost our health and emotional well-being and reconstruct the idea of living. Calibrating the response to our physical and psychological needs, we stumble upon an ideology of ‘comfort’. Design as a mantra for elevated experiences can transform our dwelling units into comfort zones. Be it the co-working spaces, or the dinner table of your favorite eatery, a meeting room, or even the most private space like your bathroom — the need of the hour is to rebuild these spaces with a high level of safety and comfort to allow the body and mind to recuperate.

Building upon this hypothesis that these identified features will be the mandatory criteria of lighting design starting today, we can move forward in ideating their application in the main spatial zones.

  • High happiness quotient
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) enabled smart spaces
  • Visual comfort for both physiological + emotional well being

Work Spaces: In the past few years, the lighting industry has done plenty of R&D to deliver AI-enabled lighting. It uses advanced sensors to reduce human intervention and more advanced controls. Post-Coronavirus era is a perfect launch pad for implementing this technology. We need to design safer work spaces with almost no human interaction with the switches. We are even using mobile devices, tablets and AI assistants like Alexa to operate the luminaire and other services. Lighting design must support individual needs for maximum visual comfort. To achieve this, lighting companies have already rolled out wireless control gears and Bluetooth-enabled luminaires. Predictive lighting by learning and replicating human cognitive behavior can be effective in building sustainable systems and personalization. IoT enabled AI will create intelligent buildings, which will soon get connected to the cloud. Fever detecting systems are being extensively installed at airports, work spaces, supermarkets during these COVID-19 times. The urgency is to combine all this intelligence into one robust system for a safer, healthier and happier work place.

Living: Homes are not just homes anymore, the abode is transformed into mini offices with Audio Visual tools, a playground for kids to release their pent up energy, a gym for exercise and meditation, a relaxed haven for cooking and dining, a home theater and much more. Each space demanding a specific functional requirement and visual comfort for an invigorating experience. Lighting manufacturers are introducing flexible lighting systems in homes that include track lighting, channels which can house different modules, and modular lighting structures that can extended across the span of the room. Innovation in achieving an ultimate level of miniaturization of fixtures is valuable in accomplishing personalization. The challenge for lighting designers is to create a conducive environment for us to love, learn, perceive and emote. Finally home will be home.

Museum, Art Galleries, Exhibitions: Reminiscing a narrative from the past or appreciating the artistry of today; these experiences stimulate our imagination at different levels. Advanced lighting can play the most significant role in this scenario. It provides orientation, thus managing the movement of the visitors, guiding and leading them while controlling the gathering. AI and IoT enabled lighting systems can revolutionize the experience, while also taking care of conservation, security and communication. The museums and galleries are increasingly adding a virtual viewing platform, which requires capturing the content realistically in a glare- free environment, thus increasing the demand for luminaires with advanced optics. Be ready to witness the visual metamorphosis in the representation of art and history hereon. Storytelling will surpass the usual.

Hospitality and Public Spaces: These industries will initially require hand holding after the pandemic is over. After the distressing lockdown is lifted, the need for revitalizing will drive travel. These industries will add a new value proposition of ‘safety from germs’. Here, AI will again play a crucial role in reducing human interaction and increasing personalization. They will try to increase the ‘happiness quotient’ by creating exhilarating moments, visual delights, and soulful imagery. Augmented reality and projection (through mapping, lighting, and drones) hold limitless possibilities. We can harness these technologies to create immersive experiences by using illumination as a compelling narrative tool.

While all this sounds good, yet I am compelled to ask this question.

Will the world restart from where it left off?

Initially yes, but will eventually have to implement a disruptive design thinking process in re-framing the problems in human-centric ways. It will empower us to solve future global crisis.

The learnings from this biological invasion compels us to shift our attention to our healthcare systems. They need to be reimagined in the post-COVID-19 era. We, the designers, architects and stakeholders must collectively work towards building the new Guggenheims and Burj Khalifas, except that they will be hospitals. Imagine being admitted to the ICU in the building that feels like the World Trade Centre, or maybe to the general ward of an architectural landmark like the Milwaukee Art Museum. The experience will definitely help alleviate some of the physical pain. The lighting industry will have to step up to offer advanced solutions for creating a comforting experience in the hospitals, which will increase the efficiency of the medical staff and reduces their strain.

The vision for post quarantine is daring us, pushing us to revamp our rusted thought process. It is time to wake up to the new possibilities. Future demands re-thinking.

While this is a global apocalypse, this too shall pass. The harrowing darkness will be repossessed with brightness. Yet, this time we will illuminate the post-Covid-19 world in a human-centric way.

Service Designer | Practicing Lighting Designer | Industrial Designer | Architect