Light Maps: A Design Thinking Tool for Integrated Interior Lighting Design

Presented by: Tina Sarawgi

Interior design students are expected to learn to be effective design communicators by expressing ideas developed during the design process through ideation drawings and sketches (CIDA, 2016). Many acquire these skills to produce engaging design solutions. However, when it comes to light and lighting in interior spaces, reflected ceiling plans showing circles and squares peppered on ceilings are all too ubiquitous in most projects with the ill-conceived notion that placement of lighting symbols is akin to designing light. Not surprisingly, the resultant projects often lack understanding of what light needs to do and where it ought to be. Additionally, with increasingly robust digital tools available to interior design students, much of the focus in exploring and representing lighting is shifting to photorealistic representation of lighting in interior environments. While reflected ceiling plans and photorealistic renderings hold an important place in design communication during the later stages of the design process, they do not fully support the iterative design process essential for integrated interior lighting design. Fluid ways of imagining light during the design process are needed. This paper focuses on the importance of graphical study and analysis of light, referred to as light maps, to assist in the interior design decision-making process, thus guiding students toward integrated lighting design thinking. A drawing’s main purpose is to facilitate communication, first between the designer and herself, second between the designer and his or her colleagues, and last between the designer and the client (Rey-Barreau & Whiteside, 1983). Light maps are seen not as a medium for recording pre-conceived mental images, but as active participants in design thinking; to iteratively generate and interpret new information within the lighting design task. An act of making each mark renews, expands, and redefines the conceptual scope of the lighting design task in progressive responses to the evolving composition on the drawing page (Herbert, 1992). Russell (2012) advocates inculcating a habit of expressing ideas through mapping light to lead toward a thoughtful and responsible path of designing light. Drawing light could enable beginning designers to design light more appropriate to a given design opportunity, thus leading to emergence of more holistic, sustainable, and innovative solutions. Examples of light mapping during the early stages of the design process situated within a constructivist learning paradigm of learning-by-doing are presented (Figures 1-4). During the programming/ research phase, the students map lighting in existing spaces, using annotative diagrams and sketches. They observe the impact of lighting on activities in select spaces, the shape, texture, location, and types of light sources. Then they identify the sources of glare and excessive brightness, the effectiveness of light and shadow patterns and how they can be improved (Figure 1). During the schematic design phase, the students develop annotated light maps layered on the design drawings of the space. They determine the layers of lighting in the space and express patterns of luminances, including reflectances and transmittances of materials used in the space (Figure 2). Examples from the profession are also shared to demonstrate how light mapping is used routinely by professionals during the design process. (Figures 3-4). Drawings are more than just a convenient strategy for solving design problems; they are the designer’s principal means of thinking (Herbert, 1992). Students can learn to think more clearly about light and lighting and express their thoughts more precisely as they interact with their light maps to generate new information and acquire essential knowledge related to interior lighting design. To a fastidious student, this very act of knowing could also reveal light’s impact on the human perceptual and cognitive systems.


  • CIDA (2016). Professional Standards 2017. Retrieved from
  • Herbert, D. (1992). Graphic Processes in Architectural Study Drawings. Journal of Architectural Education. 46 (1). 28-41.
  • Rey-Barreau, J. A, & Whiteside, A. (1983). Communication methods in the design process. Journal of Interior Design Education and Research, 9(2), 14-17.
  • Russell, S. (2012). Architecture of Light, 2nd Edition. Conceptnine, La Jolla, CA.
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