The Role of Moods & Emotions in Landscape Lighting Design
Landscape lighting is a profession that greatly beautifies residential properties and provides transformational experiences to their occupants. Undertaking these projects requires a great deal of skill and experience. Designers spend years learning the techniques and principals, but that only explains part of their success. Whether or not they consciously know it, the most successful designers develop relationships with their clients that inject a psychological strategy in addition to the physical work.
This article attempts to address this little-known aspect of the profession – how to shift moods and emotions of the landscape lighting client.
MOODS & EMOTIONS DEFINED
What are moods and emotions? They both describe temporary states of mind or feelings. Moods and emotions color our perception of the world. Positive moods and emotions help us experience joy, love, and wellbeing. Negative moods and emotions prevent us from these positive experiences.
Anything that helps to create more positive moods and emotions, or that helps us shift from the negative to the positive, is extremely important to us. Landscape lighting can do that – when designed by a skilled professional.
HOW MOODS AND EMOTIONS DIFFER
- Emotions tend to be more short-lived than moods. Moods can last for hours or days.
- It’s easier to identify the source of emotions. Hence, they are easier to work with. Moods are more mysterious; it’s hard to know their origins and more difficult to change them.
- While we can name many emotions (e.g. anger, joy, sadness, or fear) we typically only describe two moods – good and bad.
- By eliciting positive emotions we can shift from a bad mood to a good one.
MOOD AND EMOTIONAL GOALS FOR A LANDSCAPE LIGHTING PROJECT
“The psychological goal of landscape lighting is to put the client in a good mood, and to help perpetuate that mood.”
- Shift Feelings of Vulnerability to Feelings of Security & Protection. In addition to the physical goal of adding security (protection from intruders) through lighting, the designer also needs to instill feelings of security. It may seem silly to separate the two – physical from psychological, but keeping the two apart helps the designer better focus on the client’s experience. The designer not only creates a plan for security, he or she also makes sure to ask the client, “What would make you feel more secure?” Feelings of insecurity or security are very deep-seated and are based on old memories, episodes of times when they felt vulnerable or (on the other hand) especially secure. The designer should have an open mind and be creative about this. Maybe an extra light above a bench or a playhouse would make the client feel an extra measure of security.
- Shift “Fear of Injury” to Feelings of Safety & Well Being. While this goal is related to security it is more focused on fear of injury due to tripping or falling in the dark. The physical task of lighting pathways, driveways and areas of activity is fairly straightforward. In addition, the designer would best serve the client by probing with questions about past injuries on the property and about special concerns connected to residents and guests. Especially common are concerns about the elderly since, for them, trips and falls can be life threatening. While this conversation may not significantly change the designer’s lighting plan, it would certainly go a long way to alleviating the apprehension and replacing it with feelings of safety.
- Shift Feelings of Boredom to Feelings of Excitement. This may seem strange since designers don’t typically think of themselves as entertainers. But, lack of visual stimulation leads to boredom, which over time can put a person into a persistent bad mood. Proof that landscape lighting shifts feelings in this way can be found at the conclusion of nearly every project – at the moment when the lighting is revealed – an undeniable excitement that instantly banishes boredom. Surprisingly, most clients don’t foresee this excitement, and the designers themselves are often surprised at its intensity. While this dramatic effect may seem largely unplanned, the designer can increase its likelihood by assessing to what extent the client is bored prior to the lighting. Also, to find out what areas of the property or architecture are the least liked (and most liked) by the client. Ask the client, “What kind of lighting would excite you the most?”
- Shift Feelings of “Lack of Beauty” to Experiencing Abundant Beauty. We all agree that landscape lighting is beautiful – in a general way. But are we sure that our sense of beauty is the same as our clients?
To understand beauty, we need to understand the aesthetic sense, that wellspring of positive feeling from which our experience of beauty arises. We can think of the aesthetic sense as a filter for the senses. We see a painting and (with the power of our awareness) push the visual sensations (coming from our observation of the painting) through the filter (of our aesthetic sense). This triggers feelings that may be positive or negative. We can then translate these feelings into labels and produce judgments such as beautiful or ugly.
We all have this aesthetic sense; we use it throughout our lives. Some put a lot of energy into developing it. Others never consciously employ it. Over time, we all develop fixed patterns that help define our experience of beauty. The primary question for your client, “What do you consider most beautiful on your property?” Don’t assume that their aesthetic sense is the same as yours, and don't try to impose your concepts on them.
Yes, you are the artist. But the client is the one who will live inside your creation. If you honor your clients' feelings and emotions (both spoken and unspoken), they are more apt to trust your judgement, and be open to your ideas, and allow you to shine.
Universal beauty? Consider the following things that tend to universally stimulate the aesthetic sense in a positive way. When they are illuminated or represented in your scenes, they may add to the beautiful tapestry of your lighting design.
- Primal shapes, colors, and textures from our ancestry that represent things in our world, especially stones, plants, animals, and the human form.
- Things specific to our cultures – especially iconic items like flags, clothing, and traditional architectural elements.
- Organizing visual principals such as symmetry, alignment, distribution, grouping, and progression.
- Specific nighttime visual clues such as strategic placement of shadows, reproduction of moonlight, and the use of backlighting, and silhouetting.
The best lighting designers take a holistic approach to their work. They understand that serving the client in the best possible way includes understanding and addressing all their lighting needs - both physically and psychologically. The desired result is, after all, an immensely positive experience for the client. That experience is colored by moods and emotions – these are what ultimately determine the impact and success of the project.