Shedding Light on the Influence of Illuminated Design

Have you ever walked into a high end supermarket and thought the strawberries look so perfectly red you just have to have one? When you were shopping at that other store last week, you didn’t think twice about it; in fact, did they even sell strawberries?

These must be organic. They are so vibrant in colour, they were probably grown on a private farm and hand-picked that very morning. Definitely worth paying double. They are clearly much better quality.


Or are they? Yes, there is a possibility these are the best strawberries ever grown, but the more likely reason they appear extra appealing to you is the lighting environment they were presented to you in.

Lighting can influence the way you perceive a product or space you are in, and even your mood and behaviour in that moment. Lighting can accentuate a tiny detail, or minimise the appearance of a flaw; it can make you feel relaxed or inspire energy; it can improve productivity or create an intimate atmosphere. Lighting can make you feel warm or cold and it can play with your perception of colour.

A successful lighting design should make a space feel comfortable and appropriate for the setting, but shouldn’t really stand out in itself. A decorative light fixture can add to the overall design of a space and create a feature element, but the actual light emitted from that fixture shouldn’t be seen, so much as experienced.

Here we discuss the key factors to consider when selecting appropriate lighting for an environment: the type of lamp, the colour temperature, the CRI value and the desired level of lighting (brightness). All of these factors will of course impact the cost, maintenance and overall look and feel of the space so they should be integrated into the design at an early stage and not become an afterthought.

The Store Environment

It must be said that before lighting styles and illumination levels are chosen, the individual store environment must be analyzed its size, the architecture of the building, its target market, its location, its image and its budget – in order to determine lighting requirements. There is no blanket lighting solution for a “type” of the store.

Importantly how your target customer is expected to respond in different lighting environments needs consideration. For example young and elderly shoppers often don’t want to be hurried and like to browse. A lower light level may slow this shopping pace.

On the other hand middle, aged customers may prefer to get in and out quickly, not wasting time so it’s important to ensure the lighting allows them to examine merchandise easily, read instructions and prices with no difficulty.

Lamp Types

These days there are so many different types of light source options available, it’s hard to know what is most appropriate. LED is the current front runner across the board due to its flexibility in design and long life span, but it’s important to understand what else is out there. Energy efficiency is a driving force now in the industry and technologies have changed substantially over the last decade.


Colour Influences the Shopping Experience

Consumers and shoppers are influenced heavily by the colour of the lighting in the store environment as it impacts not only their mood but also their ability to accurately evaluate and negotiate their purchase decision regarding the design, texture and quality of merchandise.

When choosing retail lighting to meet specific needs, both the Colour Rendering Index (CRI) and the Correlated Colour Temperature (CCT) must be considered:

The CRI measures the ability of the light to allow the true colour of the merchandise to be seen. The closer it is to 100, the more natural the colours appear. Daylight has a score of 100 as it comes from the most natural light source the sun. Translation – basically how red is red?
The CCT is the lamp’s colour temperature and measured in Kelvin (K). A high K (4,000K) means it is a cool light; a low K (3,000K) means it is warm.

Source: The importance of CRI

The image on the left is illuminated by a light source with a CRI 90+; the image on the right uses the same type of light but has a CRI of approximately 80. Of course, the light source impacts the colour temperature and in this case, a fluorescent source was used which tends to add a blue/ green tinge to objects if it has low rendering ability.

An ideal scenario for an art gallery, for example, would have lighting that has a bright white colour temperature of approximately 4000K and a CRI of at least 95. This will ensure the artwork has no unwelcome tones and that each colour of the spectrum pops individually. A high Kelvin (4,000K) is a cool light and great for hardware and metal items, and makes an area look sterile and spacious. Notice also that there are no general downlights, but rather the lights are all directed towards the artwork to generate a consistent illumination across the wall without the distraction or glare of direct lighting (more on that to follow).

A low Kelvin (3,000K) is a warmer light inviting and natural and creates an impression of safety, intimacy, and comfort, this might be preferred to create an intimate café setting that highlights materials like red brick and exotic timbers

Note: The higher the CRI value the more costly the light fixture as it has higher performance qualities. A lower CRI value might be chosen for example in an office environment for saving efficiencies as colour rendering is not critical.


In the same way, the colour temperature of a light source can affect the atmosphere of a space, the brightness or lux level can also play a huge role.

So having one really bright light fixture in a big room will create a hot spot where it is placed and dark corners at the perimeter—not ideal. The graphic below illustrates the comparative brightness of both artificial and natural light environments.

Source Comparative light sources

The Type of Environment Dictates Light Levels

Once we establish how many light fixtures we need, and how bright they need to be, we also need to consider where they are placed and where they emit light. Are the lights placed evenly spaced out in the ceiling for general illumination or are they placed along the walls sporadically to give ambience and create accents? Do they emit light directly onto surfaces or are they diffused?

Depending on the type of environment or store, its size and architecture, it requires different degrees of illumination. Pete Miller (Lighting Expert) cites these typical applications:

Supermarket, Warehouse, Hospitals, Variety – these are usually spacious, often with high ceilings and needing to be brightly illuminated. Vertical lighting makes orientation easier in a large room, and well-lit signage makes it easier for shoppers to find departments and products.

Department, Specialty, Lifestyle – Stores are typically large and open with a number of displays and a wide selection of products and are well served with medium light levels and accent lighting for featured merchandise.

Designer, Upscale Specialty, Upscale Lifestyle, Fine Jewelry – Customarily small to very small, lower light levels are usually chosen for these stores to create an intimate atmosphere with dramatic uses of colour and accent lighting selected for their emotional appeal.


The hospital has a very uniform and bright lighting scheme to aid in visibility for patients and create a sense of hygiene and simplicity.

Good Lighting is a Marketing Tool

Pete Miller (Lighting Expert) goes on to provide an excellent description of different lighting schemes:

Ambient Lighting
This lighting guides customers safely through the store and is the vertical, diffused, general lighting that provides a welcoming atmosphere and visual comfort with softened shadows. It is the first choice for large stores, large areas, fitting rooms, cashier locations and storage areas. Good ambient lighting makes customers comfortable enough to spend more time shopping; well-chosen accent lights draw attention to featured merchandise and products. Warm lights in fitting rooms enhance skin tones, and lighting on both sides of mirrors prevents unattractive glares and shadows.

Accent Lighting and Decorative Lighting
This lighting draws the eye, highlights displays, focuses attention, can beam from above or below, makes featured merchandise easy to recognize, evaluate, and can initiate purchasing.


As design continues to evolve and we search for new ways to excite and inspire, we find ourselves ‘breaking the rules to shock our audiences. In the retail and hospitality sectors in particular, what used to be common for a lighting environment is now considered outdated and lacklustre. ‘Food courts’ that used to be brightly lit and emphasised the ‘eat-on-the-go’ atmosphere are now ‘dining precincts’ that have dimly lit, mood lighting that encourages a slow-paced lounging environment.

The café image above uses direct lighting along the wall to cast shadows and emphasise the texture of the brick. The dim level of light creates a warm and comfortable atmosphere that encourages dining patrons to relax.

In the same way, big department stores that used to be illuminated with one consistent ambient lighting scheme, now have a variety of lights throughout that emphasise different products, guide customers to featured merchandise and encourage sales. Some retail stores completely step outside the box and introduce a dark lighting scheme so customers are forced to focus on the product

Abercrombie & Fitch (below), a popular American store are known for being incredibly dark with lighting only highlighting their merchandise.

So I leave you with this.

Lighting illuminates the shopping experience. It’s a very powerful marketing tool that needs to be well considered in its design. Today we have a myriad of lamps and fixtures that can entice consumers to stay inside and purchase depending on the store environment.

Get to know your target customer and their shopping behaviours; push the boundaries with some of these fabulous scenarios and be excited by the possibilities ahead for paving the way with sparks of brilliance.

Mags Uscinowicz

Mags Uscinowicz

Associate | National Interior Design Manager