Culture: Perspective Of A Lighting Designer - I

David Gilbey
August 2, 2021

Designing around the world

I am an Independent Architectural Lighting Designer and in 2015 I was tasked with giving an educational presentation at Lightfair International at The Javits Centre in New York on ‘Designing around the World’.

Interestingly, I have designed the lighting on prestigious projects globally for many years and only once have I been asked to design in a European style. Moreover, I have had to immerse myself in local culture and wear the local hat so to speak of the project, to design in a style that represents the location and culture of the project.

The understanding of international projects goes way beyond designing culturally, there are many local behaviours, customs and manners to be learnt and understood to be able to be taken seriously in a global market and I strongly recommend that you invest the time to research and to know how to empathise and fit-in in your target markets.


Bridging the culture gap

For example, in China they want to get to know you as a person before you have any chance of winning a project, so expect to go to dinners and warm up your voice for the karaoke afterwards. Do not appear hesitant at local delicacies that are placed on your plate. I also found it useful to not just use any translator, but a lighting designer as a translator. This was somebody that spoke my language of light and design as well as Cantonese/Mandarin. It is also useful to know that your PowerPoint presentation will not be too well received, as they prefer project presentations presented in the form of animations. As a western design- team, it is often preferable to collaborate with a local design partner.


The finer details

Whenever designing a project across the whole of Asia, please play due deference to the ceremony of presenting a business card. You present a business card with both hands looking into the eyes of the recipient and nod slowly in acknowledgment as they take it with both hands. They will inspect your business card with reverence before presenting theirs in the reverse of the ceremony. Do not, under any circumstances present your business card casually or worse still, throw it across the table!

In Algeria, you may be often offered another project when you're about to finish one. Therefore, your fee has to be competitive and may often be tied with a possible discount on the first one. If you understand this nuance of the local market then you can price your project accordingly and it becomes a win-win situation.

It is always important to attend the networking event or dinner after a full day of toil, not only will you eat amazing local food and enjoy a culturally enriching experience, but you will gain friends and connections that endure and facilitate in getting future projects.


Author: David Gilbey, Founder and Creative Director @ d-lighting

The views shared by the author are his own.


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