Retail Lighting Design Education

Lesson 1: Intro to Retail Lighting

This is a 24 hour tutorial on how to do a retail shops lighting design.  The series of tutorial comprise of both theory and hands-on.  Videos, PDF, and sample files are available for download.

15 minutes lecture



Architecture is the learned game, correct and magnificent, of forms assembled in the light. –Le Corbusier

Retail Lighting Design.  Shopping, lighting, track lights, spotlights, window displays, branding – these are the words you will always hear from me.  Are you familiar with these words? If so, then we are on the same wavelength which means we can talk more about our topic today! Are you excited now for our first ever lighting design tutorial in e-book?  Wait, not just an e-book, but also video tutorials!  Let me remind you that this e-book is not yet official reference material. Please correct me if you find errors and misleading information.

I will discuss the tutorial in this e-book the same way I do in my YouTube tutorials, if you think my way of writing can be improved, please don’t be shy to let me know.  I am very excited about writing this e-book and I might slip my hobby in talking much even in writing. Hahaha! Let me know your opinions.

So, let’s get started!

What are Retail Projects?

You might be wondering what retail projects are. If your boss or your client asks you to design a retail shop, you might immediately think of a clothing store.  Actually, that might be for me only.  I really don’t know if you think the same.

Retail projects go from small to big enterprises. Malls, supermarkets, clothing boutiques, grocery stores, car showrooms, book shops, toy shops, bakeries, and jewelry shops, anything that sells merchandise in a specific place can be a retail project.

Now, we know.

To get the perfect definition of retail projects, let’s go and visit this website: Types of Retail Outlets.

Since there are a lot of different retail projects, this e-book will only focus on clothing retail shops.


History of Retail Shops

Let’s go back to where retail shops began; it is better for us to understand the history of the project we are working with.  When, where, why, who and how did these retail shops start? I first heard the words “retail shop” when shopping malls already existed.  How about you?

I only know that we started from a barter system, when there was a common public place where people could sell goods, then came money, and people could buy more; then people asked for more, and people can do a lot more; then men and women started to become obsessed with fashion, and then retail shops with lighting started.

On his blog, Josh will tell us how we got here (a short history of retail), and Nicole will give us hints about the history of retail shopping. If you are really interested in how retail shops started, then, read this list of books and articles about history of retailing.  Hahaha! Let me know if you did read all of these. I will give you some amazing gift!

Please note: to get the most from this e-book, you may click on the images and it will direct you to the website link.  Most of the images here are from the internet. You may then read the articles, blogs, and other information later on.  This is my way of referencing the images. Wink!

Functions of lighting in retail shops

So, before we go directly to our computer and start clicking the Dialux icon or any lighting design software icon for that matter, let us find out first what are we going to do and why retail shops needs lighting.

Why do you think retail shops need lighting?  How do you think lighting will help a retail shop reach its goals? What are the goals of retail shops?  These are some of the questions that we need to discuss before diving in.

According to business experts, a retail shop’s main objective is to sell merchandise.  Nothing else!  That’s the end goal.

Ok? So that is the main goal. Sell goods. How do you think lighting will help that?

To reach that end goal, there is a process called “attracts then satisfies”.  From attracting customers to enter the shop, to sensing the products in their hands, to completing the sale at the cash counter, lighting will absolutely help a lot!

The basic functions of Retail Lighting are to:


  1. Attract customers

  2. Guide customers

  3. Show-off the merchandise

  4. Provide task light

…and so on.  There are lots of articles mentioning the basic function or roles of lighting in retail shops. Let’s just focus on these four.

Attract customers

This can be done from the entrance, the window display, and highlighted items.  Lighting is the most powerful tool to attract the attention of people. You might think it’s the color, or the shape, or the movement. But no, it is the light.  It is the secret ingredient to enhance the colors, the shape and even the movement. Light is the hidden hero for all the beautiful things you see in this world.  (That is for the tangible ones anyway.)


Entrance and window displays are the main areas that are critical for making that important first impression of a retail shop.  The lighting design must convey the correct message about what is inside the shop. It must complement the architectural features of the shop entrance, and provide the best lighting scene for different occasions.

Later in this chapter, we will discuss how to light the window display and entrance effectively.  There are many ways to do this. Window displays are usually associated with different events, which means, installing with different lighting effects.  The retailer wants a flexible lighting installation, so we, as lighting designers must help them accomplish it.

Guide customers

Lighting must successfully guide customers to properly circulate inside the retail store.  Finding the locations of fitting rooms and cash counter inside the shop must be easy for customers.

This safety and guidance will usually be achieved by general lighting.  Special lighted signage for fitting rooms and cash counter will add emphasis to these areas.

For this particular function, lighting standard must prevail, 300 lux for general lighting. Guiding customers requires lighting uniformity or better lighting ratio. Though some retail shop doesn’t have good uniformity in their general lighting, they must at least properly orient the customers by other means (like sign boards), not just by lighting.

Show-off the merchandise

Giving the correct color rendering and texture helps the customer evaluate the product properly.  The more customers appreciate the fabric, color, texture, and other details of the merchandise, the more likely they will purchase.  

This is not only applicable in the selling area, but most importantly in the fitting room. Customers must look good when they look in the mirror. Providing correct color rendering that enhances their skin tone and the fabrics, will boost the customer’s emotional urge to buy.

Later, we will discuss the different lamps and luminaire that will help achieve this goal.  It is not only the position of the mirror that makes the fitting rooms exciting but also the lighting.

Provide task light

This is to assist customers to read price tags and labels, and to facilitate customers’ transactions.  This is very important in the cashier area.  Providing good lighting will also reduce mistakes in payment transactions.

This task lighting within the cashier area will also help to identify the space, making it easier to find for customers.  So, this light source can be both decorative and functional.

On the few pages, we will discuss how to light the cash counter under many different scenarios.

To summarize, the basic function of retail lighting is to:  attract customers, guide them, show-off the merchandise honestly, and provide enough light for the sales staff.

Four Main Divisions of this E-book

There are four parts in this e-book. We have tried to make it simple and easy to read.  The first part is all about the theory of lighting related to retail shops, the second, the standards concerning the retail lighting  design, the third is “How-to’s” of doing a lighting design project, and last is evaluation chapters where we will analyze, evaluate and criticize some existing retail shops.

Theory of Retail Lighting

The first chapter focuses on the theory of retail lighting design, which includes a little history of retail shops, types of retail projects, reasons why do we need to provide amazing lighting design for retail shops, who is mostly benefits from the lighting design, and which are the leading brands of lighting manufacturers for retail shops.  Please note, this list will be just my opinion.  You may not agree with it.  I will not promote any brand.  I will just say whatever I think is best, based on my experience.

To know more about the theory, we need to read.  A lot!  There are lots of books and websites where we can read about the theory, but if we really want to know the real application, we need to check what retail companies say about it.  Other reliable sources for the theory of lighting are articles from designers and retail lighting manufacturers.  Let’s forget the old theories (that is from the general lighting standards) and move on to the latest trend (current fashion boutique trend).

Lighting Manufacturer have updated information about the latest trends in retail lighting design because it is most of the time their clients are the one who dictate what they want to see in these premises.

I suggest checking the following blogs, books and websites.  I am not promoting any company or person.  I just want to share reliable sites where we can get valuable information.  If you want to add something to this list, please let me know so we can add it in our final e-book. - this is a highly recommended blog for retail design!

You could also check other strong brands for retail lighting, like Fagerhult, Philips, Erco, and Zumtobel.  I would like to suggest looking at the retail application or project page, to see how they meet clients’ requirements. Hey! You are not copying.  You are just looking for inspiration.

Another way of studying the theory of retail lighting is to read books.  Here are some suggested books that you can read some pages for free on

If you are reading this e-book in your desktop, tablet or smart phone, just click the picture and it will automatically bring you to the web page.

I know, it sounds boring but I am not forcing you to read books.  All I know is, if you really want to become an effective lighting designer who specializes in retail lighting, then, you need to read more.  Hahaha!  Let’s accept the fact that we don’t know everything. Being a lighting designer is always a continuous learning process.

Click the link below for more books to read.

Retail Lighting Design Standard

Now, when we say standard, it means either it must be followed or it is guidance.  Two major standards that dominate our lighting world today, aside from local standards or regional standard, are those from the US and the European Union.  It is no use asking why, what we need to do is to study both these standards and apply them as per the client’s requirements. 

For retail lighting, it is not very difficult to follow these two standards because retail lighting is based on perception, not on lux level.  So, whatever these two say, the final decision is still driven by the crazy ideas of the designer and the company brand.  As long as we follow the basic requirements, which involve the safety and security of the customers and, of course, the maximum load requirement of the mall or building, then we can do whatever we want.   Amazing, right?

Here are some of the books for retail lighting design standards.  Some of them can be downloaded for free.  If you have a generous friend who has a copy, ask them, but make sure you give them something in return.  Like maybe other lighting designs information. Don’t be just be a taker, it is always better to share.

Advanced Lighting Guidelines (ALG)

The SLL Code for Lighting (CIBSE)

The Lighting Handbook (IESNA)

If you want to add more to this list, please let me know.  Aside from these three lighting design standards, you should also check your local or regional organization to see if they have separate lighting design guidelines. You must also ask the client or consultant which standard should be used before starting work on the design.

How-to Lighting Design Techniques

This is the part that I am sure will excite you most.  This is the main part of this amazing e-book.  I will discuss some techniques in this book, but most of it is available in videos, which can be found at  Please understand me; it is very hard for me to explain how to do it in words, it is much better to show it.  I think that’s why it is called “how-to” because you need to show it?

There is a series of tutorials.  It will start from the basic information.  A PowerPoint slideshows is given, then I will discuss the techniques on how to do it, and finally how to evaluate the design and prepare the documents.  We will be using Dialux evo in the tutorials.  I may use regular Dialux to accommodate beginners and those who are only familiar with this software.  Below are the video topics:

  1. How to clean and understand the CAD file

  2. How to build the retail shop in Dialux evo

  3. How to create and import objects

  4. How to select luminaires

  5. How to aim the spotlights

  6. How to create light scenes

  7. How to generate and prepare the report

  8. How to prepare the lighting layout


Website links will be given for every tutorial, which can only be accessed here in this e-book.

Comments, suggestions and questions will be part of the video to continuously improve our tutorials.

Retail Lighting Design Evaluation

In this last part, we will choose eight major retail shop brands that we will evaluate according to their style.

From this study, our objective is to see if branding really affects the lighting design or the other way around.

I’m sure you are also curious how these famous brands use lighting to attract customers.  How they emphasize their brands and how they use lighting as their secret weapon to manipulate buyers to purchase products. Hahaha! I’m sure, the way I mentioned it will make you think deeper.  Don’t be silly, it’s just my opinion.

The brands we are planning to study are below:


  1. Chanel

  2. Prada

  3. Gucci

  4. Dolce & Gabbana

  5. Guess

  6. Lacoste

  7. Diesel

  8. Adidas

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