Retail Lighting Design Education

Lesson 2: Retail Lighting Considerations

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.

Retail Shop Lighting Design Considerations

Light is the life-force of man-made structures.  It is through light that events become meaningful. – Prof. Edward P. Bartholomew

So, you received a lighting design inquiry from your clients.  You are very excited to work on it.  You’re itching to start work on it.  You are so enthusiastic! Finally, you will design a retail lighting project.  But before you do something crazy, you need to know this. 

Before a lighting designer starts selecting luminaire and calculating the lighting design, he or she must find out (or ask the client) about the limitations, requirements, lighting concepts, and basic considerations in lighting design. Below is other important information necessary to start the design.

  1. Brand or theme

  2. Light Sources

  3. Sustainability

  4. Architectural design

Why is it important for us to get all this information before starting work on the lighting design?  Because with this information, it will lessen the revisions, reduce errors and the main lighting design goal will be properly examined.

Some retail shops, especially the big brands, establish their design criteria before the job was handed to a lighting designer.  What the lighting designer can do is to run the calculations and achieve the standard requirements for the specific areas.  Without the basic lighting design considerations, the designer may stumble into different problems that will cause delays in the project delivery.  Therefore, acquiring this basic information before you start will result in fast, efficient and correct lighting design.

Now, let’s go and discuss these lighting design considerations one by one.

Brand or Theme

Designing the lighting for a retail shop is like dressing a woman.  You must understand first what her character is, what she usually does, what her personality is like.  Knowing the brand or theme of the retail shop is the main consideration.  Is this shop for older people, for teenagers, or for corporate people?

The power of branding is the well-guarded identity of every company. The brand name is the most valuable asset, which gives credibility to the product and provides assurance of the quality.  Have you ever bought a product that is branded?  You feel confident about its quality.  It boosts your emotions and you feel proud about it.

As lighting designers, we must understand how these retail brands feel about their products and name. Lighting design must convey what they want to project to their customers.

Can you put cheap track lights in Gucci shops? No! Or would you?

Based on my experience, most of the leading retail brands have their selected luminaire brands as well.  It is really interesting to see that they really look for the good quality even for lighting.

If you are dealing with the interior designer or architect, they will immediately tell you what they want.  They may ask you some technical questions about your lighting design, but basically, they already know what they want to achieve and that includes the lighting effect.  Right at their initial design stage, they already established how the lighting should be.

Most of the lighting layouts of big brands require strict attention to detail.  If you are more of a technical person and not aesthetically driven, then the conflict between your mind and their mind will blaze.  Hahaha!  Good-luck to your ego!

I love writing this page because I can tell you beautifully about my experiences.

Now, you should forget your ego and just follow the client’s wishes. You are there to support their goal, remember?

So, how would you find out the lighting style of these big brands? First, check the lighting concept from the interior designer or architect. Second, check the existing retail shops of this brand. If these two professionals don’t have anything yet and this design is for the flagship store, then you must be very careful suggesting the lighting design.  You must understand that lighting can either enhance or destroy any design.

To make yourself look really smart, check the competitors of this brand and see how they light their shops.

Anyhow, don’t worry.  It is usually the problem of the interior designer or architect.  They always have something in their mind. All you have to do is to help them find the right luminaire for whatever they imagined. Again, another warning; these two professionals will mostly be looking at the physical features of the fittings.  They usually don’t care about the lumen output, or if the glare is high, or if the color rendering is good.  From here, brothers and sisters – that is our problem!

In our video tutorials, I will show you one lighting concept from big brands.

Meanwhile, below is a lighting concept from the famous architect Renzo Piano. He used to sketch in details showing how the lighting would look.

This is also what we should do when we are explaining our design to our clients.  Sketching while explaining!

Below are sample images of the lighting effect of famous retail brands.  You will notice a distinctive similarity of lighting styles in all their branches.  In the final chapter, we will discuss and compare these retails brands in terms of lighting style.

You will immediately see the choice of light color they usually use.

Light Sources

Once you identify the lighting effect the brand wants to convey, your next design consideration is what kind of light source you will use.  Some retail shops prefer a crisp white light, while others choose a cozy, warm light.

Remember that the light source includes both daylight and artificial light.  Some retail shops are outside the mall or commercial building.  Daylight is one of the advantages and disadvantages of these retail shops. During daytime, the combination of these two light sources might not blend properly.  Sunlight might create high glare and unwanted heat to the display window, though it will give good color rendering to merchandise.

Lighting controls or sensors are a must for this area to maximize the use of daylight and to help reduce energy usage.

So, now it is time for us to select the luminaire and the lamp to be used.  It is better to ask the client if they prefer to use LED or conventional lamps.  Most of the lighting manufacturer today use LED in their products.  Our lamp technology is now heading towards LED due to its efficiency.  But still, some retail shops prefer the sparkling effect of halogen or metal halide.  You need to find out what type of lamp should be used before running the calculations.

Below are some types of lamps:

If you are working as a lighting designer in a lighting manufacturing company like me, make sure you study the lamp codes of your luminaire.  For example, in Thorn Lighting SAP Code 96642625 — CHAL PRO LED2400-930 HFIX RMB W6, the LED2400-930 code means: the lamp is LED with 2400 lumen, 90 CRI and 3000K CCT. The rest of the code is the fitting name, the ballast and the materials or reflector.  Sometimes IP rating is also included in the code.

Aside from the type of the lamp, your next assignment is to know what kind of luminaire to use.  Track lights are common light fittings for retail shops.  They not only give different beams, but are also flexible in terms of adjusting the location and direction.  You can easily highlight the merchandise even if the location or direction of the furniture changes.

Later in this chapter, we will discuss one by one the advantages and disadvantages of these luminaires.  Below is an image of the different types of luminaires and their light effects:


Now we are done with acknowledging the brand and selecting the possible uses of lamps and light fittings, it is time to consider the environment and the health of the people who enter and work inside the retail shop.

Sustainability doesn’t only mean how the lighting manufacturers extract and dispose of the luminaires.  It also includes how the retail shops’ owners benefit from sustainable lighting design solutions, like using daylight and efficient luminaires.  Efficiency involves giving the correct illumination whilst reducing the energy use. 

Make sure to discuss with your client if they are aiming for LEED certification or any other Green Building verification.

Below are some factors of sustainable lighting design solutions:

  1.  Lighting control – when creating light scenes inside the shop with where daylight is available, lighting controls will definitely be useful for achieving a sustainable design.  Lighting control will also reduce the energy usage.  Fitting rooms don’t need to be lit when nobody is using them. With the use of lighting control, light will only be given in the right amount, in the right place, and at the right time.


Just a warning, although lighting control helps to save energy, it will need a huge initial investment from the client.  You need to explain this first to your salesman before suggesting its use.


   2.  Maintenance – using efficient lamps and luminaires will reduce both the amount of time spent on maintenance and frequency with which lamps are replaced.  This will be beneficial for the retail shop owner due to low maintenance costs.

   3.  Lamp and luminaire disposal – our environment (including our air and water) is being ruined by garbage.  Proper lamp and luminaire disposal is a must to protect our environment.  As lighting designers, we must educate our clients about the environmental certifications, like WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive) and PDC (Product Declaration Certificate).  Mention that your company complies with these certifications; this will give them the feeling of being responsible in taking care of the environment.

I would suggest you get involved with, or at least become aware of green building certifications like LEED or BREEAM.  You can also take exams for these certifications to become a certified green building professional.

Architectural Design

Retail brand is done, type of lamp and luminaire has been decided, and the sustainability options are being considered.  The last thing that you need to check is the architectural design which includes furniture layout, ceiling layout and the materials used.  These features will greatly affect the lighting design results.

Once you have received all the drawings from the client, check them before you start working on the lighting design.  Make sure the drawings are clear and complete.

These are some of the drawings you need to check:

  1. Furniture layout – retail lighting needs visuals.  You can easily focus the light to gondola or shelves if available.  You can also judge the light level by looking at the pseudo-colors that are produced in these objects.


Running the calculations in a retail project is totally different from other indoor lighting applications like an office or warehouse.  You don’t necessarily need to produce a good overall lighting uniformity or lux level.  Remember retail lighting design depends on the lighting effect that the brand wants to convey.  That’s why putting objects in your calculations gives you a better idea about whether your design is good or bad.

Later we will discuss more of these in the lighting calculation part.

Ask the client for details of the furniture so you can build the 3D objects, or if they have Sketchup files or .3ds files for these objects, then it is much better.

You can export the Sketchup file into .3ds.  We will discuss this part in our video tutorials.

If you don’t want to create the objects yourself, you can download some free from the internet.  The most commonly used website to get these .3ds objects is  Be careful when downloading large files because it will slow down your computer. Choose objects that are less than 1mb in size.

You can also use PCon Planner software to convert 3d files from 3DWarehouse.  This software is much easier to use and there is no expiry date in converting objects to .3ds files compare to Sketchup.

There might be other websites that offers free 3d objects.  If you know more, please let us know so we can share it to other lighting designers.  This website will receive free advertisement as benefit.

   2. Ceiling Layout – the next thing you need to look at is the ceiling layout.  Here, you will check the height, the channels, the track lights and the locations of other utilities that may obstruct your luminaires.


You need to understand that a wrong mounting height will give you the wrong result.  So be careful with that.  Sometimes, Dialux evo doesn’t automatically insert the luminaire at the ceiling height.  It is better to check it both in plan view and elevation view.

Below is the sample image of reflected ceiling plan.  Showing the channel or groove and its spacing to each other.

   3. Materials used – there are default reflectance factors in Dialux evo, these are: 70, 50, and 20 (70 for ceiling, 50 for walls, and 20 at the floor).  Once these values change, lighting levels will change dramatically as well.  It is important to apply the materials that the designer is planning to use, so that you will increase your chances of getting the same result in the actual installation as when you run the calculations.


You can ask the interior designer or architect about the textures that they used in their design.  Otherwise, you could get it from our friend Google.  For example, if they specify black granite, then just type “black granite texture” into the search tab and, for sure, Google will give you a lot of options.  Once you save it, you can then use it as the texture in your design. 

I will show you on how to do this in our video tutorials in the next chapter.  I am sure you will enjoy it!

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