Branding with light: When change is more important than continuity Dr. Thomas Schielke examines how light can play an integral role in establishing retail brands.
he success of corporate design guidelines
ends with holding on to past values while
the environment has changed dramatically.
Numerous retail brands define not only their
furniture and materials but also their lighting. While the standards focus on good visibility, interior designers have recognised that
lighting can be a powerful medium to communicate the core brand
values. Focal glow, creating brilliance and drama helps to emphasise the exclusive and high-end character of a brand. In contrast, diffuse
brightness of light lines underlines the equality. This warehouse look is typical for low budget supermarkets, where accent lighting could confuse the consumer’s expectation for a bargain.
Explicit Signs Versus Implicit Symbols
Corporate colours transformed into coloured light appear vivid but one-dimensional for style guides. Similarly, distinctive luminaire designs referring to a specific period, like historical chandeliers,
functional Bauhaus luminaires, or amorph forms linked to modern parametricism, are comparable gestures for explicit signs.
However, more complex light compositions enable more abstract
symbolism. When interior architecture inspires lighting concepts, dual contrasts of the spatial and structural compositions are often emphasised in a differentiated way: for example, vertical versus
horizontal, foreground against background, small contrasting large. But as well as the architectural perspective, lighting originates from desired messages to onlookers. For example, one dimension of
identity, which could be addressed with light pattern, is the contrast between technical and natural qualities. These values could be
projected, directly or indirectly, via light patterns within stores.
From Functionality to Individuality
Since Steve Jobs opened the first Apple Store in 2001, the brand
has changed its lighting design concept five times. For each period Apple developed sophisticated details and even started registering the design including the lighting as a trademark. The flush-
mounted luminaires of the first stores, with their square design
and arrangement in rows, looked quite simple and hardly visionary to attract customers for fancy computers. But with this setting
Apple created a smart link to the 1960s, and the start of the modern corporate workplace in America.
But the lack of naturalness became obvious and the brand began to
introduce the first stores with daylight - either with a partial skylight like the famous glass cube at New York’s 5th Avenue in 2006, or with a complete glass roof in Palo Alto in 2012. But not all store locations enable daylight to flood the interior. Therefore, Apple invented a
new lighting concept: An enormous luminous ceiling with seamless fabrics generating the feeling of a virtual cloudy sky.
However, Apple’s international expansion based on one worldwide lighting concept faced a severe problem. In architecture and urban design, the phenomenon is not unknown: The International Style
has shown that cities have become indistinguishable, with uniform glass skyscrapers. As a consequence, people started to regard their
environment as unattractive due to the missing link to local culture. Apple’s reaction is now visible in store designs that pay homage
to local culture - either in Dubai with sun screens reinterpreting Dr. Thomas Schielke did his doctoral thesis about light and brand communication. He works as an editor for Erco, and has co-authored the books Light Perspectives and SuperLux.
the traditional Arabic Mashrabiya, or in Paris with a glass roof
as a large manifestation of a Kaleidoscope, creating a link to the
Cubist tradition in France. The latest change in the lighting concept emerged in Chicago and Milan, where Apple added outdoor lighting