Consuming Light: Internship TII

This page contains the outcome of the design research project I have undertaken as an internship at the Design Research Unit, part of the Interactive Institute (ii) in Stockholm. The project was a collaborative effort with co-student Gordon Tiemstra in which we were inspired and supervised by Johan Redström. Within this project two extreme concepts are described that both approach the consumption of light from a different angle. Several exemplary design proposals are explained to indicate a new design space. Within this design space consumption, transformation and life span of light are related in different ways to redefine the way we might design with light in the future.

Light soul

Some materials are being perceived more appealing after they have been consumed intensively. These materials contain a sort of soul or character that makes them more valuable, which is generally called graceful aging. As the title reveals, the following concept revolves around the soul of light. More specifically, the way light can have a soul and how this soul ages (gracefully).

Within the concept Light soul lamps will only be functional after being provided with a ring that has to be placed between the bulb and the socket of the luminaire. This ring embodies the soul of the lamp and can be considered as the connection between the energy that comes out of the socket and the bulb that generates the light. The state of the light's soul is reflected by the rhythm of the light's brightness. This rhythm evolves over time as it is influenced by the way light is being consumed according the amount and type of use. From the rhythm of the light it can be derived whether it has a younger or older soul to which people can attach values. The ring that represents the soul is modular and not bound to a certain type of luminaire or bulb.

Light bomb

Numerous street lanterns illuminate contemporary streetscapes once the sun goes down. Even if the streets are empty of people the lanterns continue illuminating light and therefore a lot of energy is wasted (from a functional perspective). The concept of Light bomb is about a more dynamic and temporary system of illumination. Which, instead of using a set network of street lanterns, makes use of the location of people and their desire of light.

The Light bomb consists of a sort of balloon people take with them to places with low light conditions. Once a person ends up at a spot where a high amount of light is wanted, to get a clear overview about where they are and have to go to, the person will activate a Light bomb.

Stretching the Light bomb takes care for this activation followed up by firing it towards the spot the person wants to light up. Once the Light bomb hits the ground it will immediately start growing in size and simultaneously emit a gradually increasing amount of light. After a few seconds, during which a big part of the surrounding has been illuminated, the Light bomb has reached its equilibrium and will blow up. In a split second the surrounding transfers to its old low light condition like nothing happened.

As its functionality already explains a bit, the Light bombs can be used anywhere a person wants it to and are therefore very flexible and dynamic in use. With the Light bombs the presence of light is valued different than with street lanterns since it is only used during moments a person really needs it; appreciate light as it becomes more unique/not taking it for granted.

The dimension consumption is based upon the amount of energy and material that is being consumed within a concept, which can either be very low or very high. Each of the concepts has to do with the consumption of both energy and material which, when combined is considered to be the consumption of light.


One way of consuming energy is being represented by the Light soul, which is built upon immaterial and intangible conceptions. Within this concept the energy and the material of light are considered as mere communicators of the Light soul. The material and energetic needs of light are taken apart to their very fundamentals. As separate parts they have nothing to do with light. Only when joined by the Light soul, material and energy do combine into light. The concept can be seen as a platform that allows for material and energy to join forces and illuminate. Since the soul is at the core of what it means to be light here, the material manifestations of the light (lamps) as well as its energy component (electricity) are interchangeable. Although illumination still requires energy and material to be consumed, light itself has become the connection between the two, a separate and intangible entity, which does not consume these itself; an activator but allows for their consumption to become light.

Light bomb illustrates how a large amount of light can be consumed in relatively little time: within a few seconds the balloon increases in size along the increment of light. This exorbitant way of consuming energy results in a relatively high amount of waste that consists of exploded Light bombs and light that is gone after just a few seconds of use. In order to become really functional the Light bombs require to be used frequently during low light conditions, which results in an increasing and repetitive amount of consumption and waste.

The lifespan of light is strongly related to the duration of its consumption, which can last very long or very short.


The most important aspect for a soul to evolve is time. The more time the more things happening, the more things happening the more characterized the soul will become. The same counts for the Light soul, which has to be consumed frequently in order to develop. Along with an increased amount of consumption it is perceived higher as it ages gracefully. The soul can exist over different bodies (lamps) over time and, so to speak, reincarnates. The values people relate to light in this concept go beyond the primarily functionality of illumination by lamps, thanks to its long lifespan.

As explained in the concept description, the Light bomb consist of an explosion of light which only takes a few seconds before the light will disappear again. Because of this short life span the Light bomb is considered as a temporary tool to illuminate an environment, which makes it impossible to establish a relationship between the Light bomb and its user. This is illustrated above where it is shown that numerous Light bombs are used in a high tempo as they are disposable. The duration of consumption is low while the amount of consumption is very high. In this case, the short lifespan results in a highly changing and dynamic city with constantly changing streetlights.

Frequent consumption of light will result in different ways in the two concepts. Transformations either emerge in a product (the light) or the perception of the user (the use).


As explained before, the Light soul needs a relatively large amount of time to evolve and gain more value. The changing of the soul can be considered as a transformation of the object: graceful aging. Graceful aging normally appears on tangibles that consist of specific materials, the Light soul however is an immaterial conception that makes it that graceful aging shows up in a different way. In this concept the Light soul ages in an intangible way but is perceivable since it is communicated through light. As people value a Light soul on its age it might be that they will first mature a few years before being sold, comparable to wine cellars.

Since the functioning of the Light bomb is open for interpretation users might as well explore alternative situations of use. Through such explorations new opportunities open up, which are simplified to execute repetitively due to its short lifespan. Consuming light combined with a short lifespan makes that the user is free in reinterpreting a concept like Light bomb in a different way than the designers might have intended. In this image, the explosion of light is used as alarm to wake up; although the functionality of the Light bomb stays the same its practice has been reconsidered.

Design space

We have now seen the relations between these two concepts and we know the dimensions in which it is relevant to compare them. However, the two concepts are developed as extremes to communicate these topics, to present a richer understanding of what they mean we now define a certain design space based on these dimensions. Within this design space several concepts make the dimensions 'cross' at different positions. Each design proposal shows another way in which these central themes might be connected in the design of light. These proposals combined form the new design space, a field of opportunity for new concepts of light:


Play the Light
While interacting with most products you know on forehand what type of feedback the product will provide you with, which especially counts for music instruments. However, light is so dynamic and miscellaneous that it is able to simulate equal emotions and expressions that musical instruments would normally reach with sound.

This concept exemplifies how people might become able to express themselves with the medium light via an instrument that allows them to, instead of the ordinary ways to do this (dance, music, poetry, etcetera). The dynamics of light are able to express warmth, loudness, calmness, rhythms and etcetera.

Keywords: re-interpretation, interaction, consumption, behavior

Apartment Astrology
Coming home to a completely dark apartment we occasionally use the standby indicators of our 'sleeping' electronic appliances to guide us, much like people adrift might use the starry sky to orientate themselves.

Over time the overwhelming display of lights on the firmament has left people with wonder: Astrology. Specific stars together are considered, depending on culture, as a symbol that is often used in architecture to base the construction of buildings upon.

The 'sleeping' lights in the home environment will be used as guidance for inside architecture, as it happens in Feng Shui. The symbols that can be created by 'sleeping' lights define the rules and placement/location of several objects to create a certain experience in the environment: Apartment Astrology.

Keywords: re-interpretation, location, systems, sleeping lights



Living Light
The concept of 'living light' illustrates how an emotional bond between the user and its lamp can be established by implementing anthropomorphic values in the lamp's functionality and behavior.

After acquisition the lamp will learn increasingly, similar to a young child growing up. Resulting in more diverse functionalities and the ability to understand the behavioral preferences of its user. Simultaneously it starts testing the boundaries of what you, as its owner, allows to its behavior (puberty and so on).

Because of the human behavior implemented in the lamp you will get attached to it and start considering the lamp more as an ordinary light source.

Keywords: re-interpretion, graceful aging, human behavior, lifespan

tii_concept3 Original image by Pieke Bergmans

The light bulb that is shown in the example seems to be an everyday bulb during the first phase of use. However, just like a lot of products (materials) the bulb starts to show aspects of use over a certain period of time.

The transformation of the bulb's shape can be related to the amount of use in terms of lighting hours and to the user who may try to interfere with the transformation process by trying to steer the melting in certain directions (that meets personal taste of what is considered a beautiful shape according the bulb's age). Gradually the bulb will develop a sort of character and personality resulting in increased value.

Keywords: graceful aging, lifespan, becoming materials, consumption

Screen Shade
Many screens surround us; we even carry some of them around. Although we usually do not appreciate them as such most of these screens can actually be considered potential light sources instead of merely displays of information.

Screen-shade is a kind of lampshade that you can use to turn your displays into lights after their usual use is over. Turn your mobile phone into a bedside light or use your laptop to light up a romantic dinner. As well non-dynamic light can be exposed with pictures as dynamic light by beaming videos/animations.

Keywords: re-interpretation, transformation, re-use, displays



Out in the city at night, countless light sources shout for our attention. Large amounts of light are thrown at us, not with the functional objective to enlighten the streets but merely to attract attention for the promotion of advertisements.

With help of a set of artifacts it becomes possible to harvest (unused) light sources and use it for personal, more functional, purposes. This becomes possible since the artifacts are made of becoming/intelligent materials that are able to suck light out of existing sources resulting in self-supply (just like leeches do with their host). With help of these artifacts it now becomes possible to truly make use of light that is actually 'thrown away'.

Keywords: sustainable, re-use, symbiots, becoming materials, consumption