Friday, 25 March 2011

Ergonomics and intelligent lighting in intelligent buildings

I went to the Masterclass held by the Society of Light and Lighting yesterday. Really very very good; six good speakers, with several outstanding. Do try to catch one of the remaining events.

Lots on LED technology of course.

The design driver is reducing energy use. One aspect of this is matching the provision of light and lighting to user needs, including not putting light where and when it is not needed. New technology is allowing people to do smarter things with luminaires, offering new ways to place light and dark.

Smarter control is coming, offering all sorts of benefits, if the user need can be understood and converted to control signals. This change brings all the problems of modern digital control systems with it. New user interfaces and interaction possibilities. There may be issues with maintainer skill requirements. There will be many types of user who will need something close to 'walk up and use', or who may bring expectations from different buildings with them. The number of user types is quite long (e.g. for energy audits, for checking emergency lighting, for refurbishment planning, as well as living and working in the building). Maintaining ease of use through-life may prove challenging. The role of the integrator is set to grow. The aspirations of the builder and the owner will continue to have potential conflicts - possibly more so. Post-occupancy evaluation will become more complex, and of course the internet will change interaction between users and other stakeholders.

Regulation is prominent on the scene, with the attendant unintended consequences. As a fast-moving technical field, it is developing an alphabet soup. Lighting Energy Numeric Indicator (LENI) BS EN 15193 is likely to be important. Standards are developing, notably Digital Addressable Lighting Interface (DALI) IEC 62386.

There is a crying need for some standardisation of user interface conventions. Sectors that considered corporate design 'style' to be more important than user needs and lived to regret it include telecomms and road vehicles. Clearly, over-standardisation will kill innovation, which would be terrible at this point, but there must be a number of basics that could be standardised to support walk up and use. Perhaps some sort of consensus could be allowed to emerge with semi-formal support using wikis etc.

Many other sectors have 'gone digital' before buildings. Most of these have assumed that 'good engineering practice' and common sense will see them through the change. By and large, this has not proved to be the case, and ergonomics has been brought in late to cope with failures in design or operation. It would be heartening to see the intelligent building community employing Human-Centred Design (HCD) in a structured fashion without having to do it the hard way. I would not presume to explain the principles of HCD to Frank Gehry, but there will be many occasions when specialist input may prove cost-effective.

Update: This customisable floor plan switch is the sort of thing becoming both possible and necessary.

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