Millennials: the generational interpreters of lighting design

Beyond enviable energy levels and an eagerness to learn, do we really understand what young people can bring to business? Working in an industry where there’s a shortage of talent, we’re making sure we tap into the mindset of smart young problem-solvers so we bring out the best in our younger engineers, designers and consultants.

In this piece we explore our millennials’ approach to lighting design. What do they do differently? How can we unleash their unique qualities so our clients benefit? How can we encourage their contributions so they grow more skilled, confident and able?

What makes millennials different?

Also known as digital natives, millennials were born between 1981 and 1996. Technology is in their DNA, although the older segment did migrate from an analogue to a digital world. These older millennials can remember a time when there wasn’t a computer with internet at home. Despite this, their entire adult lives have been inundated with extraordinary technological change.

Their upbringing included commercial TV and handheld devices – think Tamagotchi and Nokia 3315. And then came early waves of video game culture, mainly from the US and Asia, along with cartoon content like Pokemon and Nikelodian.

This all means they’re used to the best content from around the world, perhaps at the cost of a short attention span. They’re also filled with a hunger to always know the most or find the best version of ‘that thing’.

Being exposed to the extreme in-your-face marketing and mass hysteria of their generation sensitive information about friends on Myspace or using dodgy Wikipedia content to finish an assignment. They matured quickly to become our experts in online culture, resources, safety and security.

Their parents also navigated the economic crisis of the late 80s and early 90s teaching them that they needed to skill up and work hard. This makes them driven high achievers unafraid to take on a challenge.

What Millennials bring to the world of work

To develop future-proofed human-centric design, we need to gather the knowledge and goals from across generations. We need to capture the needs of the people that will be using the space 5, 10 or 50 years from now so the lighting we design today works for them and is able to evolve with their needs.

Digital endurance

Without millennials in our lighting design team, we wouldn’t have pushed so many boundaries or mastered the digital solutions that we have. Undaunted by a new platform or software, they jump right into new tech, looking for ways it can solve a lighting challenge or save a chunk of time.

Familiarity with design programs and early immersion in video content means they’re visual learners and visual thinkers. Eager to take things from discussion and scribbles to rough CAD visualisations and 3D mock ups, they know how to use software as a sketch tool to share what’s inside their head in an accessible way. This helps clients who might not be confident in design speak to start to imagine solutions, realise why something won’t work or even trigger a better idea.

With their early exposure to an analogue world, they’re good at relating to older generations and bridging that gap between technical reticence and technical understanding.

Global perception of culture and design

With the global nature of fads and trends that millennials were exposed to during their influential teens, culture and design are inherently global for them. They’re inspired by artists like James Turrell, the very latest exhibitions and stage lighting at music festivals across the world, 3D mapping projection, laser shows and technology like the Volume (used to film The Mandalorian).

This leads to an appreciation for lighting and how it can fuse art and architecture. This has a strong influence on the way they approach everyday lighting experiences.


Changing jobs, moving to a new place and shifting office culture are all normal to a millennial. They adapt quickly and ‘just get on with it’. Behind this, we often see a diverse route into the field they’re working in. For our millennial lighting designers, their paths into lighting design went via architects, stage lighting and lighting manufacturers.

A different type of problem solving

Lifetime familiarity with Google and YouTube means they’re not satisfied with the not knowing of how to do something. A millennial designer also doesn’t tend to see the end as visible from the start.

If they find ourselves thinking – there must be a better way – they know how to find it with a simple search or scroll through a forum. This attitude is enabled by their ability to jump between programs, a quick conclusion that ‘photoshop is best for this’ or ‘this CAD program is better for this type of modelling’. We even eavesdrop on ‘I hear there’s this new AI tool or gaming technology that I’ve never used before but could be cool for this client or project’.

This mindset is demonstrative of a millennial’s freedom and ease switching back and forth within tech to maximise outcomes and efficacy.

Keen to be a force for change

Millennials have also grown up in a world where politics, the economy, the environment and society don’t stand still. Big strides forward, and backwards, have taken place during their formative years. As a generation of driven high achievers, if they see something that doesn’t sit right, they’re going to speak up and try to change it. There’s no ‘no can do’.

An openness to artificial intelligence (AI)

While there’s constant project work at NDYLIGHT, and our younger team members can feel under the pump, they still receive a lot of support and encouragement from leaders to explore emerging platforms and technologies.

They’ve already tapped into our familiar software and platforms that integrate AI. Everything from Excel to Photoshop has AI plugins, extensions and inbuilt features. While many are still in beta versions, they’re using them at every opportunity so they become more familiar and valuable.

Using these to figure out how to make our workflow and output more streamlined will mean more content in less time, empowering the whole team and benefitting our clients.

Our millennials on the job

Gaming technology for lighting

Matt says,

“As virtual reality and augmented reality technologies became accessible to creatives, I began to experiment presenting 3D designs in this new format. It’s great to present a design where the building owner, architect or user can walk around and look up and down to get a very immersive sense of scale and experience something before it becomes physical reality.

“It gives them a sense of control – they can decide when to turn left or turn right – rather than the rigidity of a guided flythrough. This sense of control can be extended by sharing in-progress designs in these formats and taking feedback or changing layouts, colours, textures, animations instantly.

“Live content is the other reason for my interest in gaming technologies. Typical architectural or design CAD software can’t create animations, video content or colour-changing lights quickly. In my past work in stage lighting and installation, I needed to show live content in real-time to present dynamic light shows. Gaming software like Unreal Engine 5 and Unity render graphics in real time on a graphics card and advanced ray-tracing and lighting engines mean virtual lighting is more accurate than ever.

“I’ve brought this approach into my work as a lighting designer with NDYLIGHT. We can quickly stream in media content, camera feeds and live DMX (lighting control language) to animate the lights for a building facade, office interior or stadium.

“We’ve begun experimenting with these technologies on residential and commercial projects. Our initial focus is establishing the best way to use this technology for presentations. I think these tools will really shine on our next big building facade for a very colourful and dynamic lighting solution.”

Flipping lighting on its head

Danah says,

“During the concept development of a live project, we saw the potential of a vast, blank, 3-storey soffit. With low-level planting on the ground level and nothing but structural columns breaking up the void space above, we began to explore ways to invite a sense of intrigue and warmth into this inner-suburb commercial location. Humans innately respond to foliage and texture with familiarity, how could we evoke a biophilic sensation in an urban environment like this?

“With effect and affect as the driver for the design, we searched for tools to achieve this by leaning into the theatrical.

  • The vision: to mimic an abstract cast of shadows emanating from an uplit tree.
  • The tools: Projectors and/or gobos. Reviewing the pros and cons of both for this project, powerful gobos appeared the clear winner, maximum effect with minimal maintenance for the project into the future.

“We’re currently experimenting with different gobos, in virtual 3D modelling and physically with different coloured lenses, imaged glass, irises and various other filters. Modelling has helped us understand the ideal parameters such as output, focus capabilities, and filters to achieve the desired effect. Next we’ll be completing some night tests to experiment with power and filter scale so we can confidently propose this solution to the client with proven results.”

How millennials see the future of lighting design

Client expectations continue to grow – they want lighting design to help educate users about sustainability, last the lifetime of a space and adapt with the space as its purpose changes. We can only design for these kind of expectations if we bring in the people who will be using the spaces over the long term.

Our millennials approach design with precision and care. They use technology to make their designs accessible, remove the grunt work and speed up the process. They challenge their older collaborators on over-design and aren’t afraid to say, “let’s take out some of these lights”.

They see potential in a new way of lighting, far from an object that’s merely lit by happenstance. They’re developing a bridge between the mundane and the sublime, a tool to affect a spatial experience and bring depth and gravitas to an environment.

They feel honoured to have a creative canvas handed to them by architects and interior designers. A place where they can play with dimensions, textures, colours and frames. A place where they can enhance, exaggerate, layer, mute or evolve the space into… anything. Anything a client, or their generation, envision it could be.