What Starbucks and the Lighting Industry Should Have in Common

Specification Grade: A Term Worth Revisiting.

Recently, there was a podcast episode on “The Corp” where Howard Schultz, Former CEO and now Executive Chairman of Starbucks, discussed the Starbucks brand. He was adamant that the Starbucks brand really has very little to do with coffee. It has to do with the experience that a customer has when entering one of the 30,000 Starbucks locations. To this day, he is constantly thinking about how to be innovative in a saturated market. While some people get excited about the new flavor that just came on the line, to Schultz that is the cost of doing business. To be innovative means disrupting a market, and cannibalizing yourself constantly.

If Howard Schultz measures the success of Starbucks on the experience, and not the actual coffee itself, why are we measuring light on the light itself, and not the experience it creates? Starbucks’ own interior designers, released an article discussing how light can evoke emotions and feelings of comfort. Much of their design strategy is centered on using light, to make people feel like they are sitting in their own living room.

Every industry has its own vocabulary. In the ever evolving lighting industry, it can be hard to keep up. One term that isn’t discussed often enough is “specification grade.” It is a term that is often thrown away as simply meaning “choosing different trim finishes.” In reality architectural light fixtures and specification-grade light fixtures have the same meaning, “lighting that furthers the design experience of architecture, such as buildings or physical structures.” In today’s world, much of the focus is on how lighting speaks to the internet of things, its Bluetooth and wireless capabilities, how energy efficient it is, etc.

We are missing something. What about the quality of the actual light? What about the experience? Lighting is fundamental to how we experience a space, it is fundamental to creating an ambiance that makes people feel a certain way. Why do we keep talking about lighting as a tool for everything else, and not about the light itself? Specifications, in specification-grade light fixtures, can range from size, dimension and beam spread, to color temperature and light output. Every facet of the light is important for creating an unbeatable user experience.

Sure, it’s cool if your light can turn on and off when someone enters the room. But, does this same light work in the confines of a hotel room, an office space, a cruise ship, or any other space that needs to create an experience? For some reason in the United States 3500K has been determined as the color temperature of choice for commercial spaces. However, it is important to take into account how much natural light your office gets, what the interior finishes are, such as modern and open, or closed off with a lot of doors, and walnut furniture. Also, understanding how your space will be used is critical. Are your hotel rooms designed to be small and minimal, to push people to common areas? Is your office designed for clients to view conference room screens, or printed documents? Do you even want clients in your office space? Knowing the use of your space will help to determine the color rendering index needed, so the appropriate experience can be created. The finishes of a fixture are also critical. They need to flow with the rest of the space. As I mentioned above, a closed off office full of walnut furniture, will need much different finishes than a modern open floor plan.

When trying to create an experience and an overall feeling, there is no substitute for specification grade features. Think about the hospitality industry. Hoteliers, and other hospitality professionals are trying to create an experience unique to their brand, an experience that brings guests back again. Lighting is a huge component of a space, and is a big piece of a brand’s ability to create an experience within a space.

When designing a space, light should be incorporated as an integral part of the design. Working with companies, such as Nadarra, who design specification grade light fixtures, allows for light customization to create an experience unique to you, and your brand. The minute you walk into a Starbucks store, you know exactly why you are there, and the experience you expect to have.



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