In 2009 the architectural lighting design community quickly mobilized in an unprecedented effort to defeat Texas House Bill 2649, which restricted the practice of lighting design to certain licensed professionals including architects and interior designers. Fearing a patchwork of legislation across the 50 states and other countries, the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD) committed to defining the practice of architectural lighting design itself, before legislators could do it for them. The result of these efforts: the Certified Lighting Designer (CLD) certification program launched this spring.

CLD could be a big step for a profession that remains relatively young and relatively unfamiliar, outside of major metropolitan areas. (IALD was founded in 1969.) “Professionally, it says that architectural lighting design as a profession has matured. And we should be acknowledged as certified professionals, no different from an engineer, an architect or an interior designer,” said Patrick Gallegos, Gallegos Lighting Design.

“I get questions all the time about my experience and justification of my fees,” explained Rosemarie Allaire, of Rosemarie Allaire Lighting Design. “It will differentiate myself from a non-certified lighting designer, a lighting showroom salesperson, an interior designer, an architect, an electrician, an electrical engineer – all the players that would be responsible somehow for lighting design…. That’s why I plan on getting certified. There’s always competition, and how do you define yourself among you competitors?”

Thomas Rackley, CLD certification coordinator, added, “This is a global certification, as well. On the global job market we find more international lighting design companies. Architectural lighting designers work across borders and across continents. If they have a certification, it lifts them up compared to non-certified competitors. It’s an international benchmark of performance.”

Texas was the impetus

The lighting design language was withdrawn from the Texas bill. Nevertheless, in 2010 IALD assembled the IALD Credentialing Task Force to explore the feasibility and validity of a global lighting design certification.

David Becker, of David Becker Design, headed up the task force. The group hosted a number of open forums and cooperated with allied organizations, including the National Council on Qualifications for the Lighting Professions (NCQLP), the Professional Lighting Designers’ Association (PLDA) and the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES).

Of course, IALD professional membership itself does denote a high level of proficiency. But not all professional lighting designers follow the IALD business model, receiving compensation solely for lighting design services rendered or royalties. Many excellent lighting designers across the globe are compensated, in whole or in part, through commissions and markups on lighting equipment or installation services. Great lighting designers can work for distributors, showrooms, manufacturers, sales agents, contractors, etc.

Today, the lighting design profession has generally accepted scopes of knowledge and practice (if not business models). Degree programs are available; but still, a high level of practical experience is required for competency. Certification provides assurance that an individual meets explicit professional standards. Voluntary certification, as opposed to required licensing, is a common response for professions to self-regulate, particularly if there is public pressure.

Psychometric professional Judy Hale, of Hale Associates, was brought on board to guide the process, using her expertise and experience in the design of certifications.

Domains of practice

An international survey of lighting professionals and professionals from allied groups in 2012 solidified the CLD’s seven “domains of practice,” defining the scope and complexity of architectural lighting design work. Only experienced lighting designers, currently working in the field as lead lighting designers, need apply. Following a project from concept though completion (and providing evidence) is also required.

Like IALD membership, the CLD application is a portfolio-review process that evaluates professional accomplishments. The application is online-only, currently offered only in English. If the designer has already completed awards applications and photography for projects, the CLD application process should take around 7-8 hours to complete, according to Rackley. The application fee is $625.

There are no CLD study groups – like there is for the LC (Lighting Certified) test– though IALD is presenting informational sessions. IALD has an ad hoc mentoring program to assist applicants for professional membership. No similar program for CLD has been discussed, according to Allaire. She recommends reaching out to an IALD professional member, particularly someone that has served on the Membership Committee, along with careful review of the CLD handbook.

IALD has trained a small cadre of highly experienced lighting designers from around the world to review and evaluate the applications. Applications are reviewed anonymously and independently; reviewers do not confer. Each reviewer determines a pass/fail on each domain; passes from at least two out of the three reviewers are required for each and every domain of practice. The staff compiles the results and informs the applicant.

If it’s only one or two domains that cause an overall fail, the applicant will be given the opportunity to address the reviewers’ comments. If an applicant fails three or more domains, they must reapply. After clarifying or reapplying, a failed applicant can appeal the decision to the Certified Lighting Designer Commission, which governs the CLD.

IALD committed to investing $1 million in certification over 10 years (beginning in 2013), in addition to IALD and CLD staffing, plus thousands of volunteer hours. As CLD establishes its own income stream through certification and recertification, its goal is to become financially and legally independent, according to Rackley. The IALD Credentialing Task Force is dissolved; the CLD Commission is co-chaired by Becker and Allaire.

Professionals that have already undergone a portfolio review and achieved professional IALD designation are accommodated with an abbreviated application and reduced fee: $525. CLD has partnered with additional organizations, l’Association des Concepteurs Lumière et Eclairagistes (ACE, France) and Asociación Profesional de Diseñadores de Iluminación (APDI, Spain), to allow this simplified application and reduced fee for professional members. (PLDA, Europe, dissolved in 2014). Other associations may be added in the future.

“IALD, IES, CLD, LC, LEED… It’s an investment to be a professional. You have to look at how you’re going to spend your money. IALD is an association of your professional peers, but the CLD is an international certification. They are very different. CLD could one day be required by a code or legislature anywhere in the world,” said Allaire. Both Allaire and Gallegos have served on the IALD Credentialing Task Force from the beginning and plan to apply for CLD soon.

Gallegos recommends CLD for lighting designers whether they are at the early stages of their careers or seasoned professionals. “The CLD says you’ve been around long enough to complete projects and that you have projects that show a certain level of competency.… I’m fully behind it because I think it’s good for the profession and good for individuals within that profession.” CLD is new, relatively unknown and not currently required by any government or code. “People have to make a personal, professional and business judgment about the value of CLD… I’ve said yes to all three.”

Lois I. Hutchinson

About Lois I. Hutchinson

Lois I. Hutchinson is a freelance writer specializing in lighting and energy issues. She is also the content marketing mastermind behind Inverse Square LLC, a Los Angeles–based consultancy. Contact her via with your comments and any article ideas that concern the lighting community here in the Southwest.

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