project 4: lighting engines

11/5/19 research + explorations

For this project, we are to create ‘lighting engines’ for our picked out prompt. I picked out “design a lighting engine that supports collaborating with peers in a conference room”. As such, I started by looking deeper into what we discussed in class and looked and various existing lights located throughout campus.

Types of Lights:

  • Incandescent: typical bulb, bulb has filament, can overheat and burn out.
  • Light Emitting Diode (LED): is becoming increasingly common, a semiconductor, energy efficient, won’t overheat, and consists of multiple diodes to produce light.
  • Halogen Lamp: improved version of incandescent bulbs, inert gas within the bulb increases brightness, has a longer life span.
  • Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL): meant to be a replacement for incandescent bulbs, has a longer lifespan, higher luminous efficiency.

Types of Lighting:

  • Ambient: Atmospheric lighting,
  • Cove: Museum lighting,
  • Work/Task: Spotlights, i.e. Orthodontist lights
  • Accent: Decorative lighting
  • Intermittent: Light that shines in pattern of time: i.e lighthouse.
  • Navigation: Source of illumination for a vessel (i.e. planes, boats) to show its position and status.
(above) line of incandescent lights near the University Center — picture 1 + 2
(left) incandescent bulb at Entropy; (right) LED light at a staircase near Entropy — picture 3 + 4
(left) hanging light in the UC; (right) exit sign with LED — picture 5 + 6


  • Each light has its functions, but you can use a specific light for a different function.
  • Pictures 1, 2, 3: many incandescent lights were strung up and used with both a decorative and ambient lighting function in mind.
  • Picture 3: Looks like cove lighting, but not quite, helps light up the entire wall space. LED strip.
  • Picture 5: Spotlight, many of these in a room helps light up the whole space.
  • Picture 6: Exit sign isn’t exactly a ‘light’ but it is lit by presumably an LED. It helps the sign get noticed in case of an emergency.
(all above) lights seen at the Pittsburgh Vintage Mixer Fair
  • Either the lampshade is patterned, three dimensional or the stand is decorated (i.e. Buddha sculpture at the bottom, plane cylindrical lampshade on top).
  • Some have two dimensional pattens: light shines through in interesting ways (i.e. gridded).
  • Three dimensional lights: shows relationship between shadow and light, light illuminates and reflects off varied surfaces.

Things to Consider:

  • How can I make the light illuminate a whole room?
  • Make sure that the lighting engine isn’t distracting, but also not invisible: has to complement the context.
  • Color temperature: cooler lighting, more formal, won’t make people sleepy.
  • What types of paper can support a big lighting engine?
  • What kind of adhesives that won’t show on paper when it’s lit?
  • On/off state of lighting engine: equally as enjoyable.


In brainstorming for this project, I also looked at a few artists and their artwork for inspiration and potential directions.

  • Look at the relationships between tones and color temperature.
  • What elements work well with each other?
(left) Light Cloud, Dark Cloud 1957 ; (right) Orange and Yellow 1956
  • How can I use the way light reflects/refracts to portray something?
  • How does different levels of illumination affect how the audience views it?
  • Became a leading component of constructivism
  • Style of art is abstract, he aimed to combine sculptural element with the architectural element into one unit.
  • Flow of the form created by the nylon string portrays a sense of calmness, clean.
  • Organic shapes.
(left) Linear Construction No. 2 1971; (right) Spiral Theme 1941
  • Likes to take inspiration from growth patterns in nature.
  • Repetitive forms are constructed in an organic way.
(left) Untitled; (right) Seed II 2012

11/1–11/12/19 exploration of paper, adhesives, and sketch models

After looking into the types of light there are and is around us, I then explored a bit with the types of paper I already have.

(left) bristol paper; (right) palette paper
(left) tracing paper; (right) tracing paper crinkled
(above) printer paper
(left) paper swatches; (middle) hot press watercolor paper; (right) silkscreen paper
(left) white and warm white stonehenge paper; (middle) 4 ply bristol paper; (right) 2 ply bristol paper
(left) 4 types of adhesives on printer paper; (right) same 4 types of adhesives on tracing paper.
(left) bristol; (middle) canson; (right) tracing
(left) Folia white cardstock; (right) Folia pearl white cardstock
(left) construction paper; (right) printer paper

11/11/19 sketch models:

Last thing before starting making iterations, I set out to create a few more sketch models to experiment and explore different possibilities in approaching the project.

Sketch 1:

(above) sketch model #1, with light on
(above) sketch #1, with light off

Sketch 2:

(above) sketch model #2
(left) OFF state; (right) back view ON state

Sketch 3:

(above) sketch model 3
(left) side view; (right) OFF state

Sketch 4:

(above) ON state
(above) corners and inserts

Sketch 5:

Sketch 6:

  • Printer paper is not translucent, but is still quite flimsy.
  • Consider ways to utilize negative positive space with paper, how does that affect on/off visuals?
  • Sketch Model 1 — ON stage is significantly more enjoyable to look at than its OFF state, looks incomplete.

11/13/19 drafting models:

In creating my first draft, I tried to work with cylindrical forms as I thought it’d be easier to make big and fit the conference room atmosphere: formal, simple.

Draft 1:

(left) sketch of first idea; (right) a tab idea to hold the form
(above) trying out the tab method to hold the cylindrical shape
(left) side view; (right) failed attempt at lining the bottom with tracing paper
  • Hard to cut out circles well (craftsmanship concern).
  • Bristol paper was too thick, hard to illuminate a conference room.

Draft 2:

This was a quick draft, but when I was looking at typical conference room lights online, I noticed that there were many that were long, bar shaped lights. I then attempted to create a lighting engine inspired by said shape.

(left) front view; (right) side view
  • The clear vellum used is equally as translucent as the tracing paper used in the beginning of the project, but slightly thicker/sturdier.
  • Light is diffused well in the front and back side, not so much on the sides due to the naked bulb.

Draft 3:

Moving on from the previous drafts, I then thought about ways I could create a large sized piece without having it droop or be too chunky. As such, I decided that instead of making fewer large pieces, many little parts creating a bigger whole would be better.

(left) idea sketch; (middle+right) bristol template for easy replication of the triangular prism net
(left) I used a ruler to help make precise creases when folding the prism nets; (right) the triangular prisms
(left) side view; (right) for the center base, I had pasted half half of tracing paper and printer paper to see how bright the light would shine through them.
  • Tracing paper is equally as fragile/unstable no matter how many pieces of it you group together. Adding more together does not make it stronger as a whole.
(above) what the light looks like hung up
  • However, it loses interest on the sides as its the only side that doesn’t show obvious varied heights.
  • What should a conference light do/have?
  • Lighting engine should not distract people in conference room.
  • At the same time, it should not be invisible, it should complement the task (in this case, collaboration in a conference).
  • Because of the numerous layers of tracing paper, the light is too blocked, which makes it hard to illuminate a conference room.
  • Scale up the lighting engine! Too small.
  • Consider ways to bounce light: baffling to reflect and illuminate stronger.

11/18/19 creating alternatives:

In class, Steve and Stacie discussed the difference between alternatives and variations. Alternatives being completely different ideas/approaches and variations being different versions/alterations of that same idea. Because I felt the need to explore more, I then brainstormed for another alternative.

(above) other types of light I encountered at Home Depot
(above) new bulb!
(above) design faculty conference room

Draft 4:

(left) brainstorming different ways to approach the ‘pattern’ repetitive design; (middle) initial sketch of draft; (right) ancient Chinese coins
(left) Yupo paper; (right) seeing how Yupo creases vs taping strips together
(left) layering clearprint Vellum to Yupo, layering swatch; (right) layers under light
(above) process of making one of four panels for exterior structure
(above) front and back of panel
(left) exterior shell; (right) second layer
(left) cut panels; (right) all three layers done
(left) example of paper curling after attempting to use UHU glue sticks; (right) used double sided and scotch tape to build the whole draft
(left) side view; (right) under view
(above) group critique exercise from class
  • Very industrial, architectural looking.
  • Work on OFF mode: looks like white rectangle
  • Does square shape support any kind of conference room?
  • Looking from underneath: kind of distracting, can still see the bulb and too many windows/holes.
  • Play around with layers, how can it complement the shadows?
  • Vellum to cover the bulb.

11/20/19 creating variations:

Based off the critiques given last class, I’d gotten a couple of ideas of what to change and improve on.

(left) different ways to layer; (middle+right) draft brainstorming/plans
(left) Bristol on printer paper; (right) printer paper on Bristol
(left) printer on printer paper; (right) Bristol on Bristol
(left) sturdier Bristol; (middle) flimsy printer paper; (right) how the layers were taped on each panel
(above) joining panels together
(above) how I attached each layer to each other with Scotch tape.
(left + middle) placing all three parts and taping done; (right) adding clearprint Vellum to paper to hide the lightbulb
  • Overestimated the size of the interior, sides are still warpy.
  • Vellum paper effectively covered the bulb and is still bright.
  • White light was strong enough to illuminate through all the layers.

11/24–11/25/19 fine-tuning:

With the deadline approaching fast, I felt like I was in a pretty decent place with my design. As such, for my final lighting engine, I decided to go with the same design and focus on craft.

(above) creating the layers for exterior
(above) to prevent underestimating how long each panel is, I made each layer longer so that I could cut the excess off.
(left) cutting out windows from the Bristol; (right) taping clearprint Vellum
(left) Bristol layered on front and back; (right) What it looks like with light
(above) foam core fitted to the structure
(left) foam core fitted to inner square; (right) foam core fitted to second layer/square


(left) light off in context zoomed in; (right) light on on black background
(above) detail shots
(above) light on in context


Out of all the previous projects, I personally thought that this was the most enjoyable. This is most likely due to the fact that cardboard was significantly harder to cut and that I’ve never worked with ‘light’ before, so learning how to manipulate light towards a certain goal was intriguing to me. Overall, this project has not only made me realize that there are some things that you cannot visualize and have to make it to see it, but also to know how to decide what you want to spend your time on. This is mainly because this project was much more rushed than the ones in the past, and similar to the cardboard project, I learned to effectively spend time on ideas worth spending on.



Hey! I’m currently studying design @CMU with a focus on communications design + minor in HCI. You can find some of the projects I’ve worked on here.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Sarah Xi

Sarah Xi

Hey! I’m currently studying design @CMU with a focus on communications design + minor in HCI. You can find some of the projects I’ve worked on here.