Interview with a Lighting Designer Anne Truong

Introduce yourself and tell us about your career path into Specialist Lighting Design.
My name is Anne Truong and I have been practising lighting design for almost eight years now. I never sought out lighting design as a career, but I did fall into it, and I fell in love with it. My background is actually in computer science. I have always loved both science and art, and I feel lucky that I have found a job that embodies both of these passions. My career started as the office receptionist for a building services company, Wood & Grieve Engineers. This job was just meant to be temporary but I’m the type of person who ends up quite loyal to a job and the work, so I ended up progressing to administration and eventually becoming the administrative coordinator after nine years. I knew that this was not the type of job that I wanted to retire from, but I also wasn’t sure how to progress from where I was. Luckily for me, Dave Anderson, my boss at Wood & Grieve Engineers, introduced me to lighting design. I was intrigued from the very beginning, and I haven’t left since.

What inspired you to take up a career in Lighting Design?
The creative aspect drew me to the career path. I’ve always wanted to do something creative with my life. However, I’ve always been worried that I was never creative enough because part of how my brain works is that I am also a very practical and logical person. My passion for creation really stems from drawing reactions from viewers or the audience. I think lighting design is the perfect job for me because it balances art and science. There’s art in creating good lighting design that allows people to feel in different ways when in a space, indoor or outdoor. Another aspect of it is that technology is always changing, always improving and since light is so integral to life on earth, it will never go away. It’s something that I can always grow with and never tire of.

Describe a typical day’s work.
Every day is never the same and this is what I really like about this job. Sometimes I’ll get questions from colleagues about lighting that might involve luminaire selections, lighting strategies, lighting calculations, questions about aesthetics, lighting integration and all sorts. Sometimes I’ll even get general lighting queries and be asked how to light my colleagues own personal spaces. I’ll also do some of these things with clients, particularly for high-end private residences.

When I do a design, I usually like to see how the space will look like in terms of both interior design and architecture. This helps me choose the type of light and light distribution to use in the space to illuminate certain aspects of the room and manage an occupant’s perspective. This allows me to design the room as if I’m creating a theatrical experience. Sometimes I want to bring a feeling of grandeur upon entering an impressive room or a feeling of comfort when returning home for the day. When I have some spare time, I’ll have a look at what other lighting designers locally and around the world are doing to get inspiration and learn from what they have done to improve myself and my craft.

What is the most memorable project you have worked on and why?
Personally, the Penguin Parade Visitor Centre was my most memorable project because I have a huge passion for animals and lighting. I learned a lot about lighting and its impact on our wildlife. It really got me thinking that as lighting designers working in this kind of space, we have a huge responsibility to balance the need for providing light for people to see and the need for balancing light levels for our wildlife to live healthily. I’m so glad that we have a lot of manufacturers around the world who can develop optics, shields, colour temperatures and lighting control technology to manage all of this and create a space for humans to occupy and to observe the environment around them. I really hope to do more of these kinds of projects because it helps me learn to be a better lighting designer and to help manage the impact of the built environment on the natural environment.

What is the biggest challenge that you have overcome in your career?
I am my greatest critic and trying to get over that is incredibly difficult. Sometimes I feel like an impostor when I say I’m a lighting designer. This is because I don’t come from theatre, interior design, engineering, or architecture. I don’t have a design degree of any kind; I simply like to draw, sing, and express myself through creativity.

However, now and then, I am reminded to look back at all I have done, at the people that I have worked with and all the projects that I have completed. I’m reminded to occasionally look at how far I’ve climbed rather than the peak ahead of me. In these small moments, I allow myself to feel proud of what I have achieved and inspired by others who are so much more immensely talented than me. I feel very lucky to have so many inspiring peers that I can approach and talk lighting with. There are not many types of people out there who appreciate light as much as lighting designers do.

What advice would you give to other women considering a career in the lighting, design, and construction industry?
The lighting industry, which consists of manufacturing, distribution and logistics, design, engineering, and construction, is so vast and varied. So as long as you have a passion for learning, you will never be left wanting. It is a very flexible industry that we’re in, and it’s also a very close-knit one. There’s not much that you can hide when you’re in the lighting industry because it’s like having a big extended family. There is always support somewhere from someone in the industry that you can reach out to. Whether it’s for advice, technical information, or you just want a shoulder to lean on, there’s always a friendly lighting nerd who’s happy to lend a hand. So, for anyone considering lighting design as a career, I recommend it because not only is it interesting and visual, there is also flexibility in work where you can take these skills and apply them to other aspects of the industry. You’re never chained down unless you wish to be.

What are the benefits of lighting on society?
First of all, it helps us see at night but in fact, we don’t need that much to be able to see clearly. Different aspects of light have profound effects on our body such as the circadian rhythm, which our industry has talked extensively about. There has been research by Tim Hunt (Arup) with Monash University on using less or more controlled light to manage our sense of safety as opposed to the previous notion that floodlighting (over lighting) everything would discourage antisocial behaviour. Where in fact, too much lighting doesn’t usually work and delivers the opposite result, making the area feel less safe. In combination with lighting control, we can ensure light is only used where it is needed. Another benefit is that lighting’s colour temperatures can potentially manage sleeping patterns for Dementia patients who have difficulty sleeping. Light is an integral part of our biology, and unfortunately, we don’t understand it enough to use it any more effectively than we are now. In the future, I would very much love to see more research go into the impacts of light, both natural and artificial, on humans and natural wildlife.