As the new chief design officer for Philips Lighting, Rogier Van Der Heide synergizes design and business
1. In your new role at Philips Lighting, will you still design architectural projects?
I have been appointed chief design officer and am responsible for design at the highest level. Philips Lighting recognizes the need for design, not only as an aesthetic component of product development, but also as a strategic aspect of business. Design is a vital part of light that enhances our lives. With design put in the heart of Philips‘ solutions, technology is delivered in a more meaningful way to the end user. To do so, as chief design officer, I help strengthen the company’s design attitude and bridge technological innovations with the desires and needs of the market.
Over the course of my career in lighting and lighting design, I have always been fortunate to embark on the unexpected, to explore the new and the next. After having spent four years at a small lighting design practice in Amsterdam, in 1994, I founded Holland’s Light Advanced Lighting Design, the country’s first practice to deliver lighting design as a part of a holistic view on architecture and entertainment. And when I joined Arup as global leader of lighting design in 2003, it was again a very exciting and inspiring move. I continued to deliver highly creative projects, but at the same time, I had the privilege to take part in fusing innovation, creation, technology, and business, the integral approach Arup is so well known for. So, when Philips asked me to join as chief design officer, I considered it an exciting but logical step—to deepen and develop the synergy of design and business.
Besides my company-wide responsibility for design within Philips Lighting, I will continue to be involved in major architectural projects worldwide, but my role is a different one now. At Philips, we support designers and architects in the way they need to make their dreams come true, with technology, solution-based thinking, tailored innovations, and customization whenever needed. My lighting design experience will, of course, be useful, and I am excited to support teams that want to develop lighting that enhances our lives and demonstrates beauty as well as a keen interest in sustainability.
2. Is LED technology the future of lighting? What else is on the horizon?
LED technology is not the future of lighting; it is today. The show floors at Lightfair and Light+Building were a testimony to that. LED technology is improving at an incredible pace. Every six months, there is a new generation of LED light sources. The applications of LED are unlimited, and LED provides unparalleled design freedom. In architecture, you can put the light source where you could never put it, as it is small and does not require access for maintenance. The future is in applications of LED that are based on the technology’s intrinsic qualities—products that inspire and enable designers in ways conventional lighting could never do.
On the horizon, there is, of course, OLED, that marvelous luminous surface with its magical quality of diffuse, intangible light. OLED will be brighter and more energy efficient than what it is now, but its main property is its completely different form factor that allows for luminous objects and surfaces we could only dream of so far.
3. What is the most technically challenging project you have designed?
At Arup, there were no simple projects. Arup is a place that constantly challenges and inspires people to surpass themselves. Star Place in Taiwan was incredibly challenging, putting LEDs with highly specialized optics in an edge-lighting solution, with low power consumption and in a waterproof industrial design for outdoor use. And the YAS Marina Hotel in Abu Dhabi, for which I did the concept lighting design with Hani Rashid and his team at Asymptote, has amazing product design, wonderfully designed by my dear friend Tommy Voeten at 1212-Studio, Inc. with additional input from manufacturers and engineers. The project is a showcase of how successful collaboration leads to results with no precedent.
4. How does new technology impact your design work? How do you decide what new technologies to embrace?
Technology has a huge impact on my design work. In general, design and technology go hand in hand; without good design, technology is not meaningful to us. What I am ultimately looking for are solutions that enhance our lives. They make us happier, healthier, and inspired. They enable us to do the things we would not be able to do without. Design is critical in the creation of such solutions, and so is technology. They simply can’t do without each other. For example, urban lighting is, for me, all about the livability of places: How does a piazza or square inspire us to meet, to explore, or be comfortable? Visual attraction, entertainment, beautiful aesthetics, and good ergonomics are all part of the solution, backed by sound technologies that make it all happen, that make the dream come true.
5. What advice do you have for young designers?
I would like to tell young designers to share thoughts and ideas, to find platforms and situations where you can exchange and absorb. Do not covet your own ideas, and as a result, you will find a lot of people who give you everything they can offer. The networked model of partnerships and collaboration has replaced the old ideas of competitiveness and segregation between designers, manufacturers, engineers, and architects.
As lighting and lighting design are much more complicated than before, I would also stress the importance of good education. Technological knowledge is instrumental to be a good discussion partner, and formal design training helps to be able to express your ideas and to understand the challenges when shaping the human environment. And of course, you can learn a great deal from experienced designers, so go to places where you can meet them such as LDI or the IALD Education Conference. And if you are interested in interning with experienced lighting designers, talk to young talents who did so before to ask about their experiences and secret tips how to get the most out of it. And finally, follow your heart, and enter this industry if you feel this is where your passion is. Light is a beautiful thing, and it makes a beautiful profession. I am thankful and feel privileged every day that I can do this work.