Should Lighting Designers Be Licensed?

by | Oct 12, 2020 | News

The 20-year debate continues.

This problem has been around since before I joined the industry and we won’t solve it here, but we hope to be a forum for an open discussion.

Around 1998, I attended my first IES Board of Directors meeting and Jim Benya addressed the board requesting money for the NCQLP. I remember him distinctly stating that barbers had to be licensed yet anyone who wanted to hang a shingle could call herself a lighting designer with no proof of proficiency.

Architect Magazine has a Benya-penned article titled, “Should Lighting Designers be Licensed?” from June of 2011 — and the caption says, “original text has been edited and excerpted from the 1988 original.”

Fast forward to 2020 and the issue still has not been resolved, although the NCQLP and their LC program is successful and continues to grow, the LC can be held by anyone from a lighting salesperson to a designer, so the LC alone does not certify the design competence of the person.

In the licensing discussion, there is little middle ground. Most people feel very passionate about their respective positions. Some even use the same argu- ment to reach different conclusions. Brad Koerner, of Cima Network, and Terry Clark both think money is a key issue in the licensing discussion. Terry cites the fact that interior designers are licensed, and they earn more money than non-licensed interior designers. Terry believes the same thing would be true with lighting designers.

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Brad also thinks money is a key point, but he has the opposite opinion. Brad states that licensing will reduce fees for everyone.

Terry explained that the licensed lighting designers will be able to sign off on documents and create more value, therefore they should earn more than non-licensed designers. Brad said, “Any profession that can be so easily delineated in a bureaucratic test can then, therefore, be easily outsourced to lower cost labor.”

IALD may have the solution with their Certified Lighting Designer program. The intent is to identify lighting designers who have demonstrated a high level of professional competence, using their prior work as supporting evidence. Utilizing seven domains of practice, the CLD certification will measure applicants’ skill levels – not only in design, but in key associated areas such as project management, scientific knowledge, understanding of human factors, and ability to meet owners’ and architects’ project desires and requirements. To ensure integrity, the process uses a double-blind submission process.

Marsha Turner, Executive Vice President of the IALD explained, “For a profession as small as ours, licensing could kill the profession. It would not help the profession grow.” She further explained that the volume of engineers and architects is significantly greater than lighting designers and licensing makes sense for those professions. She stated, “Professional certification is better because of the national and international nature of our work.”

We spoke with David Becker, the Chair of the CLD and David asked, “Who would decide the metrics that define competency for a license and how would a licensing system be coordinated and consistently implemented across global authorities, as is the typical project nature of the profession?” He said that the probability is that licensing would be an inconsistent patchwork of regimes managed through different government agencies, and all the vagaries that that implies. Apart from restricting trade, compliance with this fractious and unpredictable system would drain the resources of what, by and large, is an industry made up of tiny practices.

However, I asked David, why it appears that IALD itself doesn’t have too many members that have achieved the CLD.

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I am not a lighting designer, nor do I play one on TV, so I am the first to admit this is not my area of expertise. Researching this article, beginning in August, I had an open mind, and my mind is still open, but I don’t see licensing happening anytime soon, at least in the U.S. As a big believer in keeping government out of our industry as much as possible, I believe that we should chart our own destiny. The industry organizations are big and bureaucratic (although less so lately), so imagine how laborious it will be to have each state create their own licensing requirements.

Because there is no easy answer, we have to pick the best solution and we believe that lies with the IALD and their CLD program. Lighting design is tough enough without having the burden to gain reciprocity in other states — or even other countries. If you believe in licensing, then the CLD is a great first step. •


No. That is the wrong business direction for the lighting design community to be heading.

The narrow view of professional lighting design espoused by an elitist few, that it must be “independent” hourly consulting strictly specialized in the narrow field of architectural lighting, is extraordinarily shortsighted.

First, licensing commoditizes the profession, reducing fees for everyone. Anyone who thinks that professional qualifications will somehow preserve their high consulting fees are sorely mistaken. Any profession that can be so easily delineated in a bureaucratic test can then therefore be easily outsourced to lower cost labor. This is a trend happening to many highly educated professions who thought they were immune to outsourcing. Lighting designers shouldn’t kid themselves into thinking they are any different.

Second, defining the profession so rigidly severely hampers innovation in the profession, calcifying the profession with its already antiquated tendencies. This will simply lead to new types of consulting professionals springing up that will address what the lighting certification is too slow/rigid to recognize. The next generations of Richard Kelly’s and William Lam’s won’t limit themselves with such bureaucracy.

Lighting designers should be focused on innovative business partnerships that lead to new forms of revenue. They should be focused on employing cutting edge, unorthodox technologies on their projects. They should be open to transforming their expertise from strictly “lighting design” into “experiential design” to offer truly distinctive value to their project clients.



How is the licensing managed from state to state or in North America including Canada and Mexico? Who issues the license? Each state? What are the requirements? What about on a global level? Each country has different standards. Certification is the answer. Local governments typically defer to a professional certification in lieu of developing a licensing program from scratch.

What it means to certify: to attest that the lighting designer has satisfied a set of criteria or met a standard in
• Education
• Experience
• Knowledge
• Proficiency

As the Vice Chair of the Certified Lighting Designer Credential, I would be happy to be interviewed or to contribute to the article in designing lighting.


The NCQLP has long been the standard of lighting certification in the United States. The LC credential demonstrates to clients/customers that people doing lighting design have acquired the necessary knowledge, understanding, and ability to apply lighting principles and techniques successfully. We feel strongly that lighting certification is a great tool to give end-users confidence that the people they use for lighting design are competent and qualified.

The issue of certification versus licensing is by no means new. The main difference is that certification does not involve the government. An independent peer organization, in this case, the NCQLP, certifies that an individual meets defined and impartial standards. In the case of the LC, this is a national standard consistently applied, and endorsed by most of the major organizations in the lighting industry. It is hard to envision how this level of consistency could be achieved with state by state licensing. Secondly, since lighting design can be done remotely, being licensed in one state and doing work in another state further can complicate the process, and reduce the pool of qualified designers


I am an LC certified lighting designer, clearly I believe that credentialing my ability to design is important. That being said, I don’t think that there is a need for a government level license. This will create barriers between end users and skilled lighting practitioners. Design will only be done by firms offering expensive consulting fees or unqualified electrical installers. I believe it is the end-users responsibility to seek a qualified lighting designer and the designers responsibility to communicate the need.


This is a question which has been discussed for several years. I believe the industry has been and is advancing in the licensed requirement direction. However for now, pursuing lighting certifications is a good separator from anyone without certifications as owners choose the best professionals to be a part of the design team for their project. Many lighting certifications are available for one to elevate and demonstrate their professional level of expertise. The NCQLP has the Lighting Certification “LC” for professionals demonstrating a broad range of lighting knowledge, and a very good certification to start building your credentials. Another is the NALMCO Certified Lighting Management Consultant “CLMC” plus another is the AEE’s Certified Lighting Efficiency Professional “CLEP”. The International Association of Lighting Designers has various levels of membership which one can apply for after completing projects and submitting those projects for pier review. Also, the IALD has the Certified Lighting Designer program and credentialing identifying architectural lighting designers. Start achieving these certifications and should licensing become required in the future, you will be well positioned.

Photo: Serge Kutuzov


Lighting and Control Technology have changed rapidly in the last decade. The energy savings brought by these technological improvements have resulted in the revision to energy codes. All of these changes have resulted in a new education gap, requiring more attention from the design professional or electrical engineer.

An important part of this technology change is new understanding of the latest research and implementation of human factors and lighting, circadian human response on, for example. This requires yet another level of expertise.

The common justification to this licensing proposal is that it supports communication and integration of the project design and construction integrity. These are just the tip of the case for lighting designer licensing.


Today anyone with a decent computer can download the tools to create lighting designs. Just because you can doesn’t mean they should. It has been my experience as a designer for almost 30 years using these tools without understanding the full scope of the products attributes and guessing key items within a given area creates safety issues and liability concerns for the designers and end users. I am personally involved in many such post sales issues where designs have been a factor with issues ranging from improper modeling, wrong distributions and other factors. The time is long overdue to properly license skilled designers

The field of lighting design has grown in scope and the expectations of the designers to understand issues regarding many more critical issues beyond the basics such as the growing trends for circadian metrics, UGR, UV, and even calculations for agriculture designs. While the NCQLP has created the LC as a good first step, I rarely see it as part of a spec or greatly emphasized as it was intended. When you have designers dealing with roadway, life safety or extensively complex projects it should be part of the requirement to demand a professionally accredited individual to generate a design and not merely reviewing designs by others.

Having a skilled designer that is able to complete competent site audits, review local codes, industry standards, government legislation uses multiple platforms to generate designs from plus stay abreast of the latest trends is getting harder to find in the market. It is about time the industry accredits these skilled individuals.



Lighting Design as a profession is marginalized by not being a licensed profession. Without licensure, anyone can “play” lighting designer; whether they are qualified or biased or profiting from the design… or not. Lighting designers are limited in their ability to formally issue design documents, as they can’t stamp sheets as part of Construction Document drawing packages. I’m happy to discuss further, but as a foundational basis – YES, lighting designers should be licensed. Thank you for inquiring about this hot topic.


I think Lighting Designers should be licensed. The CLD should be the backbone of the licensing process for Lighting Designers, as it assesses quality of designs and understanding of lighting principals/codes, which is a far better metric than just an exam. Competency needs to be evaluated, not just the ability to pass an exam.

Thanks for asking for input from our community!

This article originally appeared in the October 2020 issue of designing lighting.