One of the newest members of HLB Lighting Design’s Denver office, Makenna Karhoff, took a circuitous route into lighting design. She began college at the University of Colorado, Boulder, with a dual major in psychology and integrative physiology (a phrase that I’ll admit I had to look up). “Mental health and the well-being of people are huge passions of mine,” she explained. She didn’t recognize at the time that the profession she would eventually enter has a significant impact on our overall well-being.
Makenna started on the pre-med track until she realized a penchant for genetics wasn’t in her genes. An interdisciplinary studio introduced her to landscape architecture, and she fell in love. Her counselor warned her not to pursue two majors in two different colleges, but Makenna thought, “I’ll show you.”
This determined mindset is something that reappears throughout her story. Fast forward to the end of her college years, she graduated with a double major in Psychology and Environmental Design, specializing in Landscape Architecture.
After applying to jobs for several months and testing her patience, an opportunity came knocking from HLB. Through the interview process, she fell in love with the firm and with lighting design more broadly. She found her passion in the most peculiar way, she says.
She joined the firm in June of 2022 and immediately appreciated the collaborative and engaging atmosphere. “The job allows a lot of room for creativity – for sharing my values and opinions on design. My managers are open to hearing what I have to say,” she explained. “It’s very empowering.”
Makenna quickly realized how much there is to learn and made it a priority to absorb as much information as possible. Two of her superiors advised, “Just sit and listen to everyone you can.” The world of lighting is so vast that the only way to learn is to immerse yourself in it.
Her ongoing education isn’t confined to her office. She attends IES and IALD events and has joined the Denver chapter of Women in Lighting + Design, where she serves on the Board and is currently involved in planning events. “It’s so empowering being with a group of women in the same industry who support each other,” she remarked.
Although she has only worked on a few projects in her short career, she looks back fondly on her first design job. Referring to it as her “baby, the project was both fulfilling and informative.
In the schematic design phase, she created a series of GIFs for the client, showcasing what a grand staircase would look like in static white light and then in tunable white and colored light. The client loved it. “That’s where my creativity really shined,” she said. But she has also had instances where the client wasn’t quite as enthusiastic. Those experiences were just as valuable to the development of her lighting design ability.
Since starting her career, she has observed that AI is one of the major trends that has emerged. Her psychology degree with an emphasis in cognitive psychology introduced her to AI, but she has never worked with it. Now, with programs like Midjourney and DALL-E, AI is no longer something that can be ignored. Despite the increasing presence of AI, she does not view it as a threat. In fact, she values the role of human lighting designers and the unique creativity they bring to the table, which is more crucial than ever.
When she’s not in the office, Makenna can be found hiking the nearby mountain trails and spending time with friends. “Every time I am out with my friends, I find myself looking up at the lights,” she joked. She even asked a local plant store if she could help aim their lights. For her, lighting design is not something she can leave at the office. It is a part of her now, and her future is bright.