April 17, 2017

Lighting Trends and the Future of LEDs

Lighting guru Robert Sonneman, founder of Sonneman—A Way of Light, brings us his expert opinion on the future of LEDs and the lighting trends on the market today.

by Robert Sonneman

Lotus, Sonneman a Way of Light
Lotus Light; Sonneman—A Way of Light.

Lighting Trends and the Future of LEDs

By: Robert Sonneman of Sonneman a Way of Light

Sonneman a way of light
Robert Sonneman.

Let's begin with a simple definition of LED: LED stands for "light-emitting diode;" it is a semiconductor device that emits visible light when an electric current passes through it.

In the past, lighting was simply a luminous source from burning something such as wood, candles, cotton or tungsten filaments, as in the traditional incandescent light bulbs we are all familiar with. Light was directed or reflected; its other characteristics of intensity, color and distribution were only peripherally confronted; and its efficiency was only minimally managed with the application of alternative materials and gases to burn.

It wasn't until 2007 that the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) was passed, requiring incandescent light bulbs to be approximately 25% more efficient. Because this feat is not possible without also decreasing the brightness of the bulbs, lighting designers and manufacturers have instead adopted more energy-efficient lighting technologies, namely fluorescents, halogens, and LEDs.

Of these three alternatives to incandescent light bulbs, LEDs are clearly the most sustainable, versatile, and

Sonneman a way of light
Grapes by Sonneman—A Way of Light.

innovative option; LEDs' long life, durability, color, intensity and controllability have opened a new universe of opportunity, efficiency, and sustainability to the world of lighting.

Although the LED diode was invented as long ago as 1939, it was at the time inefficient as a source of luminous energy. In the past 10 years or so, LED lighting has become a practical and superior source of general illumination.

Today's LEDs can produce 300 lumens per watt and last 100,000 hours. Generally, most available LED systems produce 100 to 150 lumens per watt and last 50,000 hours. In comparison, an incandescent light bulb produces about 13 lm/watt, and an equivalent halogen produces around 18 lm/w. While LEDs have a higher upfront cost than other lighting options, these energy efficient products present versatility benefits that outweigh the high cost.

LED technology has changed our universe because it has empowered us to imagine and create design in the context of a new scale and with new form factors. Freed from the limitations imposed by the heat and size of conventional filament burning sources, LED provides the opportunity to reimagine illumination in innovative, new ways.

Abstract Panels Sconce
Abstract Panels Sconce Family by Sonneman—A Way of Light.

Now electronically generated and digitally controlled, LED technology has revolutionized the science of illumination. We are at the dawn of an era of LED controlled lighting destined to impact our lives as profoundly as the transistor did for the lives of our parents in the 1950s and '60s. It's here, and it's happening now.

Here are some of the specific innovative ways LEDs will likely be integrated into our daily lives:

Wi-Fi-connected LED bulbs can be operated from a smartphone. Red, green, blue, and white LEDs can be combined to produce millions of colors that can adjust, automatically, based on environmental factors, such as the weather, the time of day, or a variety of other variables one might want to program to work in sync with an LED lighting system.

With these advanced capabilities offered by LEDs, color temperature will adjust to assist our circadian rhythms, positively affecting the emotional status of our well-being. We will paint our interiors with changeable colors of light, and define our urban landscape with synchronous color changing glass curtain walls infused with LEDs.

OLED (organic LED) may even be woven into fabric that drapes or covers seating and other surfaces reinventing the form factors, materials context of illuminating devices. Most importantly, we are moving our imagination of architecture, habitable spaces and urban centers into the limitless possibilities of the digital age.

Infinity by Sonneman—A Way of Light.
Infinity Downlight by Sonneman—A Way of Light.

Integration, intelligent control and efficiency are the keys to understanding lighting of the bright future. As previously stated, components of broader environmental energy management systems are and will continue to be integrated into the architecture of our home and work environments.

Today I am focused on using LED technology to create innovative design with sculptural presence. LED technology has allowed us to completely reimagine the form, scale and application of luminaires. It has been creatively liberating to be able to think minimally in radically different ways and to realize these visions without having to package large heat generating bulbs. Artistic forms and light sculptures, in a variety of materials, can be rendered in less restricted and exciting new ways using LEDs. One is no longer required to create a base and separate a shade to house the bulb. LED technology permits creative development in a unified way that integrates the form with the function in newly imaginative ways.

Technology and design evolve independently in parallel universes and then come together by inspiration or functional need. We are only at the beginning of LED electronic illumination becoming an infinitely diverse medium for innovation and change.


Founded in 2003, SONNEMAN – A Way of Light is a tribute to contemporary lighting design as seen through the creative mind and lens of Robert Sonneman. From the late 1960's, Robert Sonneman pioneered modern lighting, making it an art form. World-renowned and acclaimed for clean lines and an alliance to form and function, Sonneman's award-winning pieces have been at the design forefront for over four decades.

The brand aesthetic speaks to Robert Sonneman's belief that design must be rooted in achieving functionality as successful working products to bear the SONNEMAN – A Way of Light moniker. Sonneman's sensibilities and prolific design vocabulary has grown to include a unique perspective of modernism that extends through the decorative arts and architectural genres of the 20th & 21st centuries, which spans several modern movements of industrial and architectural design.

"I continue to investigate the evolutionary and the revolutionary as the basis for developing a cosmopolitan American style," said Robert Sonneman.

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