What I Learned from Judging the LFT Awards

It was an incredible learning experience participating as a judge in this year’s Lighting for Tomorrow competition.

[dropcap style=”letter” size=”52″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#2fdcef”]T[/dropcap]his year there was an unprecedented amount of interest – an initial estimate of nearly 200 product submissions – for the 17th annual LFT Awards, which speaks to the vast amount of innovation and development occurring in the residential lighting industry as it does about the increased awareness of the prestige of the awards.

When the deadline came for the submitted products to arrive for evaluation, the amount that were ready had lessened a bit (some companies voluntarily withdrew entries so they could fine-tune their products further), but there was still a formidable number of more than 100 to be evaluated in less than two full days.

The judges were from different facets of the lighting community; several were lighting retailers, a few were members of utility companies, and several were lighting specifiers/designers with their own firms. This provided a well-rounded perspective when evaluating the products — among other considerations, the distributors assessed whether the items provided enough value for their customers; the lighting specifiers were concerned with glare and the engineering aspects; and the energy companies paid close attention to the amount of watts being used. Overall, we were mindful of whether the products were different from what was already out there — and sadly there were quite a few that were not. In addition, there are products on the market that are ingeniously engineered and forward-thinking that weren’t submitted by their manufacturers.

The days started at 8am and we went through the evaluation process at a rapid pace through dinnertime with minimal breaks — after all, approximately 150 products is a heck of a lot of products to examine. Unlike when we see new products at a trade show, the judges tested each one, hooking it up to electricity and, if needed, using a light meter and other devices to check for flicker and to assess the color rendering. At times many of us felt blinded just from staring intently at the bright light of LEDs for so long as glare remains a critical issue. 

There were a few products that didn’t make it to the testing phase because for whatever reason, they died on the evaluation table. This is similar to what consumers (and showrooms) have all experienced at some point. Sometimes a brand new product out of the box does not work.

Not every product submitted was boundary-breaking in performance or appearance. There were many instances where manufacturers played it safe and worked within the confines of what had existed previously, but with perhaps better efficacy. This is not to say that these are not good products; however, to receive an award, we were looking for designs that pushed the envelope in appearance or materials to truly optimize the characteristics of LED illumination in ways that hadn’t been thought of before. Some manufacturers did just that and produced designs that were efficient as well as innovative.

When it came to the LED filament bulb category, we were almost overwhelmed by the amount of entries. The popularity of the vintage filament look remains unabated and what was impressive was the number that offered the same amount of brightness as previous incandescent versions.

For smart devices and controls, innovation was clearly in evidence without a high price tag. Devices were available to work smoothly and simply for all levels of consumers (from ones who just want a simple on/off for their lights to those who are looking for a more robust system) and were surprisingly affordable.

It was the first time that ceiling fans were evaluated (the light kits primarily), and it was this area where it was hard to find clear distinctions between the submissions. While light kits are certainly a benefit, none seemed as if functionality as an ambient light source was a priority. Perhaps it’s hard to alter the appearance or light performance of a ceiling fan, but I’m crossing my fingers that we’ll see more ambitious submissions in this category next year.

Once the winners were decided, only then did the judges learn which companies submitted which products. This was another big surprise for me as there were companies that I had never heard of before and I’m pretty sure consumers, and even lighting showroom buyers, might not have known either. I mention this to point out how vast the “universe” of lighting products is, far beyond what we see at the U.S. markets including Lightfair. Maybe some of these companies sell direct to consumers or are exclusively online, but I’m sharing this with you just to keep your horizons open. There are many unique cutting-edge products out there from a great variety of sources that fly under the radar.

Judging the Lighting for Tomorrow competition gave me a new perspective of the various elements –
seen through the eyes of these other specialists –
involved in creating today’s innovative fixtures. When you are bringing in new products into your showroom, why not gather your own focus group of “judges” to weigh in on the attributes. It might help more employees truly appreciate fine details that they might not have considered just by hearing opinions from their peers who have different core strengths and perspectives. 

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