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Lighting design credentialing 'imperative'

6 January 2012 12.30 GMT

We feel it is imperative that this certification be developed with input from all key stakeholders around the world and that it meet the accepted standards of the international credentialing industry, as well as our own high standards.

(UK) - Kevin Theobald, IALD, the new president of the International Association of Lighting Designers, reports on credentialing, an issue of extreme importance to lighting designers, and explains what the IALD is doing about it.

After narrowly averting potentially disastrous legislation limiting the practice of its members, the IALD formed a credentialing task force to study the viability of a design-based certification for the architectural lighting design profession. The task force intends to present a recommendation to the IALD Board of Directors in July 2012.

“It is important for us as an industry to determine best practices and any potential barriers for practice, rather than relying on legislators and regulators who do not necessarily understand our scope of work,” says IALD Immediate Past President Kathy Abernathy.

The practice of architectural lighting design has been threatened on several occasions in recent years, with the most well-known instance taking place in 2009 in Texas, USA. In May of that year, the Texas State Legislature passed legislation restricting the practice of “lighting design” to members of other professions and trades, such as architects and interior designers. The language banned architectural lighting designers located in Texas from doing lighting design work there whether or not their businesses were geographically located within the state. This had the potential to have serious damaging impact on architectural lighting designers worldwide.

IALD was quick to respond to the challenge to the profession and its members. Within minutes of receiving notice regarding the legislation, IALD mounted what became a successful counter-campaign. Joined in these efforts by individual lighting designers, lighting design firms and other lighting-related associations around the world, IALD was able to get the language in the bill rescinded.

“The lighting design industry was extremely lucky in this case, because [the Texas bill] could have been used as precedent by other states in the US and by other global legislative bodies looking to regulate or limit practice of the lighting design profession,” says Charles Thompson, IALD, who brought the association’s attention to the legislation, and who worked closely with the IALD in its successful defeat.

Validation of the profession is essential
Since the situation in Texas, the topic of credentialing has arisen in a variety of venues around the world and is being debated hotly within the architectural lighting design community. For IALD, it was clear that a formal validation of the architectural lighting design profession on a global basis had become necessary.

“With the maturing of the profession has come the need for outside validation of our practice,” comments David Becker, chair of the Credentialing Task Force. “The outside world is looking for a statement of validity and a lighting design certification will provide that statement.”
Initially convened in 2010, the task force undertook the extensive and painstaking work of creating an inclusive and global credential – a certification programme - for architectural lighting design. To assist in the development process, the IALD engaged certification expert and psychometric consultant Judith Hale, Ph.D., of Hale & Associates, a test evaluation and assessment consultancy firm. With Ms. Hale’s guidance, the task force embarked upon the challenging process.

Representatives from a variety of related organisations and interested constituencies were present at the first meeting of the task force and have remained engaged throughout the process, including the National Council on Qualifications for the Lighting Professions (NCQLP), the Professional Lighting Designers’ Association (PLDA), and the IALD Lighting Industry Resource Council (LIRC). In addition, input from a wide range of stakeholders worldwide has been sought and has been seminal in determining domains of practice and eligibility requirements. A straw model has been developed and is being tested to further refine the requirements.

Following the refinement process, a survey will be fielded to a broad group of major stakeholders, including IALD members, non-member lighting designers as well as members of other lighting associations and related industry professions both in the US and globally. This broad survey is a key component of the task force’s efforts and is scheduled for dissemination in early 2012. If you receive this survey, please complete it as it will assist the process and outcome enormously.

“The task force has observed that if the architectural lighting design community doesn’t define the industry in which we practice and measure competency against a validated standard, there is the very real danger that others will force regulation upon us, or determine our destiny without our control,” Becker stated. “The risk is real, which is why it is imperative for the lighting community to answer the call and complete the credentialing survey when they receive it.”

Explaining Credentialing
To date, the task force has held several open-forum meetings and webinars to acquire the feedback and input from this wide audience, as well as to provide a greater understanding of credentialing concepts. It has become clear that there is a great deal of confusion regarding certification and licensure, as well as a disagreement regarding which type of credential will best serve the lighting design industry.

“These sessions have been critical in gathering views from designers around the world and supplying information to the industry on our progress, as well as to clear up misconceptions regarding the development of a professional certification programme,” commented David Becker. “For example, if someone has familiarity with another credentialing body’s process, like the multiple-choice test used to administer the NCQLP certification in the United States, they tend to believe that method is the only one available to measure competency.”

Currently the task force is exploring a portfolio-based methodology to evaluate lighting design competence. When asked why the task force made this choice, Becker replied: “The credentialing industry is vast, and there are several ways to evaluate quality of practice. We have identified the formal portfolio-based assessment as the best method to use because it is impossible to evaluate the complexity of lighting design practice with a multiple-choice test. In addition, the multiple-choice method is extremely costly to develop, administer and maintain.”

The study is still determining how the credential might be administered; the concept is to manage and operate the certification through a governing board that would comprise representatives from a broad range of lighting-related associations.

A common misunderstanding in the lighting design community is about the difference between licensure and certification. Licensure is granted on a local/regional level and acts as a barrier to practice; i.e., you cannot practice without it. Licensing programmes are developed and administered by government agencies. Licensure is usually a response to public outcry on the lack of competency of practitioners in a profession or trade. A self-regulating profession with high standards of practice usually does not need a government entity to step in and police that profession or trade. In addition, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to establish common licensing requirements across local, national and not to mention international jurisdictions. For licensing to exist, it must go through legislative processes at each jurisdiction, and the jurisdiction would have to create the assessment tool.

The IALD feels that pursuing licensure would not serve our industry well. Many people make the mistake of believing that a license is the preferred credential, when in fact a properly developed certification programme measures competence at a much higher level, provides greater credibility and will be relevant in all countries where architectural lighting design is practiced.

If you are interested in knowing more about IALD’s credentialing work or would like to be contacted regarding the early-2012 survey, please email

Kevin Theobald, IALD, is the President of the IALD (2012 & 2013) and is the Principal of Kevin Theobald Lighting Design, an independent lighting consultancy in London, UK.



Credentialing permeates current discourse within the lighting design industry. The subject of numerous magazine articles, blog posts and online discussions, credentialing was also the topic of presentations at the 2010 and 2011 IALD Enlighten Americas and 2011 PLD-C conferences. Despite the amount of information available, misconception and misinformation regarding credentialing are widespread.

“Credentialing is the process by which an entity, authorised and qualified to do so, grants formal recognition to, or records the recognition status of, individuals, organisations, institutions, programs, processes, services, or products that meet pre-determined and standardised criteria,” according to the 2005 Institute for Credentialing Excellence Guide (ICE, formerly NOCA). Credentialing is an umbrella term that includes both certification and licensure.

Licensing is a mandatory process administered by a government agency, and its benchmarks are intended to measure basic competency.
Certification is a voluntary process whereby an industry body grants an individual time-limited recognition and use of a credential based on pre-determined and standardised criteria. It is intended to recognise higher-level competence.
The IALD is interested in addressing higher level design competency. While licensing standards differ in each jurisdiction around the world, this credential would be international in scope. Local jurisdictions might elect to adopt the rubric of a professional certification in lieu of developing a licensing program from scratch.

Membership in a professional society, no matter how rigorous the qualification and review process, is not in itself a credential. The membership review processes for the IALD and other lighting design associations do not meet the standards for credentialing programs as set by the credentialing industry. Because membership review is an internal process, it has not gone through the intensive verification process establishing domains of practice and core competencies that is needed to meet the rigorous standards of a professional credential.

The certification program would conduct a job task analysis to determine if the elements of the certification process need to change to reflect current trends in the architectural lighting design profession. In well-structured certification programs, a job task analysis is conducted every 3-5 years.

Yes. Just as the program undergoes a review every 3-5 years to ensure it measures a high standard of competence, certified practitioners must occasionally recertify to ensure that they themselves maintain a high level of competence. Because the proposed certification is intended to be an expression of continued competency, some form of recertification would be necessary.

A certifying body that has conducted formal studies to establish and validate core competencies and practice domains would be an authoritative voice to assist legislative entities in defining the scope of a profession. It would be important to leverage opportunities to highlight the strength of certified lighting designers in front of legislative bodies. This would be particularly important in instances where governmental agencies are attempting to limit and define the scope of the profession.

An individual would have to meet certain criteria to be eligible to apply for the credential. It is too soon in the IALD task force’s work to know the exact parameters limiting eligibility. Typical eligibility requirements include such parameters as: education, length of time in practice, level of responsibility, etc. The task force is currently exploring potential requirements.

If you receive the early-2012 survey, please complete it. Your input is invaluable and helps to ensure that as many perspectives from the architectural lighting design profession as possible are covered by the outcome of the task force’s work.


IALD President Kevin Theobald
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