A recent Brightgreen study explored the relationship between lighting and mood by examining how lighting design affects the way people respond to any space.

Shifting focus from designing lights to designing with light, Brightgreen aimed to uncover the reasons why some lighting designs gave an inviting and welcoming feel, while others evoked more negative emotional responses.

A key finding was that despite the popularity of diffused downlights in Australian homes, most people actually had more positive emotional responses to lighting designs that featured directional and peripheral light sources.

Top four findings on lighting design and human nature:


At its most basic level, lighting provides a sense of safety, both in terms of being able to view any threats around or by having sufficient cover with the shadows it casts. The innate desire in human beings to feel safe is believed to be a key reason why there is strong preference for spaces with non-uniform lighting. This can be achieved by avoiding diffused lighting, opting instead for directional beams that allow for more variation in lighting designs.


By highlighting key features in a space, lighting can orientate new visitors, drawing their attention to important information or boundaries. Brightgreen’s research reveals that when someone enters a new environment, their primary goal is to establish a cognitive match to their memories of past experiences and places they have been. This helps them interpret and understand their surroundings based on previous experiences, creating a sense of familiarity and comfort.


Lighting designs that artistically leave areas of shadow are more likely to engage observers, adding interest and atmosphere. For those interested in using shadows to add interest to their designs, Brightgreen recommends In Praise of Shadows by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, which draws on the Japanese aesthetic concept of wabi-sabi.


When the effects of wall-, diffused- and directional-lights in isolation and in combination were compared, it was found that the lighting designs with greater variety received more positive results. Non-uniform designs incorporating peripheral lighting were considered more pleasant, making the space appear larger and increasing perceptual clarity.

Although each lighting design should be considered for the unique purpose and styling of an environment, Brightgreen’s research outlines the universal benefits of designing with directional luminaries as opposed to diffused lighting to ensure a positive emotional response to the space.