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Human Centric Lighting - A Look into Danish Design

As the days start getting shorter and temperatures start to cool, people across the US, and throughout the world, will begin to move indoors for the winter. This shift, from outside in, will have a large effect on how people go about their day: how they gather, how they relax, and how they communicate. It's during this time of year that indoor space and artificial lighting will begin to govern a great deal of what our days look like, making lighting and lighting design even more important.

With just 7 hours of daylight during the winter months, it's not surprising that Denmark, a small northern European country, is known for its lighting design. With short winter days and a long winter season, Danes have a lot of practice in lighting their interior as they spend on average 80-90% of their time indoors (Heather Rabkin, The 5 Most Famous Danish Lights).

Malene Lytken, author of the book Danish Lights - 1920 to Now, explains that for the Danes, “Light is not just technology packaged in design. Light is an integral part of our cultural concepts of homeliness and hygge and has a crucial impact on our well-being.” As Lytken explains, lighting isn’t an after thought or a means to an end, it is instead deeply rooted in culture and the well-being of the Danish people. This quote encapsulates the importance of lighting to Danish culture and begins to explain Danes’ obsession with lighting throughout Danish design history.

In the 1920’s, electric lighting became more widely accessible to Danes and with it came a surge in lighting design. Poul Henningsen, coined the world’s first lighting architect, was at the forefront of this charge as he worked to make the lighting quality of an electrified light bulb have the same warmth as a candle or gas lamp. Henningsen would spend years iterating on his design, creating mirrors, fins, and curved elements that bounced light from a central source out to the user. In 1929, Henningsen would win the highest award at the world's fair with his PH lamp that effectively eliminated glare and created a softer, more diffused light. Henningsen’s lights are still produced today, and are a highly regarded piece of Danish design that are both functional and emotional, encapsulating Danish Culture and human centric design.

The importance of lighting can be found throughout Danish design and culture. Illustrating lighting's influence on how people gather, relax, and communicate.


Light has been a gathering point throughout all of history. From prehistoric fires to electrified light that fills our homes, lighting has always been something that brings people together. In Denmark, the idea of a gathering place is more often than not accompanied by thoughtful and intentional lighting design. This concept is exemplified at a large scale through the Copenhagen Light Festival, a three week long exhibition of unique lighting installations throughout Copenhagen, Denmark. This festival is meant to fill the darkness of February with light, bringing people together and introducing people to the city of Copenhagen. The festival is free to the public and is an outward celebration of light and lighting designing. Through this event, lighting brings people together acting as a catalyst for thoughtful, human centric lighting design.


Danish lighting design is, at its core, focused on the user. The lighting quality of a space can very quickly affect our moods and emotions, from a dimly lit space with flickering lights to a well lit home, lighting is able to both calm a user or amplify an anxiety. It’s this quality of calm that early Danish lighting designers, such as Poul Heningsen and Verner Panton, strove to capture. Interior lighting is meant to be soft, diffused, and intentional, creating a peaceful interior space meant for relaxation. Warm tones, meant to mimic dusk or dawn are often used to create a sense of calm and relaxation found within the natural environment. These natural qualities of light are what many designers strove for. Designers such as Verner Panton with his Panthella lamp captures whimsy in its shape and creates diffused light in function. This lamp is shaped to reflect light off of every surface, spreading soft light throughout the space to the user. Panton strove to create lighting that was accessible to all and utilized by everyday people in their homes. Designers like Panton wanted people to have good designs in their everyday lives and a large piece of this was through well designed lighting.


During Denmark’s dark, long winters, lighting is utilized as a way to communicate and create a sense of community. In a series of interviews conducted within a Danish community, author Mikkel Bille found that Danes utilize lighting as a way to build a community and kinship with their neighbors by turning lights on in their windows to spread light out into the exterior space. This use of lighting is both functional for the interior space but also emotional, creating a connection with the exterior environment and the neighboring homes. Bille explores through interviews that, “light offers a sense of secureness and community” for those living near one another. Explaining through interviews with a Danish woman that it’s through lighting that she, “feels that in this way she is part of a larger community beyond the confines of her apartment” and that, “through her lighting practices, she feels that she helps bring the inhabitants together as a neighborhood by creating a cozy atmosphere.” The Danes' use of lighting extends past function and becomes a form of communication, connecting people through light and creating an atmosphere unique to each community.

Analyzing lighting through a Danish lens explores the idea that lighting is more than simply lighting a space, but can also bring people together, change our mood and emotions, and affect how we gather. Danish lighting design explores human centric design, placing the user at the forefront of the process and showcases the impact well designed lighting can have.

Written by Natalie Baucom



Image Sources

The Wave:

Downtown Copenhagen: Natalie Baucom, 2017

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