Bright Lights / Big (and small) Ideas

2013 may be remembered as the year that the LEDs transformed from an undifferentiated but serviceable technology for lighting dashboards and alarm clocks to a ubiquitous and flexible communication medium that scales from micro to macro. Sure, nearly every screen we look at -- except for the old wood-paneled cathode-ray TV in the basement -- is powered by LEDs. But this year, the LED took center stage. This was the year that the Empire State Building donned a new crown of 16 million colors,courtesy of Philips Color Kinetics. It was also the year that brought us affordable LED lightbulbs for our homes. With an incandescent-like glow, the new generation of LED bulbs use one-eighth the electricity and last 25-times as long. Check out your neighbor's Christmas display-- those pulsating ropes of light that hang off the eaves and drip rainbow icicles are LEDs too. I learned about my favorite low-tech use of LEDs at this year's XLab. David Benjamin of The Livingclosed a day of dazzling demos with the story of his project for the 2010 Hong Kong Biennale of Urbanism and Architecture. To translate the cerebral nature of a biennale to the streets and citizens of Hong Kong, Benjamin collaborated with street vendors to install LED tickers at the bottom of their plastic soup bowls.As a customer slurped up noodles, a vague red pulse would come into focus and reveal intriguing messages. As you might have seen on the SEGD LinkedIn group,Philips and Desso Carpets just launched a partnership to produce LED light emitting carpets.Floors have been used as wayfinding cues for years -- from colored tape in hospital corridors to more subtle methods to distinguish main paths from back-of-house areas by changes in materials. It will take some forward-thinking clients and innovative designers (like you!) to figure out the most compelling and useful applications of the latest LED technologies. Here's to a bright and colorful 2014! -- Leslie Wolkeis a wayfinding technology consultant and writer. She is a member of the SEGD Board of Directors and founding co-chair of SEGD’s annual innovation event, Xlab.

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