Inspired by the United Nations’ International Year of Light, Lightswitch is exploring Why Light Matters throughout 2015. We have asked our designers why light matters to them and will be sharing their responses in a short Q&A each month. Each Q&A will focus on a different way light shapes our lives—from buildings we live in to the emotions it evokes. We hope our stories will inspire you to think about why light matters to you, and we invite you to join the dialogue on Facebook: Has light ever made you feel something? Share a moment when light or lighting evoked an emotional response.

Have you ever wondered why a bright, sunny day makes you feel happy? Or why candles set the tone for a romantic dinner? Light doesn’t just allow us to see things — It can make us feel them, too. Lightswitch designers Kelly Roberson and Collin Mulligan offer insight into why light evokes emotions and how they use it to engage, inspire, seduce and enthrall us in their designs.

Q: How can light or lighting be used to evoke emotion?

Collin: Light is our link to the visual world, and variations in light wildly influence our experience and relationship with everything our eyes perceive. But as humans, we share an understanding of how to interpret light. We associate sunshine with happiness and cloudy days with sadness. We love looking into each other’s eyes across a candle-lit dinner. The subtle, flickering warm light isolates us and hides the features that we worry about while staring in the bathroom mirror.

Kelly: If you think about the history of human evolution, light played an important role. In prehistoric times, sunlight allowed humans to hunt and gather during the day. Then people would gather around a fire at night to get warm, eat and tell their stories. We’ve evolved since then, but there is something about the dancing light of fire—and its modern equivalent of electric light—that draws people in.

Q: Kelly, you specialize in architectural lighting. How does emotion factor into your designs?

Kelly: Light can set the tone for a space. When we design lighting for an office, for example, we might want it to be bright, crisp and clean to help workers be efficient and productive, while our lighting design for a bar might incorporate warm, amber tones and lower light levels the allow patrons to slow down and unwind after work. The way a space is lit can help us transition from feeling energetic and industrious during the day to relaxed and cozy at night, just like it has for millennia.

Q: Collin, your background is in theater, both as a director and theatrical lighting designer. Why is light an essential part of the storytelling experience in theater productions?

Collin: Many elements of storytelling (place, time, weather, political climate) can be answered with light, but theatrical lighting adds the spice of mystery, or the punk-rock rage, or the underdog determination. The emotions of a stage production should be channeled through lighting in the same way a painter conveys emotion through their own study of light. Sharp downlight against a dark background can invoke the same lonely, late-night feeling as seen in Edward Hopper's “Nighthawks at the Diner.”

Q: When you design the lighting for a show, how do you determine what type of emotional response you want the lighting to evoke?

Collin: Literary analysis plays an important role of course, but I love collaborating with directors and other designers. In one of our meetings for “end of play(7),” director Jake Jack Hylton and I discovered the story’s pendulum swing between strict, urban stoicism (sea-green front light) and wild, sexy wolfishness (hot pink and red side light). From there I designed a show around these emotions, and the full-moon transformations from one to the other and back again.

Q: Kelly, outside of the architecture world, what lighting designs have had an emotional impact on you?

Kelly: The lighting for The Morton Arboretum is all about using light to provoke emotion. I love seeing children hugging trees in the “Hug-A-Tree” portion of the experience. They get such joy when their embrace changes a tree’s color.

Also, I think one of the most impactful examples was the “Tribute in Light” installation at the World Trade Center site after 9/11. The design team located narrow beam fixtures along the outlines of the tower bases. When the fixtures turned on, two square columns of light rose from the rubble. The towers' defined absence was incredibly poignant and was such a spectacular, yet appropriate tribute. There were no words - just light that outlined an empty space and filled it with emotion.