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: Why does quality lighting make economic sense?

Light powers the world. It's what enables us to keep our homes and businesses running. Here at Lightswitch, light is our business. For us, lighting design is about more than just creative ideas and visual magic. Behind every inspired design there is a team of people who navigate the numbers game to keep projects running smoothly and ensure that great designs are realized. We asked two of them, Lightswitch San Francisco Director of Office Administration, Patty Wirtz, and Lightswitch Chicago Office Manager, Matt Thobe, to analyze the business of lighting and its economic impact worldwide.

Q: How did you get your start in the lighting industry?

Patty: Fourteen years ago I started working for a start-up SEO/SEM company in Michigan. I had never worked in accounting, but I had extensive office experience and was hired. I taught myself QuickBooks and learned accounting principles. Eleven years later I left the successful company to venture in a new direction with my life, landing in San Francisco and answering an ad for Lightswitch. The rest is history.

Matt: After graduating from Columbia College, I started off preparing architectural drawings and renderings out of school. However, I’ve always been interested in a variety of things. So when I heard that Lightswitch was hiring on the business side, I was very excited about the opportunity to work in the business world while keeping a hand in the design side.

Q: What do you like about working for the industry?

Patty: Seeing all the magical things that can be done with lighting. Just like the designers, I love what I do for a living. Every so often they show me what they are working on and I am in awe. I have also discovered how inadequate I am at purchasing a light bulb.

Q: How do you help to keep the company running smoothly?

Patty: I keep the company flowing by getting invoices out and cash coming in quickly, and then I make sure the employee needs are met. This involves checking emails, banking, and generally keeping a pulse on where the cash flow is at all times.

Q: How important is finance in the design process?

Matt: The available funds give parameters that ultimately determine how we bring our client’s ‘vision’ to life. We promise to spend our clients’ money wisely, as though it is our own, while we also strive to exceed their expectations. Responsible design calls for an awareness of not only the cost of fixtures, but the cost of labor and energy consumption, as well.

Q: Is energy-efficient lighting, such as LEDs, a good investment?

Matt: It is important to be good stewards of our environment, so we need to be ever mindful of energy consumption. LEDs use considerably less power than conventional fixtures because more energy is converted into light and less into heat. As the quality of LED sources steadily improves, they are becoming more appealing for a wider variety of applications. Although the initial cost of ownership is high, LED fixtures last longer than other options of similar quality. Whether or not energy-efficient fixtures can save our clients' money depends on a given project.

Why does quality lighting make economic sense?

Matt: Lighting can be a secret weapon. When the design and execution of lighting is done well, people can feel the difference without even perceiving why it’s better. But when the lighting is insufficient or improperly done, it can be very obvious and just plain bad.

For example, the Illumination holiday lighting at The Morton Arboretum enriched different areas of this ‘outdoor museum.’ I got the chance to attend some of the planning meetings and assist with some of the hands-on aspects, as well as manage the billing and paying portion of the project. It was exciting for me to be a part of transforming the arboretum into a theater of nature.

Q: How can light or lighting impact the global economy?

Patty: Look at the impact of our participation with SolarAid. Through our annual fundraising events, we have been able to bring renewable lighting to Africa to replace kerosene lanterns, reduce the danger of fire within people’s homes and villages, and give them the opportunity to continue to improve their businesses or educations at nighttime.