Sustainability for Visioning

“Design for Darkness”: sustainable strategies for concept development

How many citizens of contemporary metropolises have experienced the magic of starry skies? Since the mid 2000’s, the pressing needs has emerged to combine the protection of our environment with the preservation of our landscape. Nature works by subtle mechanisms, and it delivers beauty without the need of human intervention.

A growing demand for “Design for Darkness” has constantly emerged in theoretical and applied research, from the US to China to the EU, consistently over the last two decades. The challenge lies in combining the safety and security of people at night, with the respect of natural cycles of flora and fauna and the human biorhythm with less artificial lighting and less energy impact.

Balancing the need for outdoors public lighting with a new desire of darkness: how? For example, by digitalizing light, with the switch from luminaires to systems integrating controls and sensors with LED flexible sources of artificial emission.

Cities and regions in Europe have taken the lead in embodying this thought leading trend, generating demand for their city architects or lighting designers to create or commission projects and programs fitting with this overall theme of “Design for Darkness”.

In particular, multinational leaders like Philips Lighting, on the basis of research flagships like city.people.light, or boutique innovation manufacturers like RENA Electronica, The Netherlands, had the privilege to operate within this trend, in cities from capital status, like Amsterdam, to mid-size, like Eindhoven, to smaller town, like Schiedam, all in The Netherlands.

I identified “Design for Darkness” as an emerging trend within urban futures during his tenure as Research Principal for Philips Lighting, while, on the basis of such research, Erwin Dolmans developed system solutions as both Senior Director at Philips, and CEO at RENA Electronica. At RENA, I identified “Design for Darkness” as “the” leading innovation theme to pivot their VisionAHEAD concept innovation and senior staff motivation program, facilitating senior staff in co-creating visionary concepts and presenting the theme at Light & Building 2018, in Frankfurt. The tangible output ranged from innovative city solutions to customized consumer electronics product mock-ups.

From early detection in society and culture, to early adopter solutions and internal evangelism by inspiration and mobilizations of brand ambassadors and evangelists, I experienced and enabled the full power of silencing nighttime light, by nature.

 “Design for Darkness” as an overall theme demonstrates what philosopher Karim Benammar defined as the power of “reframing”: it might sound like a paradox that lighting manufacturers and urban designers strategically remove artificial lighting to recuperate the beauty of the night, however, in view of protection and preservation of nature, this is not just difficult. It is necessary. The multidisciplinary approach captures the essence of this experience and makes it actionable for enterprises, to take the environmental turn and speak the sustainability language in what stakeholders and staff think, in how the brand communicates.

My contribution (2006-2016) as a Director, Philips Design; and then Principal Research, city.people.light:

  • VALUES: Design and execution of global and European Urban Futures research programs;
  • VALORIZATION: Two city,people.light books (2007, 2014) and a Ph.D. (2016), to valorize findings;
  • VISIONING: Project direction of the VisionAHEAD (2018-2019).




Brand Innovation for Change

Project “Vision AHEAD” at RENA Electronica, Zundert, The Netherlands (2017/2018)

RENA Electronica is a 35+ years old leading SME firm, specialized in the design, specifying, and manufacturing of advanced and customized product system solutions in High Tech, namely in digital lighting, mechatronics and anything complex and challenging, yet feasible for the bravest and most creative engineers.

In 2013, the charismatic founder of RENA Electronica and his lifetime business partner and wife transferred the majority shares of this entrepreneurial jewel to Future Electronics, Montreal, who created a corporate management structure, in order to scale up from family-led boutique, to international leader in its profitable niche of high potential, customized solutions.

By 2017, the company successfully shifted its leadership standards from the visionary leadership of a “family father” figure, to a more rationalized governance model. This impacted the entrepreneurial, daring, risk-oriented culture of the engineers, as well as the cohesion across departments. Also, the claim to leadership in innovation required reassertion and revamping with clients, customers and the labor market, to attract the best engineers and business audiences.

Things looked complicated, at RENA Electronica. How did the multidisciplinary approach provide the solution?

Erwin Dolmans, in his capacity of General Manager, proactively anticipated the challenge to stay ahead in terms of innovative edge and leadership reputation. I was invited to propose the consulting solution, in the form the multipurpose approach by Philips Design, in order to extract new value from the company by refocusing and retrenching its informal and formal leaders. The result was a biennial project name: “Manfred”, referring to the literary character by Lord Byron whose eyes open to explore his soul, inside.

The key deliverables of “Manfred” were ambitiously set:

  • “Vision AHEAD”, innovation roadmap and cornerstone of the strategic business plan;
  • Cutting edge innovation concepts to be communicated to external audiences;
  • Cohesion and community-building internally, triggered by the process;
  • Inspiration and motivation for the engineering department to shift back to creative edge;
  • Assets to be translated into employer branding and external communication.

The goals were set with a “Mission Impossible” timeline of six to eighteen months, with the Light & Building 2018 fair in Frankfurt, Germany, as the key moment to unveil to the world the new strategy by means of four innovation concepts, conceptually and visually impeccable. All of this, in a changing European environmental framework, from legislation to technology trends, to be anticipated in the deliverables. Most of all, the internal communities of engineers, sales managers, and informal leaders were at the very centre of the process. I acted as coach to ensure processing of prior roadblocks in group dynamics, enabling the renewal of collective performance. At the level of Employer Branding, the assets that “Manfred” generated led to Vision AHEAD, and therefore to new propositions, that were leveraged in a 2018 ad hoc campaign.

My contribution (2018-2019) as a Founder, Marco Bevolo Consulting:

  • VALUES: Design and execution of enterprise-wise ethnographic research and industry trend research;
  • VISIONING: VisionAHEAD project (2018-2019) innovation concept co-creation process;
  • VALORIZATION: RENA Electronica MarCom content and Employer Branding guidelines;




From Futures Research to Award-winning Product

FreeStreet product development at Philips Lighting, The Netherlands (2006/2011)

 Until the late 1990s, Philips Lighting was a technology-driven manufacturer, increasingly running the risk to come to a still stand in growth and profit, in spite of its market leadership position worldwide. The challenge was therefore to revolutionize their product development approach, and this was done with the introduction of the city.people.light human-focused, future oriented, research program.

Indeed, city.people.light various editions led to multiple achievements, from anticipating and catching the technology wave of LED and digital lighting, to positioning Philips Lighting as a forward looking leader in design. The most pragmatic and perhaps challenging goal was, however, to generate new outdoor systems to be based on future trends, people insights, and emerging urban developments at early stage. The award-winning FreeStreet is one of such products.

In 2007/2011, the Philips Lighting global marketing director to convert research findings into brand themes and insights. In business terms, Erwin was the “client” of the research assets generated under my leadership and inspiration, then the Philips Design director in charge of the city.people.light 2006/2007 global research. I was both responsible for the program, as well for its communication as ambassador within trade networks including key stakeholders, from clients to press and media.

The city.people.light program delivered 120 innovation ideas generated in 4 worldwide worshops (Lyon, Hamburg, Philadelphia, Shanghai), resulting in a book, edited by myself and marketing leaders at Philips Lighting, and in a 500+ participants launch event in Rotterdam, in May 2007. From here, Philips Lighting Strategic Marketing took the challenge to analyze, cluster, and further develop design concepts into themes. One of the themes was “Decluttering”, meaning that leading lighting design architects and city managers repeatedly envisioned a future city where lighting would be embedded in surfaces, corners, and even the sky, beyond the everyday intrusion of luminaires and masts.

The 2011 award winning FreeStreet product range was the result of Philips strategic marketing management, structuring the design brief for the brilliant teams led by Oscar Pena, then Global Creative Director at Philips Design. Inspired by the white sheet hanging between houses in the tiny streets of Bogota, FreeStreet is a simple lamp hanging from its energy cables, without a mast. It was quite a statement for an outdoor luminaire brand. Most importantly, it was designed “outside-in”, driving technology to meet future aspirations by people.

My proposition is based my ability to combine leadership in foresight research, strategic design and brand marketing, as demonstrated Philips years, with internal company teams and corporate leaders. In this sense, both city.people.light and FreeStreet are a common root and shared pride in my formative years. Of course, it was an orchestral work, not a guitar solo: a lot of brilliant designers, professionals, and peers at Philips contributed, orchestrated and inspired by the co-creative research led by my design teams at Philips Design and the stakeholder teams at Philips Lighting: to them my gratitude for the learning and the fun.

My contribution (2006-2007) as a Director, Philips Design:

  • VALUES: Design and execution of global Urban Futures co-creation research program;
  • VISIONING: Co-creative dialog with stakeholders and with strategic marketing in the analysis phase;
  • VALORIZATION: Profiling through knowledge-sharing in business networks and academic communities.