Interview: Samuel Wilkinson’s Plumen 001Lightbulb

Samuel Wilkinson

For the latest edition of INSIDE, the monthly newsletter produced by WAN Interiors, I interviewed Samuel Wilkinson about his Plumen 001 award-winning designer lightbulb for Hulger.

The annual Brit Insurance Design Awards hosted by London’s Design Museum is widely considered to be “the Oscars of the design world.” The competition showcases the most innovative and forward-thinking designs from around the world, spanning seven categories from architecture, fashion and furniture, to graphics, interactive, product and transport.

The overall winner for 2011 was the Plumen 001, the world’s first energy-saving designer light bulb, which beat the likes of Apple’s ipad and Dyson’s air multiplier fan to the top spot. This unusual bulb was the creation of British Industrial designer Samuel Wilkinson in collaboration with London design brand Hulger.

You are the designer behind the Plumen 001 energy-saving designer light bulb produced by Hulger. How did you get involved with this project?

I got involved with Hulger two and half years ago when they advertised on a blog site for an industrial designer to work with them. It was a very appealing project as I had recently finished L’Arbre de Flonville, which although a very different scale was about growing forms through 3d space so I was already well-practiced in this kind of shape formation.

Plumen 001

Where did the initial idea for the Plumen 001 come from? Where did you get your inspiration?

The standard incandescent bulb has a simple beauty but the standard CFL appears as if designed by an engineer, losing all the ‘soul’ of the original. When I saw the original idea (Hulger concept 2007) it was definitely something that really resonated with me. Working on a project that has the chance to really be a game changer is always interesting. I enjoy designing beautiful objects but coupling this with an innovative, environmentally sound product is too much to resist.

Why Plumen? Where did this name come from?

The name Plumen is a combination of a shortened version of plumage, a bird’s decorative feathers and lumen, a measure of the power of light perceived by the human eye.

Why do you think that nobody had ever tried to radically redesign energy-saving bulbs before? Why did you decide to take up this challenge?

I am not sure why no one has done it before. Maybe because the task is quite a technical challenge and Hulger were willing to take a risk. Until the last prototype, there was always a chance that it may not have worked out. Also I think bulb manufacturers are set up for pure volume production so to make them change their production line to accommodate takes a bit of persuasion.

Plumen 001 on black

Were you already aware of the up-coming changes in legislation with regards to lighting when you embarked on this project?

I think this is one of the main reasons for the idea. Incandescent bulbs will always have their appeal because of the light quality and the fact they will still in part continue to be sold as a ‘decorative bulb’ but other technologies have improved to offer a great alternative that isn’t a compromise.

How does the Plumen compare to incandescent light bulbs and to other energy-saving bulbs? Is it just the form that has been radically rethought or also the function?

The design and function of the Plumen hopefully compare favourably against the standard offering. We tried to input as many improvements as possible. The main difficulty was a technical one, it was very much a learning process from all sides.

The first part of the process was to thoroughly analyse the manufacturing process of the standard CFL and it soon became clear that we would have to suggest new methods if we were going to radically change the shape. The glass tubes were the biggest challenge; how the tubes are heated and then moulded is quite restrictive. The phosphorescent coating can only be applied in a certain way, so this informed the shape.

Another problem with the standard offering of CFLs was the colouring, which generally gives quite a harsh white light. We ended up with a bulb that produces more of a yellow tint, giving off a softer feel while still maintaining a bright, grade A-rated product.

How popular has the Plumen 001 been so far in terms of sales? Do you think it is capable of going mainstream?

Sales have been amazing and now as it hits America I believe there is even greater interest. I think it has the potential to be more mainstream as high-street stores become interested but as the price will always be higher than the standard model this will be limited.

Plumen 001 Tom Mannion Interiors

How will the availability of the Plumen bulb affect the lighting design industry in the future?

Although I think the design suits many applications, its aesthetic is quite strong so will not suit all tastes. Also I think there will always be a market for incandescent as I believe these will continue to be sold under a ‘decorative bulb’ heading so will continue after the legislation.

Your design recently won the Brit Insurance Design of the Year Award 2011 beating over 90 shortlisted designs. How did that make you feel?

It was absolutely fantastic. We were very honoured to be nominated. Winning the product category was a total surprise as we were up against big name products like the ipad. To then go on and win ‘Design of the Year’ was very special.

Plumen 001 lamp Tom Mannion Interiors

In what way do you feel that you have contributed to the future of lighting design?

I think this bulb has just re-ignited the debate about eco-lighting in general. Whereas some people already thought CFLs were at their limit we have tried to show that they still have more potential. Hopefully this can change the perception towards these products so that more people embrace them.

Plumen 001 is now available to buy. Any plans for Plumen 002? If so what can we expect?

That is a question for Hulger. We have been working on a smaller version of 001 and there is potential for a new design but this could go in many different directions….

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