May 18, 2009

The Incredible Disappearing Designer

It's that time of the year when perfectly good landscape designers seem to vanish into thin air. Gone are the witty blog posts. Gone are the tweets. Emails languish. Voicemails vanish.

Where is everybody?!

Most likely, we're at one of three places:
  • Our computers and/or drafting tables
  • Our clients' homes
  • The local nursery, rockyard, or furniture store

  • In other words, we're in our primetime, working like mad to transform old eyesore yards into veritable Edens… "by summer."

    Fortunately, the Bay Area enjoys a long summer: well into November, in fact. And if you're just beginning the design process this late in May, chances are you're going to need every week you can get. So what can you do to speed things along?

    1) Know your yard. How big is it? (In square feet, please, not adverbs: "fairly big" doesn't help me nearly as much as "8000 square feet"). What's in it? (Again, bonus points for specificity: "it's really boring" is less useful than "it has an old lawn that I stopped watering 3 years ago, bordered by a 7-foot-high hedge that blocks my windows.") And what do you want it to become? (Say it with me: "Make it more interesting" doesn't help. "Evoke the Tuscan countryside" is a good start.)

    2) Know your budget. I've lost count of how many times I've been asked, "how much will it cost to landscape our yard?" The short answer is, it will cost as much as you have to spend. Left to my own devices, trust me, I will design a wonderland that will break you. Your only chance of staying out of bankruptcy court is to tell me ahead of time exactly how much money you have to spend on this little adventure — no more, no less. Otherwise, the best scenario you can hope for is to waste your money paying me to design a yard you can't afford to build.

    3) Know yourself. What styles do you like and dislike? How much time and money do you have to spend on maintaining your new garden? How do you want to feel in your new outdoor space? What colors, scents or sounds make you feel that way? If you see examples of things you like - whether in print, online, or in the "real" world - tear out the pages, print the screenshot, snap a photo. Build an idea file to guide yourself and your designer. Even if you don't know why you like something, collect it. The good designer can synthesize what seems like a random jumble and divine the common elements that speak to you.

    When I begin working with a client, I start them off with a questionnaire that gets at all this information and then some. It still doesn't guarantee the design process will go quickly; but it does give us some specific targets to aim for so that the resulting landscape will delight your senses and inspire your soul.

    And isn't that worth waiting for?


    Anonymous said...

    John, this is right on, especially about being up-front with budget. Every clue that we can gather up front informs our design that much better. Designers aren't mind readers, but we're great detectives and problem solvers given something to go on. Thank you for finishing this before YOU disappear for the summer!

    rochelle at Studio 'g' said...

    I was caught by the name...The incredibly disappearing designer....seriously it kind of snuck up on me this year, but yesterday my work day started at 5:00 am and I was on the road until 10:00 pm, my blog is suffering, but I suspect that I am not alone since many of my regular readers (who are also designers) are not stopping by as frequently over the last 10 days or so...It is all good though at least we are able to work... Great further points is always nice to hear another pro say the same things you are thinking...

    John said...

    My biggest problem is all the post ideas that get backed up in my brain like Friday afternoon traffic... then start to rot away again and I'm left with nothing particularly interesting or useful to say. Y'all don't think I'm losing it, do you?!

    JCharlier said...

    I do think you're losing it. But the resat of us are losing it at the same pace so we don't notice so much.

    John said...

    Ha! Jim, you always know just what to say...

    Seriously, my business this year has been totally wacky: never got the winter "dormant period" that designers usually have to organize the office, reconcile the bank account, update the web site, revisit the business plan, etc. Then spring hits and it's doubly busy - yet in this economy who really feels secure enough to hire an assistant? Truly a state of limbo. At least I have Rochelle and Jim for company.