Sunday, July 30, 2006

What goes into a design?

Is it art? Is it design? Is it symbolism or is it just functionality of space laid out on paper? The design in the picture was actually co-designed by another design professional who gave me the concept to draw out and render as you see it.

As the question is asked, what went into it in order to make it a design? I would say that all of what was mentioned above goes into it...and much more. In the past when I have quoted prices to potential clients regarding design work, I have been met with some resistance. It was almost as if I had to defend my abilities and years of experience as a designer.

What goes into a plan is simple:

- My ideas of what the space can be used for.
- My knowledge of the building code as well as grading and drainage.
- My keen understanding of site conditions, soil conditions, sun exposure and existing plant material which all dictate what new plants can be introduced.
- Building Material choices
- Construction Phases
- A proper scale to build from.
- My years of experience in designing and building projects.
- My years as a professional Gardener
- My understanding of people and personal understanding of the particular homeowner I am designing for.
- My 5 years of University education in Landscape Architecture.
- My background of art and nature studies both before and after my years of university.

Is it that simple once you read all of that? To some, yes, to others... well... they would not have a clue as to what I just listed were things that needed to be looked at when designing. Designing a space takes time, it takes well thought out ideas and a foundation of knowledge acquired over many years. I started my first year of school in 1995.... as fresh and as green as a seedling first coming out of the ground. It took a lot of nurturing and care before that seedling was able to stand on it's own.

11 years have passed since I first learnt to properly use a scale bar or print a drawing up on a sheet greater then 8.5 x 11 in size. In that time I have learned to garden... professionally as well as personally. The fine art of pruning, planting, fertilizing and cultivating. Plant names and growing conditions....

As a labourer...

I have learned what it means to lay stone or interlock according to the lines I draw on paper. Dig holes for trees and shrubs to be planted in the spots where I marked them to be planted, or haul huge rocks around with either machinery or my bare hands according to where I spec them to be placed. I've also learnt the business of concrete!!! Pour it, cut it, finish it, wheel barrel it, or even break it for removal. You name it, I have done it as a labourer! ... I am finished with doing the labour... one could say I had enough of knowing what it is like to smell diesel fuel at 6 am or even 8 pm for that matter!

As a sales rep....

I've learnt pricing, salesmanship, client-professional relations, industry standards, contracting, legal issues and most importantly.... operating with morals and ethics.

What else can be said or looked at as a design professional? I've had the schooling and the practical experience for the past 11 years ... so what else could go into a design when drawn by me? Well, not much else except the years of experience yet to come...


Friday, July 28, 2006

Don't wait for summer!!!!

Ever wanted that dream backyard? A pool? A deck? A nice stone patio? Or maybe all of it!!! One of the most common things I find in my business is what I term as the last minute client....these are the folks that believe they can have a contractor come to your door, present ideas and a cost estimate....and start the work next week!

Lets have an inside look at a landscape contractor's life....

For the most part, in the Northern reaches of North America, it is a seasonal business! Winter and frost in the ground means no construction can happen between the months of late November (or when the frost sets in) to about early May (or when the ground dries up and drains properly enough to drive equipment over it).

Next we look at the contractor, he/she is usually looking to fill the work schedule up in the cold months when no work is happening. After all, knowing what sort of season start you will have in terms of work can help a contractor know how many people they need to hire, how many trucks they need and what equipment they will need to either purchase or resurrect from winter storage!

Now comes the bills....because the season stops, does not mean the banks or creditors suddenly stop looking for money for equipment payments. So that feeds the never ending drive to seek new work contracts for the coming season.

Then comes the idea that you need good qualified labourers to build the projects you are signing up! Once those projects are complete, you want to keep your labourers working....once again feeding the hunger to find more work.

By this point a contractor is edgy....wanting to fill the work season's schedule up as soon as they can so they can sort of rest well at night knowing their mortgages, equipment payments, insurance payments and material supplier account payments.... plus labourer expenses are all covered!

Now, having explored all that....this all adds up to a busy spring start. Home owners are antsy to get things rolling and like I stated above, contractors are eager to sign up work and hopefully make a profit by the end of the season.

What does that spell for the last minute client syndrome?

Example phone call.....

Client dials contractor's number on June 15th, contractor picks up.

Contractor: and so Landscaping....Joe speaking! (Hopefully in a pleasant salesman like voice)
Potential Client: Hi, yes I am wondering if you do interlock patios?
Contractor: Yes we do...
Potential Client: Good! Can you come see my place and give me an estimate?
Contractor: Yes I can....give me the address and so on....

Well, the meeting goes well....prices get discussed, eyebrows sometimes get raised (mainly from the client being shocked as to how much landscape work truly costs) and material choices are tossed about....suddenly the client drops the bomb.....

Potential Client: When can you start the work?
Contractor: Well.....I am booked for the next 7 to 8 weeks given that we do not get a lot of rain in the next while or so....
Potential Client: 8 WEEKS?!?!?!?!?! But I need this built before summer starts!!! My kids get out of school soon and I go on Vacation in July....I want to be enjoying my yard by then!!!

I personally have been in this situation as the sales rep and have been blasted for not being able to start sooner! It's not fun!!! It can sometimes make you question your choice of professions too! It is at that point, as a sales rep for landscape ask yourself the question....Why don't people think about contacting contractors months before they actually want the work completed?

So.....a word of advice, if you want to be swimming in your brand new swimming pool by June 21st or sipping cold beer on your new deck while dodging BBQ smoke, yapping with your friends on the July long weekend....consider calling the contractor in February! Or even better....Call them in October with the request of being one of their first clients for Spring.....You'll get first priority and time devotion to you by the contractor. Materials and prices can be well thought out with that much time to spare before the work begins.

Also....if the need for a landscape design've got the time to contact a designer and get something drawn up....

That is where I come in!