Why Good Designers Need To Be Good Problem-Solvers Too

Behind every good garden designer you will find – a problem-solver extraordinaire because no design, whether you’re creating a sculpture, a piece of furniture or a beautiful garden will work unless you crack the challenges the project presents.

As the great 20th Century American landscaper once stated: Function Follows Form which, for the designer, means an alchemy of science, common sense and artistic flair or, if you like, a kind of “magical marriage” that needs to take place.

When we teach garden design, we introduce two entirely polar approaches to designing space which is often a difficult concept for students to grasp. You have a given site, which is a given shape and a building (the house or the office if you are landscaping a different kind of project) and your job, as the designer, is the blend the architecture with biology.

This is no mean feat, especially when dealing with smaller spaces and at the same time you are considering the functional or logical organisation of the space you are also working with the artistic element that will appear to effortlessly blend the building with the land.

The first of our two design approaches is what we call Pattern Analysis Design (PAD). Faced with a site plan, the designer creates an interlocking pattern as they design the garden and then allocate different materials – grass, water, paving, planting for example, to each space. This is the design method favoured by the brilliant British designer, John Brookes OBE, but is sadly often very misunderstood.

The second design approach is Survey Analysis Design (SAD) which, as its acronym implies and without the introduction of Pattern Analysis Design as well, can often lead to, literally, very sad, uninspired designs. With the SAD approach, the designer is looking purely at the functional side of how space is allocated and placing the key elements – the terrace, the garage, the vegetable garden – before considering the overall design of the plot.

The fact is, you need to be able to combine both these approaches to design a space that really resonates with its environment and to do that, you need to understand how people behave in a particular space and keep that in mind as you design.

One of the best examples of this is to think about what people do when they walk up to your front door and ring the bell. They ring the bell and they then step back away from the door. What that means, for the designer, is that the area around the front door is a key space which needs sufficient paving to allow someone to step back but still remain in the door “zone.”

A narrow pathway leading to that front door will force visitors to march along, crocodile style and the person who opens the door will not be able to see everyone who is approaching. Similarly, a path to the bench at the bottom of the garden needs to be at least 1.5m wide to allow two people to walk comfortable alongside each other.

So a huge part of good design requires an understanding and appreciation of ergonomics and the psychology of how people use space. Without this, no design, however impressive on paper, is going to work for the people using that space and without this understanding, no design will work properly.