The Design Process

Designer Duncan Heather argues that more can be made of the preliminary research documents, when it comes to winning design contracts and selling schemes to clients.


When first being taught to allocate space, the landscape student is guided through several different processes before they reach a final design solution.

It all starts with an accurate topographical land survey. A plan of the site is then drawn up to scale, to include boundary walls, existing buildings, trees, services and existing levels.

Having gathered this information on a local scale, the student should then expand their area of study to the surrounding landscape. Topographical, historical cultural and architectural information can be gathered from maps and the internet, which helps put the site into context and may suggest a theme on which to hang their eventual design.

Shadow plans are then calculated to assess the impact of spring and summer shade patterns and a sight Analysis plan developed to note the influencing factors of the site such as existing features, wind direction good and bad views etc.

Once all this information has been compiled, the student can start to experiment with space allocation in the form of bubble or functional diagrams.

All this work is a prerequisite to the creation of the presentation or master plan.

But what happens to all this research once the presentation plans are completed?

What many student fail to appreciate, is the difficulty many clients have in understanding the 2D plan drawings.
While we take it for granted that the ‘house’ is the big black rectangle in the middle of the drawing, it’s surprizing how few clients realise this. You can be waxing lyrical about how great their new garden is going to be, while showing them the plan and they simply can’t make head nor tail of it!

At the Oxford College of Garden Design we teach our students to overcome these difficulties by using the research and preparation drawings as part of the sales presentation.

The diagram above, illustrates the 4 preliminary design stages and can either be presented on separate sheets, or combined into one or 2 presentation drawings. These allow the designer to start their presentation, by going through the site survey and pointing out the house and the important features of the garden. This allows the client time to digest the plan and to familiarise themselves with the graphical nature of the drawings.

Next you can explain how you developed their ideas, by running through the site analysis plan and the bubble/functional diagrams.

Explaining the thought process to your clients helps you justify why you have arrive at a particular design solution, but also it help the client to understand how much work goes into the preparation of a landscape plan.

When you are charging several $1000 for an outline proposal arriving with just one sheet of paper can give the client the impression that they are not getting value for money.

Remember! you only get one crack of the whip at presenting your ideas, so you need to make that ‘sale’ in no more than about 60 minutes, otherwise you won’t get the rest of your design fee and more importantly the garden will never be built.

Arriving with 2-3 sheets of research drawings plus the garden plan, plus any coloured perspective and a mood board, suddenly starts to look like a lot of work and thought has gone into the design.

So if you want to improve your sales and get more of your gardens built, spend a little extra time ‘prettying-up’ your research drawings and use them as part of your presentation.

Duncan Heather is director of the Oxford College of Garden Design and MyGardenSchool and one of Europe top garden designers