Be on Time

Especially at conferences.

If you walk in late, you lose the opportunity to ask a poignant questions by bringing in the risk that the speaker had already addressed the topic before you walked in.

It’s also distracting to the other participants, shows a lack of respect for the speaker and the topic/work they are presenting, and illustrates that you are only attending to get a certificate of completion for continuing education.

On that note, don’t try to ask the nice gentleman handing out the CE slips if he can give you one so you can leave early. That nice gentleman might be me, and you will definitely wish you hadn’t.

Interchangeable Design

Who are your designs for? They can’t be for everyone. So, who are they for?
If they are for two groups of people, are those groups interchangeable with other groups?
Can you interchange your user base entirely and still maintain the integrity of the design?
Can you interchange pieces of the design for other pieces? One material for another. One detail or proportion for another?
Will your design work in multiple ecoregions? Multiple topographic settings? Multiple time zones? Multiple languages?
Does your design work, if the assumption upon which it is entirely based is interchanged with another? Are there multiple ways to concisely and
convincingly describe your design, in a language that we can all grasp?
Can you interchange who fulfills each role in the design process?
Can you interchange which craftsman or factory or construction team creates the work?
In all the great works of design, the answer to each of these questions is “no”. Make it “no” for your work as well.


Note: If you haven’t listened yet, check out the Archispeak podcast for a satirical take on this topic.
Why do landscape architects and architects use philosophical language that even they can’t understand to describe their work?
Why does the description of a chair claim that its form is a response to the conflict in Syria and world hunger?
Why does a site’s design have to be a commentary on the confluence of ecotypes and cultural norms independent of time constraints along the space axis?
Because we want it to be. It puts the user or reviewer into a state in which they want to experience something sophisticated and magical. And, with help from the placebo effect, they do.
This is independent of what is actually happening outside of the viewer’s mind, but is extremely powerful and real. Design could probably use a little more of it (placebo effect, that is, not ego-driven grandstanding).
Just describe your grand visions in more accessible language and with vivid analogies. You get your placebo effect, and it will stick better.


The New American design aesthetic (“clean lines”, designed in plan view, use of the same materials, including planting, regardless of locality) delivers one thing extraordinarily well: convenience. More efficient parking, less maintenance, faster routes to, and through, a place, faster installation, quicker design process, etc.
This focus on convenience is probably an outgrowth of the desire to “simplify”, or not have to think about, aspects of our lives like transportation, food, technology, and entertainment. The less time we spend thinking, the better (or so we’re told).
It also removes the possibility of being different, and having to explain that difference to a friend or family member, who might frown at the non-conformity (see Nice vs Good).  For public spaces, this effect is heightened by real or perceived political pressures.
So, staying the same, and making everything new look the same, are convenient. They also reward the part of our brain that revels in knowing that we made the decision that is looked upon positively by the group. Seth Godin calls it the Lizard Brain, and Stephen Pressfield calls it the Resistance.
On the flip side, making design decisions based on what you think is right, what will be best for the site, it’s users, and contribute more fully to its environmental context, may be the least convenient thing you can do – from many angles. But, it’s what needs to happen.
It’s also what separates the good design professionals from the bullshit imposters.

Continuing Education (Conferences)

Continuing education should be renamed. I’m not sure what to yet, but something offensively long and boring.

There are definitely good speakers and worthwhile lectures thrown in the mix, but in large measure it’s a yearly marketing exercise meant to sell ego or products. Very little is dedicated to providing knowledge on the issues facing our profession right now.

One of the speakers at an upcoming conference wrote his own biography, in which he states that all of his peers believe him to be a Polymath. Another titled his discussion “One Landscape”. I’ve heard the same green roof lecture four years in a row. And I’m starting to get angry about it.

There’s a Lot in a Name


A colleague of mine runs a design/build company that is also one of the larger landscape contractors in town. They do great work, and everybody knows it. What they don’t know is that this friend also does design work, and is just as qualified as I am to do it.

One of the problems, aside from everyone knowing his organization as a great landscape contractor (with a maintenance side), is that the organization is named that way as well. It very clearly communicates landscape construction and maintenance – not design.

So, when we discuss new projects and who’s doing what, there’s the inevitable topic of why he hasn’t been able to land certain design commissions. I always chalk it up to another firm’s longstanding tenure in the community, my firm’s connections from past work, or some combination of the two, never saying the real reason – that nobody thinks his company is capable of design, because of the way they’re named.

Unfortunately, it is something that can’t be changed at this point – there’s too much equity in their name to just change it. But, if you’re starting from scratch, think about what you want your organization to do while you’re thinking of the name. There’s a lot at stake.


One Stop



As Seth Godin describes in the Startup School podcast series, “it’s not about finding more customers for your products, it’s about finding more products for your customers”.

Ask your clients what they need help doing and what they are currently outsourcing. Then try to offer a solution – either you take care of it for them (becoming a “one stop shop”), or find an innovative, exciting way for them to more efficiently solve their problem.

It gets you closer to your client, and provides ideas for new services.

Lots and Lots of Images


Having a bank of beautiful images of your designs is a big benefit. The higher the number of press quality angles, views, detail shots, concept sketches, etc of a project you have, the better off you’ll be.

When you’re developing marketing packages to sell your new service, images people haven’t seen before are a great sales tool. They don’t have to be new or different projects, they just have to be fresh images.

If the detail or view you show can relate to the new service you’re selling or the new market you’re trying to crack, even better.

New Services

One way to inform your current and future clients of what you do (see yesterday’s post) is to offer them new services. It’s a chance to explain what that new service is (e.g. landscape art brokerage), and an opportunity to let them better understand your view on the world and what you’re capable of in the other aspects of your work.

Fringe benefits include educating yourself on the new service (learning something new), practicing your marketing, client engagement, and keeping yourself excited about your work.

If your downside is having too many services or “pokers” in the fire, pick one that is performing the worst or is the least interesting to you and drop it from the list.

How Should They Know?

I practice landscape architecture. Please raise your hand if you know what landscape architecture is, and what a landscape architect does.

I imagine the response would be similar if we were to substitute architecture, but the general public could understand the construction of buildings angle.

But, the construction of buildings, much like the final form of a park, civic space, or private garden, isn’t nearly as important as what those things represent, how they fit into a city or neighborhood, and how they increase real quality of life. These are the most important aspects of what we do, yet the least recognized.

But, how should they know? Who should tell them, and how should you do it?


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