Moving Forward Quickly

laag(z6CapeCod)August 18, 2008

The "need help with new front yatd" thread reminded me of something that is so basic that sometimes we can forget about it. It is what one of my professors used to say all of the time and I expect that he still says it - "garbage in -garbage out". I'm not saying that there is any trash in that thread, but simply that the more input there is the more targeted the reaction to it is.

Most of us that do design work for other people, whether for fun or to make a living, don't look at nothing but the aesthetics of a site and start acalling out plants and other features. They start by hearing the client's vision is no matter how elementary that is. While hearing what that is, most will lead that client into either expanding on the details of that vision or thinking it through to develop that vision further. That does two key things. The more obvious one is that gives a better understanding of the intended scope of work of the project. The second is that it starts to form an unguarded profile of the client.

The scope of work sets the program. Obviously if someone is wanting a patio of a certain size you can begin to draw the conclusion that the person either is looking to have large gatherings or not for example. The point being that the things that people want begin to tell you how they see their lifestyle. That does not mean that you simply do exactly what they are saying, but it begins to develop an outline of the intended functions this client sees for his property. That is input which is something you can re-organize and re-program as you develop the design. The important thing is that it starts the project farther down the road than having them stand there and say "what would you do here?".

That discussion gives us the opportunity to further profile the client. If he wants a patio, we can start asking what material he would like it made of. That gives an indication of lots of other things besides the surface of the patio. It can indicate budget, a formal vs. informal vs. earthy-crunchy type of client, safety vs. aesthetics, and much more. It opens the door for us to search their likes, dislikes, biases, budget, and lifestyle without them being aware of it because we are asking them pertinent questions on the subject at hand. The answers are honest unscripted and unguarded answers that you don't necessarily get if you ask them directly.

That is a bit of a sidetrack.

The real issue is that the fastest way to get a design to develop is through input followed by reaction, in my opinion. First, to gain a lot of input from the client as stated. Then process that input and come back to the client with a well developed plan to react to. The key words being "well developed". The logic is that you layout the entire landscape rather than bits and pieces for veto. It gives a chance for them to see and understand the logic in the layout, to see what details appeal to them or not, and basically have something substantial to work from.

It usually takes very little revision when I use this method.

Contrast that to how an extremely basic tiny front yard design will go on forever the way the design method is set up in the "my new front yard" thread. It statrs from no input other than a picture. It is followed by throwing pats of butter against the ceiling to see what sticks (not that any of the ideas are flawed, just that there is no criteria to base their validity on). Assuming that the OP comes back, there will be bits and pieces reactions that will start a fragmented input. It might be that the tree's roots are or are not a big problem, or that it will come down and open up the sun, or that the walkway will be rebuilt, or other bits and pieces. Then others will react to just that input, since it is the only input. Then it will spark a second round of reactions. Back and forth it will go.

My standard contract has one client meeting (sometimes the intilial meeting serves as that), a presentation of a draft plan, followed by one revision that is the final plan. Provisions are allowed for more meetings and revisions, but they are seldom necessary. The clients indicate that they are quite satisfied with the plans. The plans get completed and the projects get built in fairly short order.

The terms in the contract have a lot to do with getting the client to have an incentive to make sure that I get adequate input to get the job done. Avoiding extra costs seems to be a challenge that even the flightiest client seems to be able to overcome. I get my input, so I can get the job done.

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It is strange that we went from someone realising the complexities of garden design and wanting to do a Phd on it while interacting with forum members in a very positive way to the exact opposite. Not only are there oversimplified questions but oversimplified answers together with child like renderings with no basis in reality.

In certain circumstances 'brain storming' is a valid exercise and can ease a creative block but if all that is provided is a photo of a garden as if it existed in a vacuum then 'vacuity illustrated' must be the expected result.

I don't think the process is specific to landscape design but for some reason there are those who must consider the problems connected with it to be minimal. Is there only one type of motor car/bicycle/wheelbarrow/house/hat? All of these items are designed to fulfill a need and you get to choose based on who you are where you are and what you are. Is it not the same with landscape design?

    Bookmark   August 18, 2008 at 11:04AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I think this is why (a) most responders incorporated a probe for more info in their responses, and (b) why responses are petering out. Myself, if an OP isn't back within 10 responses or less, I'm out of there unless the discussion begins to be for general entertainment rather than for assisting the OP.

The process you describe depends entirely on the OP's continued input as required. Some answer as soon as asked. Others never come back, or others vanish when they don't like how the conversation goes - Stately house hasn't been back since someone (I think me) mentioned that the trees are nearing decision time.

It stands to reason that sometimes OPs don't give that information because they don't know that that's the route to garden design - people who understand that process likely aren't having to come here asking questions!


    Bookmark   August 18, 2008 at 1:21PM
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There is redundancy to it all but certainly the OP has food for thought, if not a total solution, at the end of day. Without onsight visitation and consult how high could expectations be. If through someones research, this forum leads to a morsel to take with them, time wasn't wasted on their part at least. It is obvious that many posters cannot afford an LA to install their dreamscape. Simple solutions are what they are looking for and sometimes recieve complex answers. If it inpires banter by knowledgeable responders on an occasional basis, that interaction is a realistic expectation of this forum. Otherwise set up a blog and banter among yourselves, instead of whining about real people trying put their little worlds together. The OP is monitoring the duration of the posts that apply to them. It is a research oriented, do-it-yourself scenario. We find out more about responders personalities, much sooner than the posters.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2008 at 9:36PM
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I did not add this to the thread that inspired it because it is not about beating down posters who are not putting out more info up front or the responders who toss ideas back at them.

It is about discussing a more direct approach to resolve any design dilemma whether is big or small - simple or complicated. It does not matter if it has to do with finding a companion plant or designing a campus.

I'm simply pointing out that any person inquiring about any of these things has additional information whether s/he realizes it or not. The responders, whether backyard gardeners or professional designers, have greater capacity to deal with the multiple facets of any dilemma than simply to give a specific answer to a vague question. Understanding both of those as facts, we should be able to understand that I'm not trying to belittle anyone or whining about it.

I am, as a separate subject, attempting to introduce and/or expand upon the idea of design process. More specifically it is how to control the process rather than having the process control you.

Whether it is on a message board, a relative's back yard, or on site with a client you can take control of the process and pull all of the cards up onto the table, unshuffle them, re-organize them, and present them back to the other party in a complete and logical manner.

The alternative is to have one card tossed onto the table and then discussing a possible card that it could go with to begin to make a winning hand. Then the other party looks at his cards and says "I don't have that card, but I have this one" and tosses another one on the table. Then the discussion adjusts to look at what other card might work with these two cards .... and you look a little less competent because you were of the mark on your suggestions. The process repeats, drags on, and your expertise in the eyes of the other party is dwindling because you keep making suggestions that do not pan out. He is getting somewhere, but not very efficiently. You are getting somewhere, but it is taking its toll.

Contrast that to not making any comments other than those that help bring the cards up onto the table and then pointing out a very good hand that they can hold. That gives them a starting point which they might want to tweak a little, but essentially puts them leaps and bounds ahead of the other alternative. They also do not lose confidence in you and listen to your judgement much more closely than if you were all over the place with dead end suggestions.

This does not work well on a messageboard because the distractions of specific suggestions to not force the OP into digging deep to understand his own needs. He thinks he is getting somewhere quickly, but in reality, the other stuff has to come out sooner or later. Many times the threads die because they go around in circles with back and forth one issue at a time questions and answers.

This thread is not criticising anyone. I don't know how to make this work on a messageboard. I'm just commenting that there are much better ways to efficiently get the job done. It may also point out why messageboards are inherently not the best way to get through a design process.

Being in control ofthe process is what separates a good design service from only being a telented garden composer.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2008 at 8:07AM
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saypoint(6b CT)

So we need to have everyone hold off on making suggestions until we have all of the information we need to make those suggestions relevant.

I've been guilty of tossing out free-association ideas without taking the time to consider context, use, physics, etc., especially if it's late, I'm tired, or whatever, even when I should know better, LOL.

I've also seen OPs get annoyed at too many questions, when all they want to know is what they should plant in this spot.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2008 at 8:25AM
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Again, I don't think there is much you could do on a messageboard as a responder. This is more for those who either want to do this for friends and family or professionally. It could also be helpful for someone wanting to post a self help thread.

You could spend months trying to get a landscape put together either as a homeowner or as a designer if no one has the ability to take control of ferreting out a significant amount of input information prior to offering solutions.

As soon as ideas start getting tossed in without enough information the horse is out of the barn. The distractions dominate over the process.

You have to get yourself in the same perspective as the homeowner and then move with them from their perspective to a more logical perspective so that you arrive together. The alternative is to say "how about this?" and "how about that?" until you you find enough information as you risk losing credibility by showing that you are not with them.

The sooner you get to their perspective, no matter how warped, the sooner you gain credibility for them to follow you to a different perspective. The longer it takes you to get to their perspective, the more you are seen as not listening, having your own agenda, or not working in the style that they would like. You totally kill the ability to build chemistry.

You can't yell "come over here!". You have to go to them and then walk them over.

That is not going to happen on a messageboard or with an online design. One third of the job is site analysis, one third is client analysis, and only the last third is knowing the plants and materials and how to compose them.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2008 at 6:25AM
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You left out the inevitable marriage counseling- that's like, what? 2/3 of our job as well?

    Bookmark   August 22, 2008 at 9:37AM
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Yup, marcinde, you hit the nail on the head with your remark. As has laag as he tries to explain the many sides to landscape design, which is a very visual process of problem solving both on site and between property owners, each with his/her own agenda. I would love to see this Forum return to discussing design principals which might be helpful to some. Right now it is a general gardening forum which has driven some very talented people into the shadows.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2008 at 10:11AM
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That is why this forum is fun and interesting but not actually an effective design process, using the term narrowly and meaning a start-to-finish process. By definition you can't have the true design process laag describes as long as you have free input by whomever reads the post. But very few people realize that, and so it is a source of frustration for some--both for the questioners, and for anyone who is trying to lead an OP toward something. The "lead" changes everytime there is a new response.

You can't often have a successful group design, at least not a large group and especially when that group is not even an established team!

So THAT concept might actually be a subject of an FAQ--not so much a negative warning, but explanatory.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2008 at 11:38AM
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No critism intended your direction laag. Your patient demeanor and knowledge of the subject are inherently obvious.

" We find out more about responders personalities, much sooner than the posters"

Condesending atitudes toward entry level garden enthusiasts exposes a flaw in character that goes beyond gardening. In person(client), or in a forum setting. Gathering what info the client/poster can possibly offer, even minimal, is something that becomes a win/win situation.
Posts with creative or advanced suject matter can coexist with simpler posts. The replies to both should be civil. There is not another forum to direct people too, to get what would be a knowlegeable answer to their foundation planting (design) questions. Some posters do more research than others, that is also a realistic expectation of any forum.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2008 at 11:54AM
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Sorry, Crunchpa ... that is absolute mush. Whatever happened to a persistent desire to improve? What is wrong with trying to elevate the bar? Sadly, far too many are complacent with wallowing in perpetual mediocrity.

A social truism: The level of any conversation will almost always sink to the lowest common denominator.

My question is: How low do you want to let it go?

Personally, I'm from the camp of a long line of people in the New World who seek constant improvement by establishing stretch goals. Constantly raising the bar is a way of life; not castigation to pull everyone back into the pool of mediocrity.

Laag's thread title is appropriate. One must be Moving Forward Quickly lest you, too, sink to the lowest common denominator.


    Bookmark   August 23, 2008 at 9:41AM
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Pablo Picasso once complained that computers were useless. He said, hey can only give you answers"

Have things improved or regressed since he said that?

Picasso died before the Internet and the difference is that now a computer is interactive but as Andrew is fond of saying "garbage in garbage out." So this forum can be the very thing Picasso 'whined' about or we could explore questions more than answers. To paraphrase Nandina, even though someone has a question they feel only relates to their own landscaping experience when it is opened up there is useful stuff for all.

The 'O' in OP does not stand for Ownership and threads are best when they take off because interest has been sparked even if this is a tangent.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2008 at 11:07AM
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Garbage in = garbage out also means good stuff in = good stuff out.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2008 at 2:44PM
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I typically stay away from the "design my..." threads because there's rarely enough info for me to do anything but shoot from the hip, which just isn't my style. I'm more apt to jump in on the more technically oriented threads, where it's way less subjective. A retaining wall must be built a certain way to be safe, so I feel like I can offer more.

If we're talking about stickys- how about a questionnaire with all the info that's usually relevant?

    Bookmark   August 23, 2008 at 8:00PM
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One thing that seems to define conversing on the internet is the limited ability to actually communicate. It is difficult to extract anything beyond the literal message of the words. Any body language, inflections, emphasis, etc, are left out - meaning a significant loss in information gained and conveyed. As such, Laag's simple equation, "Garbage in = garbage out, therefore good stuff in = good stuff out" seems oddly appropriate. If you don't type something into your post, you can't expect it to be inferred as it would be in a conversation.

- Audric

    Bookmark   August 24, 2008 at 8:30AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

We've been here before... trying to control what OPs do and don't do, and I have concluded that we can't; we can only control ourselves. You can have all the stickies in the world but not force anyone to read them.

Having some personal guidelines for where you do and don't contribute doesn't change what OPs do, but it helps to limit the degree to which they can frustrate. But even those don't always work... you get people who don't give you much info but their photos speak volumes. Or even better, they charm you into responding even when they don't meet your criteria for the type of OP you like to respond to.

We can't reinvent conversation nor impose a high level of it, only use it as a tool for practicing design.


    Bookmark   August 24, 2008 at 1:59PM
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Again, I did not intend this thread to be about controlling OPs, but just as general methodology in bringing a person and his designer together in the non-cyber world. I really don't see a way for it to happen on any message board in any other way than it does here. I'm not complaining or trying to change that.

I am trying to let people know that if they intend on either consulting a designer or being a designer, coming forward with, or expecting, solutions without knowing the problems is a very poor way to proceed. It also happens to be the default method that many take until they are introduced to, or find, a better way.

Many tend to focus on a single aspect or limited generic issues and are oblivious to other issues until the other party points out the shortfall. Then credibilty can be lost and everything is second guessed by the other party. It is not due to an inability to address a situation, but an inability to inventory and analyze in order to discover the right program for the job. Many tend to use a default program or generic criteria for their designs.

A lot of the time that works on messageboards because the criteria really is that generic.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2008 at 3:24PM
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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)

Hi philosophers!

I am an outsider, a long-time lurker and recent poster, here to give my humble opinion on a possible solution to the whole "what should I do with my yard" question that vexes many of you and inspires others.

If you visit other forums on Gardenweb, you will note that many have FAQ pages. You guys don't. With your collective talent, I'll bet you could put together a FAQ page that would serve as a STARTING point for Gardenweb visitors.

You could title it "how to get the best out of the landscape design forum" and list the most important bits of information people should include.
Perhaps the FAQ page would recommend posting a photo and a plan drawing along with answers to questions like:
What zone are you in? How much money do you want to spend? Which of these styles appeals to you most? (with a few photos: formal, etc).

You could also recommend good books on landscaping, good websites for ideas, and so forth.

What do you think? I would feel brave enough to ask for your advice on this forum if I felt like I had covered all of the bases. I just don't know what they are.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2008 at 4:30PM
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Good thought. But even with the FAQ feature on many of the forums, (and supposing someone notices it and bothers to click on it) the poster doesn't always recognize his/her particular situation as having been addressed. Problems and situations are somehow thought to be unique.

Aside from the obvious, one the best features here is the search function where a keyword(s) like drainage, erosion control, foundation planting, tree circles, red mulch, and the ever popular blank slate, and so on, pulls up the collective wisdom devoted multiple times to these situations.

Redundancies that can't help but occur notwithstanding, it's kind of good for everyone to be able to distinguish that the mediocre but trying to help responses should serve to make the carefully crafted responses by those with highly developed skillsets stand out by comparison.

Regardless, forums or face to face "conversations" shouldn't occasion a kind of sucker punching to thread topics considered uninspiring or so elemental one might question why it was even asked.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2008 at 5:47PM
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I don't think there is anything wrong with posting self help questions with or without the FAQs.

The only thing I have a problem with is the people that use these to try to sell something. Fortunately, they are few and far between (and usually far away).

    Bookmark   August 24, 2008 at 7:13PM
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I'm not saying that it would ever be considered mandatory to refer to a FAQ before posting a query, but maybe it'd be a gentle way of getting more info- "we could use some more info, maybe you could answer some of the questions here and see if that gets you the answer"- but let's face it, the internet is like panning for gold. Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes you get a pan full of gravel. That's just how it is.

Anyhow, how does one get a sticky without moderators? I've never once seen anyone get slapped for selling a service here, so I can only assume there are no mods?

    Bookmark   August 25, 2008 at 6:33AM
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Karin you can't control the OP's anymore than Laag or I can control our clients, and I am surprised anyone would want to do so, except to exclude commercialism.

Instead Laag has provided us an example of how positive leadership can be used to garner information from a client in order to mmet their needs and his/hers (which I assume to be are to keep costs down and increase client satisfaction).

In relation to the off-topic sidebar soul-searching/purging going on about posters...

This medium is limited in the ability to interact and not-for-profit, so an overly needy or questioning post is often like a mine-field I don't want to enter. You have good intentions going in to help, but can't find a comfortable way to exit. Because of this I do applaud those experts and the helpful (of any experience level) that do provide forum input.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2008 at 9:36AM
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It's just that the most basic FAQ would be that, if you really want to be engaged in a true design process with good advice and personalized feedback, you can't do it here! I don't mean that as a snooty criticism of all the posters (including me), but as a return to laag's concept of the design process and how much it differs from a bit of Q&A and on-line education from the forums.

So as marcinde pointed out, some OP's will get the most out of very focused how do I build this particular wall qeustions, and paradoxically those questions annoy some of the design-thinkers the most, while the design problems and issues are the hardest to "solve", even though they can of course be discussed forever.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2008 at 9:36AM
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I THINK what the OP was trying to say was, that in garden design, it's more helpful to ask generalized questions up front before getting specific. This is how it works in the real world; something so basic as defining the intended function of the space, as the MAIN question that needs to be addressed FIRST. This seems obvious, but apparently isn't.

If the design constraints are fixed, ie "this is the bed, what do I put in here?", it might really be more about defining one's likes and dislikes, or style direction, depending on the gardener's level of ability.

In this sense, gardening and garden design are often confused. One is a pleasurable activity, shared here with people of similar interests. The other is a process leading to a solution, wherein the activity is a means to an end.

IMHO, this is the fundamental difference that defines so many issues here.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2008 at 9:22PM
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It is one of the technical rather than one of the aesthetic issues involved in landscape and garden design.

The technical issue is, in fact, that you can and must facilitate the design through the client. I like the panning for gold analogy. It could be only a matter of shaking out the sand and gravel from that pan that is handed to you to find if there is any gold there. Or, you can be proactive in determiming what goes into that pan before you start swishing it around.

You have to use your clients dirt, so to speak, and he has to put it in the pan. He might not have put much into that pan and it might not have much potential in it. If you swish that around, you won't have much to show him. No one wants to pay someone who can't get any more gold out of the pan that he can on his own (garbage in = garbage out?).

Instead, you have to use your experience and knowledge of the subject in order to get him to the gravel that is more likely to have gold in it. Then you have to get him to put it in that pan before you swish it around. Then you will at least show a bit of shiny color in that pan. Now you have his attention. He wants more gold, realizes that you know something about how to find it, that he is an essential part of the process, and that you are competent in controlling that process.

Other than that, we would be doing nothing but arranging flowers or drawing other people's visions. There is not a lot of value in that. You won't get paid much if no one sees much value.

The second part is What Rhodium hit on. Efficiency affects cost. Cost affects whether or not you can get a design job because the client has to value your design work at least as much as the amount of money you are asking him to give up to have you do it. It may be ideal to have a ton of color renderings, construction details of everything in the design, and a whole lot of design spec's. That can, in many instances, push the dollar amount beyond the potential client's value on the project - sometimes less is more.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2008 at 7:45AM
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This is a good thread for demystifying the process a homeowner will go through when they decide to hire a designer. Since I'm going to be doing that soon myself, I enjoyed reading it.

You could title it "how to get the best out of the landscape design forum" and list the most important bits of information people should include.

Do most designers have a standard list of questions for their clients? A compilation of these questions might make a good addition to the FAQ that is slowly being written, if people wouldn't mind contributing them.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2011 at 9:28PM
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