## Bubble Diagrams – A Useful Step in the Validation Process

### October 25, 2010

Bubble diagrams are a useful design and analysis tool.  They help us understand space adjacency, layouts, and relationships, traffic flows, and relative space sizes among other things.  They are a visual tool for representation.  We can use them to help us understand aspects of the design problem we are trying to solve without investing huge amounts of time with complex and detailed drawings.  They can also be useful for ideation.

As a general rule, bubble diagrams are created after space adjacency analysis.  There should be one bubble for each space listed on the adjacency analysis.  The lines connecting those bubbles or the lack of lines are the depiction of the results of the space adjacency analysis.  Dark, heavy lines represent close or high adjacency, dashed lines may represent some adjacency, and no line obviously represents a lack of adjacency.  Sometimes in may be useful to actually sketch out a bubble diagram to help think through the space adjacency analysis.  Seeing the spacing represented as bubbles may help you to think through the relationships between spaces and make decisions as to how strong or weak the adjacency should be.

There are other things you can do with a bubble diagram to make it more useful.  You can draw them on top of a copy of the base plan.  This will give you some preliminary ideas about how the spaces will actually fit into the area you have to work with.  As mentioned previously making the bubble sizes larger or smaller to show the amount of relative space each will require is useful.  You just have to remember that the actual space layout is not likely to be a circle.  I have mentioned another technique in a previous post [Thumbnail Bubble Diagrams – A More Complete Portrayal] where you place a graphic such as a picture or drawing inside each bubble to represent what is actually going to be inside that space.  This technique simply provides an additional layer of visual detail to help with your analysis of how the space will function together as a cohesive whole.  It can also be useful if you are going to show the bubble diagram to the client for clarification or feedback.

With all of the potential benefits of bubble diagrams it is important to keep a couple of things in mind.  First, there are a lot of “rules” dictating how bubble diagrams should be drawn.  For example, no bubbles should touch or overlap.  No line should cross another line or another bubble.  These constraints are intended to make sure your bubble diagram makes sense logically and that the spaces flow or connect in a consistent manner.  It does not mean that your design implementation will follow those rules.

Second, the bubble diagram is a design and analysis tool.  As such you should validate you input into it’s creation and the output from how you use it.  As stated above, the bubble diagram is usually based on the space adjacency analysis.  You should use the space adjacency analysis to check off or validate that you have address every space and every adjacency and non-adjacency.  The same applies going on to subsequent steps.  You might do an overlay of your bubble diagram over various form compositions.  That in itself is a validation process.  The next most likely step is to create functional diagrams.  Again you should make sure that your functional diagram carries forward the adjacencies and other relationships expressed in the bubble diagram.

## The Design Parti – A Communication Tool

### October 5, 2010

A concept that I have been intending to write about for some time is “parti”.   A parti is usually a sketch, diagram, drawing, doodle, or some other graphic that represents the direction, concept, or theme of a design.  The concept of parti is common in architecture.  It is also used in other design disciplines.  It is seldom mentioned in conjunction with landscape design however.  That is part of the reason why I have not written about this concept until now.  The other reason is that a parti is a vague concept.

A parti diagram does not necessarily represent what the design will look like when it is done.  It is usually not a polished diagram.   It can be very rough; the proverbial back of a napkin sketch.  Parti has been defined as “the big idea”, “the central concept”, “the essence of the design”, “the design approach”, “the core element” and numerous other ways.  In almost every case a parti is described as conveying the meaning, form, direction, essence, scheme, approach, or some other aspect of a design.  If you are confused about what a parti actual is, I was too initially.

The first thing that was unclear is when in the design process a parti is actually created.  The answer is that you create a parti after you have some analysis completed.  You have to know where you have opportunities and where you have limitations.  You have to know the client’s requirements.  You should understand what functionality you need to provide.  You should have created at least some bubble diagrams and prepared an adjacency analysis.  In most cases a parti is going to come after some level of form composition analysis also.  You may create several form compositions that you evaluate as potential starting points for your design.  That being said, creating a parti comes after having a thorough understanding of the site, the client, and the functional and spatial aspects of your design.

The second confusing aspect of a parti was how it fit into the creative or generative portion of the design process.  A parti is described as a vision and/or an inspiration.  A parti is also shown as being a result or an output of one or more design concepts.  Creating the parti comes after developing conceptual designs.  Your source or inspiration for your conceptual designs may come from the site, the surrounding area, the client, the environment, or some other source.  Your client may have a love of camping that leads you to develop a concept based on nature.  The client residence may be of a Spanish style architecture that leads you do develop a Mediterranean theme concept.  There a numerous possibilities.

So what exactly does a parti do?  Why should you create one?  I think a parti is a communication tool.  It communicates the intent of your design concept.  In A Visual Dictionary of Architecture (1995), Frank Ching defines a parti as “the basic scheme or concept for an architectural design represented by a diagram.”  The parti should communicate something about the form as well as the concept.  Ideally, your parti will communicate the experience you intend to create.  It should depict something about the functional, sensory, and/or emotional aspects of your design concept.

I am not convinced a parti has to be a diagram or sketch.  A picture, an object, maybe even a simple storyboard may serve the purpose of a parti.  Which leads to the second question; why create a parti?

Anything that we can create that will make conveying our design intent to the client easier and more effective is a good thing.  We all live in a world of headlines.  We are flooded with information.  We scan e-mails for important subjects.  We skim newspapers for headlines.  The 30 second sound byte is the norm.  Imagine the power of a diagram or simple graphic that you can show the client and they will immediate see what you want to do.  Maybe your plan view does that.  Or maybe you created a perspective illustration that conveys everything the client needs to know.  You may not need a parti in every design.  However, if you can create one, it would certainly add value to your client presentation.

There is one very important difference in how and why a parti is used in architecture versus landscape design.  In architecture the designer is working in a third dimension in creating a building or structure.  That is not to say landscape design does not involve height or structural elements.  The mass of a structure just does not impose upon our designs the way it does in building architecture.  This is why I think our use or interpretation of a parti can be different.

As I said earlier, a small storyboard may be what you need to convey your parti.  Maybe there was an object or something that you saw that inspired your design concept.  A picture of that object may be your parti or a part of it.  Maybe one of your form compositions can be modified to express more fully the design concept.  Again, what we are looking for is a communication tool.  The format or media does not really matter.

One last point about the value of a parti.  I have read in several places that a parti should “anchor the design”.  In other words, when a design issue or question arises, you should be able to go back to the parti for answers.  In other posts I have mentioned the value of graphic tools such as a client profile, journey boards, inspiration boards, etc. to facilitate the design process.  A parti can serve the same purpose.  It communicates the intent of your design concept to your client.  Having your parti in front of you while you are designing will serve as a constant visual reminder of your design intent.

## Adjusting Bubble and Functional Diagrams for Usage

### September 26, 2010

When creating bubble or functional diagrams it becomes important at some point to begin working in rough scale so you can understand proportions and space utilization.  It is very easy if you are using diagramming software to make bubble diagrams or functional diagrams proportional.

Using PowerPoint as an example, you draw a rectangle four by two to represent forty by twenty feet or six hundred square feet (a one inch equals ten feet scale).  When you create the bubble shapes you size them according to the required space.  You can make any shape you want.  You can pick the best shape to represent each area.  You just need to scale it.  In PowerPoint you would right click on the shape, select format shape, and set the size to represent the scale you need.  For example, a circle representing a table that needs sixty three square feet could by a circle with a diameter of nine feet or .9 inches.  If you want to use a square that is proportional you could make a square with sides of 7.95 feet or .795 inches.  A rectangle would be set at .7 inches by .9 inches to represent the size.

The point of this is to emphasize an issue about scaling in bubble or functional diagrams.  Do you use a proportionate size for the object itself or a size for the space the object requires when being used?  A table is a good example.  The table, with the chairs pushed in may be seven feet by nine feet.  However, when guests are at the table sitting in the chairs the space requirement is more likely nine feet by eleven feet at a minimum.  A grill is another good example.  The grill itself may have a footprint of ten square feet.  If you are using the grill during a party or dinner the space may easily double to allow for room to maneuver and to avoid the heat and smoke.

Given the fact that you are working from your adjacency matrix, the proximity or lack of proximity may well be important in how bubbles or functions are placed within the space.  One technique that I use to help with this issue is to create a shape and then duplicate it in a larger size.  The original shape represents the footprint of the space or object.  The second shape represents the required footprint when it is being used.  I then simply center these shapes on top on each other with the usage footprint on the bottom.  For example, the diagram below shows the space for a table and chairs.  The inner shape is the object footprint.  The outer shape is the usage footprint.

Bubble or Functional Shape Adjusted for Usage

Not every object may require extra space.  You may also be able to adjust how the usage footprint relates to the object footprint.  For example, the functional diagram below shows the lounging area has the same usage footprint as the space itself.  The grill foot print extends out to the front and to the left side since the back and right side of the grill are at the edge of the space.

Functional Diagram with Shapes Adjusted for Usage

Showing the buffer area that will be utilized when the space is being used allows you to make adjustments that are needed due to space adjacency requirements.  Also, this is extremely useful in planning traffic flow, overall space utilization, and space allocation.

There is some additional work in going to this level of detail but it is fairly minor.  As long as you establish your scale in the graphic program you are using and work out the areas required for each functional area most graphic programs make it easy to scale the functional objects.  The effort may help you uncover a potential problem long before you ever get to the design stage.

## Graphic Overlays – Building on Bubble, Form Composition, and Functional Diagrams

### September 17, 2010

Bubble diagrams are a great tool for ideation, adjacency analysis, and space planning.  In a previous post I stated that I think functional diagrams are a more formal tool to explore how spaces will fit together and get a better sense of potential design layouts and patterns.  Bubble diagrams are the rough tool.  Functional diagrams are a more precise tool.

In making the transition from bubble diagrams and functional diagrams it is useful to have some idea of form composition.  Are you going with a rectangular, diagonal, arc and tangent, etc.?  Having an overlay of the base plan that is marked with the various lines of force that you want to evaluate can be useful for building your functional diagrams.

Consider this example.  The owners have a barren back yard.  They want 600 square feet of outdoor space that accommodates a table for dining, a conversation area with a fire pit, a lounging area, a grill, and a water feature.  The space is open off of a sliding glass door.  There are windows on each side of the sliding door.  Shown below are to base plans with lines of force marked for rectangular and diagonal form compositions.

Rectangular Lines of Force Form Composition

Diagonal Lines of Force Form Composition

In the rectangular form composition there are only lines running out from the back of the house at the door and window openings.  However these three openings suggest a pattern extending from the back of the residence.  The diagonal form composition has twice as many lines since they run in both directions.  My take on this pattern is that the two lines extending from the door opening have the most potential.  My decision is to go with the rectangular form composition because of the three major lines extending from the back of the house.

The bubble diagram I prepared reflects the results of the space adjacency analysis I performed.  The water feature should be visible from the table, conversation area, and lounging area.  The table should be accessible from the grill and the house.  The grill should not be overly close to the house, table, lounging area, or conversation area.

Bubble Diagram of required spaces and adjacency

At this point I am ready to see how the bubble diagram interfaces with my form composition.  I am using PowerPoint in this case, so I simply copy one on top of another:

Bubble Diagram fitted to Lines of Force

Everything seems to line up but this may not be the optimal placement.  That is really the point I am trying to make about the difference between bubble diagrams and functional diagrams.  I want to explore placement of spaces within the form composition to determine my final design layout, spacing, and placement.  The bubble diagram was a rough tool.  It helped me establish adjacency relationships. I need to go a step further and begin placing functions within the space.  The diagram below shows how the functional “bubbles” were generally placed.

Functional Diagram overlaid on Lines of Force

The lounging area is positioned to the right since that area offers the best sun exposure and it is less likely to interfere with the grill.  The table and conversation area were positioned to the right, away from the grill.  The table is closer to the door.  The lounging, conversation, and table areas all have visual contact with the water feature.

The next step is to create the actual design pattern for the space and to physically position the areas more precisely.  This is the final design.  The two side pieces build off the lines of force from the windows and also push the lounging area and conversation areas further away from the house.  The water feature makes a nice focal point and is centered on the lines of force from the door.

Final Design based on build up of form composition, bubble diagrams, and functional diagrams

Using overlays to check patterns and explore ideas is easy.  DynaSCAPE can be used to create the base plan which can be exported to PowerPoint, Photoshop, or a similar program.  Even scanned images can be used.  Use may have to remove the white background color since overlays tend to work better if they are transparent.

Using analytical tools and techniques is all part of the validation process.  The preliminary bubble diagrams were based on adjacency analysis of the required spaces.  These were overlaid on to base plans for form composition analysis.  Finally the selected form was overlaid with a functional diagram to identify the placement and relationship of the spaces.  These preceded the preliminary design and final design.  Going through these steps helped assure that the design was appropriate and met the client’s requirements.

## How Many Designs Do You Create for a Client?

### September 10, 2010

An interesting post in the Designers on Design blog today titled “Plan B“.  The thrust of the post by Danilo P. Maffei, APLD, is that only one design should be created for the client; there is no need for a backup plan if you know the first or primary plan is your best work and it is the right design for the client.  His argument is that not only does it take more time; it also makes us less committed to the success of our primary plan.  There are several interesting follow-up comments to the post.  The post and comments are well worth reading.

I believe the best approach is to have one single final design unless the client specifically asks for multiple designs and is willing to pay for them.  In this case, each plan should meet the same criteria in terms of meeting the client’s requirements.  Serving up two completely different designs that meet the same requirements means a substantial amount of additional work in terms of validating that each design provides the same functionality and meets the client’s needs.  The only way this could vary is if the client asked for two or more plans that provided different functions or were based on different budgetary or time constraints.

If there is a need for experimentation or consideration of alternatives, that should come during pre-design.  Frequently during the ideation phase I work through iteratively.  Based on some usage scenarios I try to understand the adjacency requirements and prepare a few bubble / functional diagrams.  Then, I will shift gears and start looking at potential form compositions.  After generating some ideas I will go back to my bubble / functional diagrams and see how they work within the form composition ideas I have generated.  I may start looking more closely at traffic flow or other issues.  Two or three of these ideas may be worth pursuing in more detail and may be considered as potential starting points for preliminary designs.  Preparing more than one preliminary design is acceptable and may be worthwhile from the standpoint of validating the client’s requirements.

The point of design validation is to make sure that all of the alternatives, choices, and issues are resolved before the final design is completed.  Completely validating a design implies that the one and only final design meets the client’s needs.  It should match the client’s style and tastes.  It should include the hardscape and softscape elements that the client prefers or will be happy with.  If the design has been fully validated there should be no need for a Plan B.

## The Analysis-Synthesis Interrelationship

### March 18, 2010

One of the questions that arises in discussing the design process is the concept of Synthesis; specifically the analysis-synthesis relationship.  Analysis seems to be more universally understood; or at least people seem to think they understand it.  Synthesis is the gray area to many people.  What does it mean?  What is it?  How does synthesis follow or flow from analysis?  A common explanation of analysis and synthesis is that analysis is taking things apart and synthesis is putting things together.  Analysis is really much more than taking things apart.  Synthesis is more than putting things together.

In analysis, you can take a set of data and group or categorize it.  You can split it into more detail data.  You can merge it with other sets of data to see relationships.  You can sort or rearrange the data.  You can strip out portions of the data that have particular characteristics that you want to examine.  The list goes on.  The point being that analysis is a very rich and complex process that has many techniques that are useful in different circumstances.

All of the analytical techniques I have discussed so far provide you with data that can be used in making design decisions and developing your design concept.  A heat map, which is based on client priority rankings, helps you determine which features, spaces, amenities, etc. should have priority.  Form composition allows you to analyze layouts and find the best one for the site and the possible spaces you are considering.  Space adjacency allows you to determine how potential spaces should relate to one another.  Bubble or functional diagrams allow you to look at the ways specific areas can be configured based on your space adjacency analysis.  Each analytical tool provides additional information that helps you refine your decisions and move your design concept forward.  That is synthesis in essence.  You are building understanding and evaluating what you learn to refine your decisions and concepts.  You may develop information from an analysis that causes you to go back and rethink earlier analysis.  That is part of the iterative process.  The nature of the analysis-synthesis relationship is that the two techniques interplay and work with each other to accumulate information that is used and reused to develop your final design concept.

Other things come into play in developing a design concept.  There is the designer’s experience.  There may be a particular feature on the site that can be capitalized on.  The client’s may have a theme or style that they want used.  These are the soft data or qualitative factors that come into play.  They are part of the accumulation of information that is synthesized into the design concept.  They can be just as important if not more important than the data analysis in developing the design.  The analytical tools are the foundation for validation of the design.  They help answer important questions that are the crux of design decisions.

During the analysis-synthesis process, the results of analysis should be evaluated against the hard criteria established for the project.  This includes constraints, budget, feasibility, client needs, and all of the known limitations and opportunities.  Since synthesis is a much more fluid process, the results that come from the process are more evolutionary.  They evolve out of ideation, analysis, preliminary concepts, and other types of soft data.  The concepts that form out of synthesis also need to be evaluated.  However, the criteria is more aesthetic and conceptual.  Do the design concepts developed fit into the style and architecture of the residence?  Do they fit with the image and style we are trying to create?  Are they in line with the ideas that we had?  During either part of the process, analysis, or synthesis, if the answers are not making sense, it is time to step back and re-evaluate.  Again, that is the iterative process.

## Design Process Model – Tools for Each Phase

### March 11, 2010

The last several posts have dealt with high-level view of my design process model.  The series covered each major phase and how they build on and overlap one another.  Subsequent posts discussed how the phases overlap with the two major project inputs, the client and the site.  This post deals with the details of how specific tasks and activities fit into the phases and how they support subsequent tasks in later phases of the design process.

A few points need to be clarified first.  In the diagrams below, I have laid out the representation of tasks and activities in a timeline format.  That does not necessarily imply there is a rigorous schedule that must be adhered to.  In an iterative design model, you cycle back and forth between and within phases.  It may make sense in one project to start a task early, and in the next project that same task may get postponed.  So interpret the timeline depiction loosely.  The starting points for tasks are determined based on what would typically make sense and based on the completion of any prerequisite tasks.  The length of the blocks is again based on what would typically make sense.  Some tasks may take more or less time depending on the project.  Additionally, the timeline blocks are grouped by phase for ease of identifying tasks in a particular phase.  They are not necessarily aligned horizontally with precursor tasks in earlier phases.

Second, some tasks overlap more than one phase.  The diagrams below have a legend that reflects the phase of tasks by color.  Tasks that span two phases are shown in the color of the phase they start in to the left and the color of the phase they end in to the right.

Lastly, this is not a comprehensive list of every activity or tools available.  It encompasses more detail than the high-level model but it is not an exhaustive checklist.  Very specific tasks such as soil analysis or surveys are rolled up into high-level task descriptions such as site analysis.

The first diagram depicts the Client Interaction tasks.  These tasks and activities are color-coded blue.

Client Interaction tasks start at the inception of the project.  The task, Client interview / Follow-up / Meetings, spans the entire project to stress the need for regular interaction with the client.  Several tasks span into the Data Gathering phase so they are color-coded blue at the start end and violet at the end.  The remaining Data Gathering tasks are next.

These tasks are color-coded violet.  They tasks also begin with the inception of the project.  Some may occur during the initial client meeting.  Others may follow days later.  The actual scheduling will vary by project.  The next set of activities and tasks is Analysis / Synthesis:

Analysis / Synthesis Tasks

These are the follow-on activities and tasks that you will complete to analyze the data you have gathered.  This is where dependencies begin to arise.  You have to have the data before you can analyze it.  The tasks in Analysis / Synthesis build on one another.  You have to do some before you can work on others.  What you find may lead you back to re-analyze what to found earlier.  This is the iterative process.  When Analysis / Synthesis is far enough along you can begin Creative Development:

A substantial number of Creative Development tasks lead to the creation of Client Deliverables.  You will also note that they start while Analysis / Synthesis is still underway.  You may begin exploring design concepts while you are doing analysis.

The key document you produce during Creative Development is the design program, which cannot be completed until Analysis / Synthesis is complete.  You have to analyze all of the data and synthesize it into a meaningful set of client and design requirements in order to preduce the design program.  Much of what is done in the Creative Development phase is reused, as you will see when we add the Client Deliverable tasks:

The Client Deliverables are what you present to the client when you are finished with the project.  You will typically walk through these with the client during the final design presentation.  Not every project will require every item listed.  Some projects may require other deliverables.  Whatever the items are, these are the result of everything you have done to this point.  They are the basis for the client proceeding with the project and beginning construction.

These diagrams fill in the gaps with specific tools and techniques to support the phases in the high-level model.  Treating these tools flexibly and remembering that it is an iterative process is key.  You will most likely not use every tool in every project.  You have to choose which to use based on the scope of the project and what you have to work with.  The objective is to build confidence that you have discovered all of the client’s requirements and that your process and results support the logical thinking that evolved into your design concept.  The target is to create Client Deliverables that meet the client’s needs and satisfy the requirements of the site.  Following a logical process and working iteratively, you will be able to meet your objective and have a satisfied client.

## Design Process Model – The Creative Development Key Validation Point

### February 27, 2010

The third key validation point is at the end of Creative Development.  Like the first two key validation points at the end of Data Gathering and Analysis / Synthesis, this is a threshold point to help you decide if you conceived a preliminary design that addresses all client needs, site issues and opportunities, and the elements in your design program.  The overlap with the Analysis / Synthesis phase is again built in to allow you the opportunity to conduct further analysis if you feel it is warranted.

Key Validation Points

The result or output of Creative Development is a preliminary design to be presented to the client.  This would include any supporting, collateral materials such as digitally enhanced photos, drawings, display boards, samples, etc.

Chances are that by this point you may have already started developing some of these materials.  It can be useful during the last part of Analysis / Synthesis to explore design concepts.  Any of these preliminary materials should be reused or revised if appropriate.  Otherwise, you can begin developing your preliminary design based on the results of the form compositions, functional diagrams, supporting analysis materials, and design program you have created.

Whatever you choose to develop and use in your preliminary design presentation should be reviewed thoroughly to validate that it supports your findings and conclusions developed to this point.  Some evidence of a need or opportunity that you discovered should support each element, feature, benefit, and aspect of the preliminary design.  Going through this exercise is extremely useful in preparing for the client presentation.  You will be fully prepared to explain and justify your design decisions.

A completely validated preliminary design sets the stage for the final phase of design development, which is the creation of your Client Deliverables.  Everything you have done to this point suggests that you have a design concept that should meet all client needs and expectations.  There should not be any issues that would preclude the client from accepting your design.  All of you preliminary design materials can be finalized for presentation to the client.  The preliminary design materials should be reused as much as possible in creating your final deliverables to the client.

Validating you data, analysis, conclusions, and designs minimizes the amount of rework you may need to do.  It is unlikely that the client will completely reject a preliminary design that is thoroughly validated against their needs and the specific requirements of their site.  Also, the high-level model provides for constant client contact and feedback.  Prior to the presentation of the preliminary design, there should have been client contact and feedback from the initial meeting and the review of the design program.  This would be the absolute minimum of client contact.  Interim contact and review sessions should be conducted whenever more information is needed of if it appropriate to obtain client buy-in and concurrence on specific issues.

My last three posts have dealt with the key validation points.  In the next post, I will be reviewing the client contact activities and how they fit into the key validation points and the four phases.

## Form Composition – An Underutilized Tool

### December 1, 2009

A pre-design tool taught in design classes but not used consistently by designers is form composition.  The purpose of form composition is to aid in finding the right shapes and lines that create the best and most aesthetic layout of the functional design.  The common form themes are:  circular, curvilinear, rectangular, diagonal, angular, and arc and tangent.

The process of creating form compositions starts with creating a grid overlaying the base plan.  This is done to orient the form composition to any existing or proposed structures.  Grid lines are created as extensions of existing major structural lines on the plan.  For example, building sides and corners, doorways, windows, offsets, etc.  This can be a tedious process.  The process must be repeated for each form composition theme being explored since the grids vary by theme.  The time and effort required to setup the grid for the form composition may be one of the reasons why designers don’t consistently create them.

Once you have the grids laid out, the next step is to use your functional diagrams as an overlay or a guide to begin laying out the space is a symmetric, harmonious, aesthetically appealing manner.  You typically create two or thee form compositions for each theme.  This is also time consuming.

If you go through all of this effort to create form compositions, what do you get out of them?  First, getting an aesthetically pleasing layout of shapes, lines, and patterns really is important.  Form composition in a tremendous aide in achieving that goal.  Many designers will tell you that it is second nature after awhile and that you can eventually stop doing them.  If that were the only reason for creating them, they might be right.

A second reason for form compositions is that they are an aide in ideation.  Fitting the shapes, lines, and spaces together during form composition can give you new ideas about how things can and should fit together.  Given that this is being done after the functional diagrams, you are pretty far into the analysis and design process.  However, you can still get new ideas about how you are going to implement your design concept.  Third, if you really do go through the process of creating several form compositions in each theme, you may see things you didn’t see before.  The same way the repetition is an aide to memory, the repetition of form composition is an aide to the visual process.  Forcing yourself to create multiple form compositions in various themes makes you think outside the box and that can help to see things you didn’t see before.

Lastly, form composition can help you implement your design to better meet your client’s needs.  There may be something that you think you have covered in your function designs that becomes clearer or that you see differently when you are creating a form composition.

As I mentioned earlier, form composition comes late in the design process; it comes after the function diagrams.  It can be a last minute reality check.  By looking at the actual implementation of the functional diagrams a number of times and in different ways, you are stretching your creative thinking.  You are forcing yourself to rethink the design each time.  That can be an important checkpoint to make sure you have considered all of the client requirements and the best way to implement them.

## Educating Clients with Space Overlays

### November 10, 2009

Part of our objective as designers is educating our clients.  When you first meet a client and they are describing what they want, it is likely that they have given no thought to any of the things we would notice or consider important.  Sometimes we have to provide a landscape design 101 explanation.  This has to be done in a non-condescending way.

One of the basics that I like to cover is how spaces are organized into public, private (family), and service (utility) areas.  Most clients will not have thought about this.  If you can show the connections to the indoor spaces via doors and windows this makes a more compelling explanation.

There are several reasons for doing this.  First, as mentioned, is educating the client.  Second, I sometimes overlay the base plan with the general areas to use in my client presentations.  A sample overlay is shown below:

Overlay of base plan with areas

This overlay can be useful in talking through site issues, opportunities, design needs, and other discussion points.  The overlay also makes a natural jumping off point to zoom in and discuss each individual area.  This leads to my last reason for creating the overlay.  By separating the space into areas, you automatically create defined spaces.  These individual spaces can be eliminated or cut back if the client has budget issues or wants to do a phased improvement project.  This can be an advantage for you if you need to quickly redefine the scope and/or repackage your proposal to the client.

The overlay can also be useful during functional design.  Drawing the bubble diagram on top of the overlay allows you to see the predefined boundaries and the relationship between functions within the areas.  A simple example is shown below:

Overlay of base plan areas with functional components

It can also help in form composition.  The boundaries between areas may identify particular lines to emphasize or transition zones where the form may change.  I have also found it useful for purposes of space allocation and analyzing traffic flow.  Lastly, it can be a tool for ideation when it is time to develop design concepts.

The area overlay serves many purposes.  Educating the client is a key use.  The reuse of the overlay during subsequent analysis and concept ideation is equally important.  Using the overlay to build-up the design deepens the analysis and creates validation points that substantiate the design will meet the client’s needs.

## “One Pagers” – A Great Client Presentation Tool

### September 19, 2009

I my last post I discussed using thumbnail bubble diagrams for a more graphic representation of the potential design.  I mentioned that one of the benefits of this approach was for soliciting client feedback.  Since the bubble diagram is more visually descriptive, the client can get a better sense of how the areas fit and work together.

Another adaptation of this approach is to overlay a copy of the base plan with text and graphic elements that you can use to do any or all of the following:

• Summarize key findings
• Identify major issues
• Emphasize major opportunities
• Review design goals
• Highlight priorities
• Raise questions or identify decision points

Essentially, what you are creating is a one-page presentation that has some of the elements of a bubble or functional diagram on top of the base plan.  The purpose of this document is to solicit client feedback, get client agreement, or pose questions for the client.  Depending upon what the content is and your objective, what you include may be text, simple graphics, pictures, or drawings.  For example, an area with a major opportunity to capitalize on the view may be depicted with an arrow pointing in the direction of the view and some limited wording.  Design goals could be listed in a text box with bullet points.  Problem areas could be a digital photo cropped and reduced in size to fit on the appropriate spot on the base plan.  You can use color coding and/or different shapes to emphasize unique elements or points you want to cover with the client.  Obvious choices such as red for problem areas make this type of visual tool easy for the client to understand.

For small simple jobs, this approach may work for presenting your estimate for work.  In addition to providing the client with the cost estimate and contract, you could include a simple one-page graphic describing what needs to be done and why.  A simple devise such as this can be extremely effective for communicating with the client.

For larger jobs or situations where you cannot get everything to fit on one page you have a couple of options.  One is to make multiple copies of the base plan and put different content on each copy.  For example, opportunities on one page and problems/issues on another.  If you are working on a large property, you can crop the base plan graphic and do a page for front yard and a page for back yard to present the information for each area.  Very large or complex properties may use even more pages.

I still like format reports / proposals for final submission to the client when my design program is complete and I am ready to get client approval.  For smaller jobs or situations where you need to give an interim update or meet with the client to resolve issues, get clarification, etc. the one-page presentation graphic is a great tool.

## Thumbnail Bubble Diagrams – A More Complete Portrayal

### September 18, 2009

I discovered an interesting spin on bubble diagrams while researching validation ideas.  The technique is to use a mini thumbnail picture to represent each space or bubble.  For example, a grilling area could be shown as a small bubble with a picture or drawing of a grill.  The ides is to graphically represent each functional space with a graphic or picture.  These graphics can represent function or be conceptually representative.  For example, if you have an inspiration idea such as a water feature, you include a picture of it within the bubble.  Two sample thumbnail bubbles are shown below:

Small Representative Graphic Thumbnail Bubble

Small Picture Thumbnail Bubble

Bubbles are still bubbles.  Instead of being empty bubbles labeled with text, they have pictures or graphics to help represent the function.  So what is the purpose of doing this?  I think they provide an additional level of representation or portrayal of how the design will function.  When the bubbles are positioned and finalized into a full thumbnail bubble diagram you get a better sense of the component parts and how they might flow together.  I think they also contribute to ideation in that you can have a better feel of how the areas will look as one space.  A small sample bubble diagram using this technique is shown below:

Thumbnail Bubble Diagram

Another benefit is that if you want to use this to solicit client feedback, they are going to give the client a better feel for the overall thought process and how the spaces will interact and look together.  In the example above, the client would be able to get a very accurate idea of how the water feature will be a focal point in the space.

This technique is again something where you can reuse the materials.  The small thumbnails should be created as individual bubbles and saved.  I created most of mine in DynaSCAPE and exported them to jpeg files.  Some were created in PowerPoint.  I typically use PowerPoint to create the thumbnail bubble diagram since it is easier to manipulate the pieces and then subsequent add arrows, text, or whatever other diagrammatic tools I choose.

## Positioning Spaces — by Function or by Location

### September 9, 2009

Site analysis often uncovers or reveals spaces that are ideal for specific functions or should be capitalized on.  For example, a backyard view of a nearby lake.  Often the reverse is discovered.  There may be spaces that are noisy, windy, or hot.  We discover and document these situations during our site analysis.  Concurrently, we work with the client to discover their requirements.  With all of information gathered and documented, we begin analyzing and synthesizing data and developing design responses.

The question that arises is where and how to go about positioning spaces.  Do you begin with bubble or functional diagrams with interconnections and manipulate them into desirable locations and away from undesirable ones?  Or do you position spaces in desirable locations first and then weave in related spaces and connections?

The first approach puts emphasis on adjacency and function.  The later method puts emphasis on optimal placement as determined by site factors.  I do not believe that one approach is better than the other is.  Which you choose or if you use both is a personal choice.  What is important is that the design response be validated against the requirements.  If the requirements are not met, a new design response must be found.

A big part of analysis and synthesis is resolving conflicts.  In the previous example of an ideal lake view, it may not be practical to place a main patio or deck in a position to take advantage of the view.  The design response may become a destination terrace or seating area away from the main outdoor space connected by a walkway.

Coming to a final design solution requires thorough site analysis, full understanding of client requirements, thoughtful analysis, and the patience to synthesize all of the data.  That done we use our knowledge of design to create and test responses that meet the requirements and pass the constraints and opportunities developed through our analysis.

The positioning of spaces or functions is less a matter of how and more an issue of why.  Validation tells us why we made that decision.

## Before Drawing Look at Adjacency

### July 26, 2009

Once there is a complete list of requirements for a client’s site it is time to start looking at how the pieces can fit together so that they work well for the client and are aesthetically pleasing.  The most common approach is to use bubble or functional diagrams to start evaluating alternatives.  A better first step is to look at adjacency analysis.

Using an adjacency analysis matrix to evaluate how the pieces fit together provides several advantages.  First, it makes it easier to start diagramming or drawing because you have already thought about how the pieces are related to one another and have identified pieces that cannot work together.  Second, it provides an opportunity to think about each individual component in the requirements in more detail.  What function does it perform?  How does it impact other elements; enhance them or interfere with them?  This in depth review often brings new insights into how the components need to function.  Third, by reviewing the individual components in detail it is often possible to identify opportunities to consolidate or divided them in ways that will enhance the functionality for the client.

The adjacency analysis matrix can be drawn as a square matrix with each component listed on the top and on the side.  The intersecting boxes are used to evaluate the relationship between every component pair.  A blank sample is shown below.

Square style adjacency matrix

The disadvantage of the square matrix is that you really only need half of it.  Each pair of items is actually listed twice.  When using this format you only work with the upper left half or the lower right half.  An easier layout to use is the triangular matrix.  In this layout the components are listed to the left of a matrix.  The matrix is composed of intersecting diagonal lines.  At each intersecting box is a pair of components.  The relationship between that pair is indicated within the boxes.  A blank sample of the triangular matrix is shown below.

Triangular style adjacency matrix

An example will clarify how the process works and point out some of the opportunities that this type of analysis provides.  In this example, the client wants an outdoor entertaining space in their backyard.  It is to be placed off the kitchen and accessible via a large sliding door.  The client has asked for an outdoor kitchen with a cooking, food storage, and clean up area.  They also want the outdoor kitchen to have a serving bar with seating so visitors can talk while the cooking area is being used.  They also want the space to include a dining table, conversation-seating area, sunning/lounging area, shading as needed, a water feature, a fire pit, and storage space.  They would like to have flexible seating so various size gatherings can be accommodated.  Lastly, the space needs some privacy screening due to the proximity of neighboring houses.  Our listing of requirements for the adjacency analysis is shown below.

Triangular adjacency matrix with labels

You will note that the outdoor kitchen was divided into two items that reflect the two purposes.  This was done for exactly for that reason.  The space, although intended to be one area, has two different purposes.  In our adjacency analysis, they will be indicated as being linked with a high degree of association since they will be designed as one contiguous space.  However, the way the two separate areas relate to other parts of the requirements may impact how the other components are physically positioned in relationship to the outdoor kitchen area.

The matrix is evaluated by looking at each pair of components and assessing them in terms of their relationship to one another.  Some type of visual symbol is used to indicate the result of the assessment of that pair.  Typically, leaving the square blank means that there is nothing to consider or it is neutral.  Another symbol may be used to indicate that there is a need for a high degree of association.  Another symbol is used to indicate that the components should be separated.  Lastly, another symbol is used to indicate there is a need for some proximity between the two components.  In this example, we will use the following codes.

You begin by working pair by pair noting with the appropriate symbol what the adjacency requirements are.  Our obvious one is the two components of the outdoor kitchen.  They are going to be one contiguous area so they will have a close relationship.  The completed analysis is shown below:

Completed triangular adjacency analysis

The patterns that evolve can give us early warnings of placements that require careful consideration.  There are a log of red crosses associated with the cooking area and the fire pit.  Those indicate we need to consider placement of those area relative to relaxation area due to the associated smoke, heat, etc.  Conversely, you will note that the conversation area and fire pit are closely associated.  This is a conscious decision to create a seating area with the ambience of the fire pit.  The block of green boxes associated with the cooking, dining, and serving areas relative to one another and the access to the kitchen indicate we need to consider the convenient access for these elements.  Blank areas are simply either not-relevant or not important enough to consider.  In this example the storage area is really not associated with privacy screening or shading unless we make some conscious decision to link them.

Each designer may make slightly different assessments of the components.  Every design is unique and has its own components.  Part of the power of adjacency analysis is reviewing the relationship of the components relatively to one another in the context of the clients needs.

In terms of the process of actually creating the matrices and filling them in they can be done by hand on paper with pencil, pen, and/or markers.  The actual matrix and text labels are easily created in DynaSCAPE.  The examples in this posting were created in DynaSCAPE and then imported to Microsoft PowerPoint as jpg files.  The labels and coding were added in PowerPoint.

The process of creating the adjacency analysis may create the need to do it a second time.  In the example above, we associated the fire pit and conversation area.  The designer may decide that based on various associations it makes more sense to group them as one component to reconsider the adjacency factors.

With the adjacency analysis complete, it is time to move on in the design process.  In future posts I will deal with how the adjacency analysis is used and how the designers validates that each factor is considered in the design.

## Bubble versus Functional Diagrams – why is there a difference

### July 17, 2009

I tend to treat bubble diagrams and functional diagrams as two different analysis tools.  They are often referred to synonymously but I think they have different roles in the design process.  Part of the confusion is simply an issue with how they may be drawn causing them to look slightly different.  The more important difference lies in how they are used.

Bubble diagrams are composed of shapes, typically round or oval, hence the name “bubble”.  They are intended to be drawn quickly as a tool for evaluating space usage and allocation.  Bubble diagrams can be used for ideation, adjacency analysis, traffic flow analysis, space allocation analysis, and other types of assessment.  They can also be used as a recording tool when making notes or on-site diagrams to identify specific areas or spaces on the property.  An important distinguishing element of the bubble diagram is that it has a lot of “white space”.  Bubbles can touch, overlap, or be separated from one another.  But just the fact that the bubbles are circle creates a large amount of white space on the diagram.  That is a good thing since the intention is to use the bubble diagram as an assessment tool.  There is frequently a lot of visual clarity in a bubble diagram because of its limited number of elements and the often distinct segregation of shapes.

Bubble shapes can have different relationships

Functional diagrams are also composed of shapes but tend to be more irregular.  Where bubble diagrams are used for analysis and assessment, functional diagrams are used more for representation and depiction.  Functional diagrams do not have large amounts of white space like bubble diagrams.  Their shapes are closer together representing the proximity of the spaces.

Functional diagrams have irregular shapes with close proximity

A functional diagram can be drawn to show the placement of existing elements on a site that is being evaluated.  They can also be used to depict the placement of design elements that are being considered in a particular arrangement.  A series of bubble diagrams may be evaluated to develop ideas and analyze potential arrangements.  When one of those diagrams is chosen as a potential solution, a functional diagram would show the proximate relationship of the design elements.  Since the functional diagram is free-form, it can be drawn quickly and used to validate the analysis and assessment of that particular design.

Typically, the way that I might use these two tools would be to first create a rough functional of the existing site elements.  This is done on blank paper or on a copy of the site survey.  When I am ready to start the ideation process, I use bubble diagrams to lay out potential combinations of design elements.  These alternatives are assessed in term of how they work together, traffic flow, allocation of space, and visual appeal.  Once one particular design pattern that is best is identified, I quickly convert it to a functional layout for further analysis and assessment.

Both bubble diagrams and functional diagrams are very useful analysis and assessment tools.  Bubble diagrams a usually quicker and easier to prepare and have the advantage of being an excellent tool at the ideation stage.  Once those ideas are solidified, the functional diagram gives the designer a much closer approximation of the actual design to use for further analysis and assessment.