In a number of other posts I have discussed mood boards, concept boards, storyboards, journey boards, etc.  In most of those posts I mentioned PowerPoint and similar graphics programs as excellent tools for creating them.  Last year I became aware on an extremely good online tool that addresses the needs of many different design professionals, (, in addition to creating boards for landscape designers, can be used by interior designers, graphics and web designers, fashion designers, and wedding planners.  Second, you can use it for free without registering.  By registering though, you are able to save and share your boards.  There are also paid plans with additional features.

To begin, you select your paper size.  Unfortunately, no standard US sizes are available.  Then you pick the type of board you want to create such as landscape design.  On the right of the screen are a number of filters that allow you to pick from the gallery of images.  Categories include hardscape, softscape, garden decor, and others.  Within these categories are types.  Hardscape types would obviously be different from softscape types.  Below that there are additional filters for Type, Style, and Supplier.  Once you set the filters there are one or more windows of choices for you to review.  Placing your mouse pointer over the thumbnail image choice brings up a larger preview display.  When you find an image that is appropriate for the board you are creating, you simply drag it to the design board.

Once it is on the design board you can size and position it.  As you add components to your board you can switch from category to another.  You might add Hardscape design elements and then move on to Softscape and Garden Decor. also has very good layout, drawing, and editing tools.  You can use the Magic Eraser to pull the background out of an image.  You can move objects forward and backward to layer them.  There are other Photoshop-like tools that you can use to modify the various images you add to your board.  Also, there are tools for adding shapes and text to your board and you can color these as you see fit.  Another plus is you can paste images from other sources.

The graphic below is a sample mood board created on

Sample Mood Board Created in SampleBoard

If you would like to see more samples check this post in the blog, Garden Ideas – Select your Garden Theme or Garden Style. is very useful.  It has a lot of very powerful capabilities built into it.  I find that fact that it is online to be very useful.  If I am working in the field on a tablet computer I can access and compile ideas.  I don’t need any other software to get started.  Also, any pictures I take with the table can be pasted directly onto by board as part of the ideation process.  I also find it is useful for marking up site pictures for a site analysis.

I suggest checking out and bookmarking it for future use.

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.

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.

A few final wrap up comments about applying prototyping to landscape design.  These comments and observations are mostly things I have carried over from my prototyping experiences in the systems field.

Getting client requirements is crucial.  Having a design methodology with an approach to gathering requirements is extremely important but probably more important is having a toolkit of methods and approaches you can apply in different circumstances.  One size does not fit all in design methodologies.  The major thing to keep in mind is that you must gather all client requirements, gather them completely, and gather them accurately.  Finding the mix of tools and approaches that will allow you to accomplish this comes with experience and practice.

I would not tell a client I am going to prototype their design or some portion of their design.  However, I would use a prototyping approach if it was appropriate and it would allow me to draw out and/or confirm some of the client’s needs.  If I was doing a physical representation with stakes, cord, boxes, and other materials, I might describe it as a walkthrough or simulation.  The approach is the same; I just am not bogged down in the use of the term prototype.

As I said in an earlier post, almost everything we create to represent the client’s design is a prototype.  These artifacts just have different levels of visual and functional fidelity.  A simple plan view is a prototype.  If I can use that plan view to validate the client’s requirements there is no reason to go further.  However, if the client continues to waver or expresses concerns, I may have to dig into my toolbox and apply a creative approach to representing the design that will communicate the design intent and how it meets the client’s needs.

Some prototyping can be done with either 2D or 3D design software.  Other prototypes may be visually enhanced photos.  Physical models take time and talent but, if you know what you are doing and are good at it, giving the client a scale model can be impressive.  Simulating areas and/or spaces with objects, lines, and other materials is a good way to give the client a sense of space and proportion.  The point is you need to determine what you need to convey, how much fidelity you need, and the best way to convey it.

Having the right tools and knowing which tool to use is important.  In addition to DynaSCAPE, VizTerra, DesignWare, and other landscape design packages I use other tools to augment my design analysis and presentations.  Software such as PowerPoint, Excel, Work, Visio, Photoshop and others allow me to produce analytic materials and client presentation materials.  They can play a role in prototyping if they allow you to create a representation you can use to convey what you need.  I typically use the tool that will work best for what I need to accomplish whether it be analysis, design, or creating a prototype.  However, I always keep in mind how I might be able to leverage that material later in the project.

Making the choice to use physical representations with rope, cord, hose, stakes, boxes, etc. is a little more difficult.  Deciding when to use physical representation is primarily a matter of experience and ability to read what the client needs.  There are clients who just cannot visualize anything.  Even with a plan view, enhanced digital photos, drawings/sketches, and other representations, they just cannot sense or visualize how it will work, how much space will be available, etc.  In some cases, you might decide to use a physical representation in order to convince the client that their ideas will not work or you want to show them an alternative approach.  Whatever the motivation for a physical representation, you need to decide how much effort to put into it to create the level of functional or visual fidelity to meet your needs.

Prototypes do work.  The key is to use the right tool or technique at the right time for the project.

Digital pictures are an important part of the validation process.  They also make great design tools.  You can take pictures of the client site and enhance them to show a proposed new design.  You can pull out specific elements you want to focus on or exclude.  You can also use scanned images of magazine clippings, pictures downloaded from the internet, and stock photos.  There may be elements that you can isolate in an image that may be useful in your design development or for creating a storyboard.  There are many reasons to use, manipulate, and enhance digital photos.

Manipulating digital pictures can be difficult though.  The standard for photo editing and manipulation is probably Photoshop.  Photoshop is expensive and so complex it is hard to learn and hard to remember what to do if you don’t use it all the time.  There are other software tools available.  There is a very large range of capabilities and price.  However, there is an unexpected new tool available that is really worth looking at.

The newest version of PowerPoint, PowerPoint 2010, has been greatly enhanced with photo manipulation tools that are very powerful.  What makes them even more amazing is that they are included in PowerPoint.

The first new tool is the Background Removal tool.  After you insert a digital picture, you can select it and then click on the Background Removal button.  PowerPoint will then analyze the picture and make a recommendation as to what it thinks is the foreground (keep) and background (remove).  Shown below are screen-shots of an original picture and the result of the first scan of the picture.  The areas highlighted in magenta are areas PowerPoint has marked as background.

Original Picture and PowerPoint Background Removal Analysis

Note the box with handles around the image.  Those are the macro controls to select the area you want to keep.  There are other tools included to help you tweak the selection and fine tune what you want to keep and what you want to remove.  When you are done, you finalize the removal.  The result is shown below:

Result of Background Removal

The final image is in PowerPoint, on a slide.  There are several things you can do at this point.  You can save that new image as a file to use in another program.  You cam use PowerPoint’s draw and text tools to make notes on the image to record your ideas.  You can print the image and sketch ideas by hand.  You can also load the saved image file in a digital design tool such as DesignWare to add new elements.

There is a lot of power in this tool and it produces results that are more than satisfactory.  The Background Removal tool is useful for isolating specific images also.  For example, assume you want to use the container in the photo below but just the container.

Background Removal Used to Isolate Container in Picture

The Background Removal tool does a quick job of isolating just the container as shown below.  This isolated image can be imported into other pictures, used in drawings, traced, etc.

Another useful way to use this tool is to isolate portions of a picture.  In most cases, the focus of your picture is in the center.  However, if what you want to keep is off to the side or in a corner, you can simply drag the selection box around the portion you want to keep and let PowerPoint work its magic.  You can fine-tune your selection regardless of where the selection box is located.

There are other useful photo enhancement tools built into this version of PowerPoint.  I will discuss some of them and some new features in Word 2010 in upcoming posts.

This is a third follow-up to a post in January about gathering client and site data [Gathering Data: Challenges, Irony, and Value].  The questions raised in that post were:

  • how much information do you need to collect?
  • how do you record the information so that it is accessible and usable?
  • how do you organize, display, review, combine, correlate, and otherwise manipulate all this material?
  • how do you reduce the data to its essential components?

In February, I did a follow-up to the first question in my post: The Case for Gathering More Information.  Several days ago, I did the second follow-up post:  The Case for Recording Client and Site Data Electronically.  This post will deal with the third and fourth questions:  how do you organize, display, review, combine, correlate, and otherwise manipulate all this material, and how do you reduce the data to its essential components?

This is a hard issue because there are numerous approaches that you could take to start the organization and ideation process.  One of the most basic is to start laying pictures, drawings, etc. out on a large table or posting them on a wall or board.  This is essentially a mind mapping or brainstorming approach.  Seeing all the pieces at one time together can stimulate your thinking and help you make connections.  It may help identify conflicts or interrelated issues.  The value of information or data is usually in the connection to other pieces of information and data.  Knowing a whole bunch of things doesn’t help unless to put them all together and make sense of them.

I tend to find the paper-based methods slow.  If I lay out drawings, plans, pictures, and other visual data I usually want to supplement it with some of my notes and thoughts.  This means writing out things on Post-it notes or note cards and positioning them in the mix of other things.  Having the paper laid out or posted on a wall makes it visible and it is easy to move things around or replace things.  However, the one thing I really find the most limiting is that it is not portable.  I have to be in front of it to see it, work with it, and analyze it.

My preference is to create my project brainstorming or ideation board electronically.  I have used different software tools to do this.  PowerPoint has some advantages as does Photoshop.  You can even use DynaSCAPE albeit with some constraints.  There are probably other software tools to do the same types of things.

I will use PowerPoint as an example since it is more familiar to more people.  The basic process is to create a new PowerPoint file with a single slide.  If you think you want to print it out later on a large format printer then format the slide size to 24×36 or some other large size.  Then simply start inserting your electronically stored content.

Maybe the base plan goes into the center.  Place digital photos around the edges representing their orientation toward the plan.  Everything will need to be sized.  However, just get the elements into rough position.  The nice thing about electronic format is that you can size up and down and drag things into a different position.  If you want to add comments or thoughts from your notes, simply copy them from your electronic notes and paste them into text boxes in PowerPoint.  You can then move them around, size them, and even color-code them.  If there are pictures of ideas or elements that you want to consider, copy and paste them into the slide.  Size and position them where they belong.  If something is important, increase the size, make the font bold, or color the background so it stands out.

I tend to use the outside edges and corners for other things such as the client profile or color swatches.  If the clients give me pictures or clippings of things they like I can sample colors and build a color palette to work from.  I usually put the client profile in a corner so I keep it visible.  Other random ideas may come up and again I place those on the edges so I don’t forget them.  If I see where they fit in later, I simply drag them into position.

Just like using a wall or tabletop, you may run out of room or have to reduce the size of some content just to fit it in.  You can use the drawing tools to make lines, arrows, or other symbols to help you focus on elements.  This isn’t really any different than creating a mood board, concept board, story board, or any other display board.  The only real difference is that it is for your ideation purposes.

Two of the main advantages of the electronic project board are that you can easily update it with new ideas, pictures, or any other content and it is portable.  If I have it on my laptop I can take it with me and work on it whenever I have time.  If I get an idea for some portion of the design, I can simply pull up the file and make the addition.

Where I find real value in the electronic approach is in two techniques; versioning and focusing.  Versioning is essentially an approach where you create an initial project board electronically and then copy it to start modifying it.  Maybe you have a couple of ideas of now you might approach the design.  Make copies of the original project board and modify each copy for a particular design approach.  Each is a version of the original board but with a different design concept.  You can use these to make decisions or bounce ideas off your clients.

Focusing is a variation where you make a copy of the project board but eliminate everything not related to a specific area.  If you are focusing on the entertaining area, eliminate everything else and build on that project board as a separate piece.  You can repeat this for other specific areas.  This also allows you to scale things up since you are dealing with a smaller area.  When you are done you can copy in each of the separate pieces to the overall project board to see how they fit and work together.

The project board is really a tool for you but you can use it to bounce ideas off the client.  This is a form of versioning.  If I want to use my material for a client discussion, I make a duplicate copy of it and then tweak it for client presentation.  I usually have to take it to a print shop to have a large-format copy printed, but this gives me a working document I can use with the client for discussions.

Lastly, material from you project board is a like many other things, a candidate for reuse.  As you move into the project, some of your content may be repurposed for other portions of your design work, analysis, or client presentation.  Working electronically to compile all of your data and information will save you time, leverage your work, and give you more flexibility to explore alternatives.

Analyzing the client site is a much more technical, analytical task than the client analysis.  You are dealing with the physical and tangible.  However, there are often one or more vague elements.  There aren’t any personalities or egos or agendas to deal with.  Site analysis is also much more scalable.  By that, I mean you can adjust what you do to the scope of the potential job.  You don’t need a geological survey for a small job or updating some planting beds.

The real issue comes down to those big jobs that have a huge impact on the property and the client is potentially investing a lot of money.  You also have to watch out for the medium size jobs that have unusual site circumstances.  Site analysis comes down to a drawing a line that will make you comfortable that you know enough about the site for the scope of work and that you can avoid overlooking anything major.  It is also extremely helpful to understand the site well enough to develop some creative ideas.

I really do not like checklists.  They tend to make us think that we have covered everything just because we have gone through them.  In this case, though, I have compiled a comprehensive list of things you might or might not do as part of a site analysis.  The list is broken up into three sections:  Natural features, Man-made features, and Contextual features.

  • Natural features are those things related to the location and ground.  Even if the site was initially graded and landscape previously, the existing terrain, soil, plant materials, climate, etc. are all part of this section.
  • Man-made features are the structures on the site and any infrastructure supporting the site.  This also includes the architectural style and related detail of the structure including ingress and egress.
  • Contextual features are all of the surroundings of the site and now the site fits into those surroundings.

The list is as follows:

Natural features

  • Terrain (rise / fall of land)
  • Topography (record of terrain)
  • Slopes (steepness measurements)
  • Erosion (present / potential)
  • Directions of surface drainage
  • Areas of puddling / drought
  • Geology
  • Soil conditions / qualities
  • Existing softscape
  • Microclimates
  • Climate (regional macro)
  • USDA Plant Hardiness Zone
  • Sun / shade angles
  • Prevailing winds
  • Annual rainfall / snowfall
  • Depth of frost line
  • Off-site view

Man-made features

  • Existing buildings
  • Utilities
  • Paved areas
  • Existing hardscape
  • Existing landscape features
  • Building architecture
  • Building details (doors / windows)
  • Lines of force
  • Image / style
  • Access
  • Enclosure (screening)
  • Current storage spaces
  • Adjacent property development

Contextual features

  • Property lines
  • Setback
  • Zoning regulations
  • Deed restrictions
  • Covenants
  • Right-of-ways
  • Easements
  • Zero lot lines
  • Off-site noise / odors / etc.
  • Historical significance
  • Regional / local style

Since the type of data we are gathering for the site analysis is less subjective than client data, it lends itself to being recordable in a graphic or visual format.  Most of the data can be graphed, drawn, sketched, plotted, or recorded in some type of visual format.  If we can record the data in a central place such as over a base plan, we have the ability to summarize and consolidate the various types of data we collect.  I have two ways of managing the data and making it easy to manipulate.

The first is to use DynaSCAPE and take advantage of its layers feature.  I import the base plan as a graphic and redraw the elements I need.  This becomes my base plan layer.  After that, I work from my notes and transfer different types of data over my base plan using a different DynaSCAPE layer for each.  For example, anything dealing with terrain, slope, or topography goes on one layer.  I may use another layer for microclimate data.  The number of layers and the way I group or merge data will depend on how much data I have and how finite I want to break it down.  When I am done, I can use DynaSCAPE to select various layers in combination to see how they impact or interact with each other.  For example, I might look at how the lines of force overlay the topography.  The base plan layer is always selected to give a reference point to the view.  However, mixing up and combining different layers of data allow you to see how site elements influences one another.

The second method is to use Microsoft PowerPoint.  I insert a graphic of the base plan onto an initial slide.  I then duplicate that slide for the number of times that I want to create separate overlays.  Then I follow the same process as above.  I use PowerPoint drawing tools to layout various site elements one slide at a time.  Mixing and matching gets a little more tricky with PowerPoint.  If I want to combine two elements, I will duplicate the slide for one of them and then add the overlay graphics for the second set of elements to the new slide.  Working this way with PowerPoint is doable and in some cases can be easier but you have to be a little more careful and manage your individual slides so you know what you have.

Both of these methods work.  They both can be tedious.  However, the real power of analysis is the ability to combine different kinds of data and information.  The results can be well worth the effort.  You may not always know which layers of data to combine.  It sometimes comes down to looking at the individual components and giving some serious thought to how that might affect one another.  You might have an area with drainage issues that you need to deal with but easements could constrain how you address those issues.  There may be opportunities to use the existing structures and lines of force to create a compelling space layout but the pattern of sun and shade in the space may preclude that solution.  You have to think about the information and go through the analysis.  That is really the point.

One other advantage to the DynaSCAPE method is that when I get to preliminary design I can pull some of my analysis layers to the preliminary design to see the impact.  For example, I may look at how prevailing wind or sun / shade angles to make sure they are fitting into my design correctly.

My last point is to not forget reusability.  Any graphic or visual you create for one client can be copied over the base plan for another client.  Don’t recreate the wheel.  Save your time for the in-depth analysis of your data.

One of the dilemmas that a designer faces is ascertaining how much usable space a client needs and then converting that into a practical method of soliciting a decision from the client.  It is helpful if the client has some idea of the range of occupancy that they typically have over the course of time.  It might be two to four people on the deck or patio the majority of the time.  However, if you consider occasional parties or large family events, you have to plan for accommodating those large groups.

One project I worked on was for a couple who provided this breakdown of their usage:


Number of occupants

Percent of Usage

Required Usable Square Footage

Couple only




Couple plus neighboring couple




Neighborhood gathering




Family event




This is obviously a very broad range of usage.  The clients need to make a decision about how much space they are willing to live with and pay for.  I have found that tables of numbers really do not work.  I have tried adding columns showing the percentage change in size from one increment to the next.  I have added cost columns to show incremental costs.  Clients just cannot visualize how the size difference will affect them.  What makes it worse is that we are talking about usable space.  The client needs to allocate room for the table and chairs, conversation area, grill, pots, décor, and any other amenities they want to add.  Granted some of the space such as tables and chairs is accommodation space but it fixed space that is not flexible for rare large group events.

The technique I have had the most success with is using a series of canned plan views that I created in DynaSCAPE.  I used these to create visual space and occupancy diagrams.  These drawings are in different size and layouts.  They each contain some amenities such as tables, chairs, grills, conversation areas, etc.  I pick one that is closest to what I need to demonstrate for the client and then modify it as necessary.  If my canned plan does not have a spa and the client wants one, I can quickly update my DynaSCAPE drawing and use it for my demonstration of space utilization and occupancy.  A sample plan is shown below:

Canned Plan for Visual Presentation

Canned Plan for Visual Presentation

The plan above is useful for demonstrations for several reasons.  It is six hundred square feet in total.  Each square is ten by ten or one hundred square feet.  That readily translates into space for four occupants using a standard of twenty-five square feet per person.  In this example, the table area will accommodate six.  The fire pit seating area in the upper left will accommodate at least four.  Two occupants could use the lounge chairs.  The rest of the space is open with the exception that the grill area could be limited if it is in use.  This plan is roughly three hundred square feet of open space and three hundred square feet of used space.

After prepping my canned plan, I export it from DynaSCAPE to a jpeg file to be imported into PowerPoint.  All of my canned plans are the same scale so I have some previous PowerPoint files that already have the appropriate symbols on them to show space and occupancy allocation.

In PowerPoint, I add colored circles and other rounded shapes to mark out occupancy.  Single circles represent twenty-five square foot space allocations for an occupant.  The canned plan above after updating is shown below:

Visual Space Utilization Presentation

Visual Space Utilization Presentation

With this graphic, it is easy to talk through the possible usage issues with the client.  You can visually see the impact of how guests will occupy the space and utilize the available area.

This technique is extremely quick.  DynaSCAPE allows you to quickly modify your canned plan for any special features.  Using PowerPoint for the color overlays permits you to reuse previous files you have created and quickly make modifications.

I find this type of visual presentation tool much more effective than the table of numbers.  It is much easier to get the client to discuss possible modifications or space increases because they can readily see the impact on their outdoor space.

Reusability and Consistency

September 23, 2009

In numerous posts, I have stated the benefits of reusing materials.  When you are creating a proposal, it is usually easier to edit an old one and modify it than to start from scratch.  Maybe on old mind map or adjacency analysis from another job can be reused.  If you take advantage of the deliverables and analysis you have already done, you can leverage your time.

Reusing materials has another advantage though.  It leads to consistency.  After I create my initial proposal or client report, each time I modify it, I carry all of the same formatting and appearance features forward.  That means that all of my client correspondence looks the same.  This makes you look professional.  When clients get materials from you they know what to expect.  They are familiar with your documents.

Reusing materials can be taken to an even more granular level.  In my prior to posts I discussed using base plans and digit photos as tools you could use to overlay with text and graphics for client presentations.  When you use this approach, you could use many tools.  I usually prefer PowerPoint.  It is easy and very flexible.  However, it has another advantage.

If I am working on a new set of digital photos for a client, I car reuse the graphics and text from PowerPoint slides I created for another client.  This is simply a matter of have both sets of PowerPoint slides open at the same time and copying select graphics and text from the completed set to the new set.  You will have to modify the text, reposition the graphics, and adjust the color.  However, you are not starting from scratch.  You are reusing previous work and leveraging into new content for another job.

I did a lot of personal computer software training in the past.  The most beneficial lessons in an introductory course are those related to reusing what you have already done.  At a very basic level simply copying and pasting text or graphics within a document are part of this concept.  Copy and pasting between documents takes the concept to the next level.  Opening an existing document, modifying it, and saving it under a new name is the highest level.

The concept can be applying to almost any software media.  In complex DynaSCAPE plans this may not be possible.  However, I have had opportunities to pull specific plant materials and other figures from one drawing to another which saved a substantial amount of time.

Throughout this blog, I have promoted an approach that requires more complete analysis and documentation.  This implies a certain amount of overhead in terms of time and effort in pre-design work.  The additional leverage that reuse can provide will help offset some of this additional time.  In addition, once you create some of the basic analysis documents and templates they are reusable so you are not always starting from scratch.

Reusing materials will save you time.  You get the added benefit of more consistent materials.  As your library of materials grows, opportunities to leverage your materials increase dramatically.

Leveraging Digital Photos

September 22, 2009

My previous post about “One-pagers” suggested overlaying the base plan with graphics, pictures, text, and other elements to use in client meetings, discussions, feedback sessions, and so forth.  “One-pager” reports don’t always have to be one page.  You can break the base plan into two pieces or more if you need to present more information.

You can use the same type of approach with digital photos when preparing reports and findings for clients.  You can use digital photos with overlays to show ideas, emphasize problem areas, depict alternatives, as so forth.  There are landscape design specific software packages available that allow you to manipulate photos, changing structural appearance and adding softscape and hardscape elements from their digital library.  DesignWare is one example.  These packages are excellent tools.  You can create very realistic renderings of what a landscape will look like with some changes and additions.  However, the good packages tend to be expensive.  If you are into this method of designing they are probably well worth the investment.

Even without these software tools, you can use digital photos as part of your presentation.  You simply overlay graphic elements and label them to show what you want to communicate to the client.  I primarily use PowerPoint for this.  The process is relatively simple.

  1. Open PowerPoint and on a blank slide, insert the digital photo you want to work with.  Resize it to fit the slide as necessary.  Crop the photo to eliminate unneeded portions or to focus on a specific area.
  2. To highlight an area of the photo with an overlay, insert an appropriate shape on top of the photo.  You want to select the right shape for what you are trying to highlight or emphasize.  PowerPoint offers a myriad of shapes.  You will find them under the PowerPoint Insert command.  The basic ones, circle, oval, square, rectangle, and triangle usually do the job.  Do not worry too much about getting it in exactly the right position.  You can resize it and position it more carefully later.
  3. The shape will be drawn using the default colors for new shapes within PowerPoint.  You will probably want to change this, so simply right click on the shape and select Format Shape from the pop-up menu.  This can be the tricky part.  You need to select a fill color and shape outline color that will stand out on the particular portion of the photo you are working on.  If you are highlighting green plant material, you might select a orange, red, or violet so the color stands out.  Once you choose the color, you want to set the transparency of the shape color so that the underlying photo shows through.  This will vary from photo to photo since the original picture may be very bright.  Try different transparency settings.  Usually something in the 30% range will work fine.  Again, you can readjust this later if you want.
  4. Once you have the color and transparency set you are ready to position the shape more carefully.  Simply click on the shape.  “Handles” will appear on each corner and each side of the shape.  Put you mouse pointer over the handle you want to move and slide the corner or edge in the appropriate direction.  Repeat the process until the shape covers the area of the photo that you want to highlight.
  5. Any final adjustments to color or transparency can be set by right clicking on the shape and selecting Format Shape to reset the color and transparency.

You can add text directly to the shape if it is large enough.  If you do this, you may need to adjust the text color.  You can also use PowerPoint to add a separate text box and an arrow to explain the shape.  Any text or arrows may need to be formatted with colors that will standout over the digital photo.  You can repeat this process to add more shapes and text as needed.  A sample of a photo I modified for some design ideas is shown below.Digital Photo with Shape and Text Overlay

The question you may have is why or when would I use this.  I sometimes use this approach at the ideation stage.  I make several copies of the slide with the picture and then modify them with overlays that roughly depict my ideas.  I have used this approach to highlight areas that need major work and for areas where there will be a major change or addition.  For example, a hedge that needs to be removed.  I simply use a picture of the hedge and put and rectangular box over it with appropriate text describing how the hedge will be removed and what will replace it or what it will open up.  You can also use the shapes to depict new objects.  For example, a rectangle for a fence or wall or a triangle for an evergreen tree.

For those who may be more adventurous, you can draw shapes to represent walkways, patios, and other objects by simply positioning them so they look somewhat flat, as if they are being viewed from the same angle the photo was taken from.  You have to think a little bit about the perspective of the photo when you do this.

This technique is a simple way to leverage any digital photos you may have taken of the client site.  You add value for the client by overlaying the photos with information that depicts your ideas, insight, and thoughts.  The photos then become valuable material for inclusion in your reports or proposals to the client.

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 Representative Graphic Thumbnail Bubble

Small Picture 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

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.

Repurposing Mind Maps

September 16, 2009

As mentioned in previous posts, I feel very strongly about the benefits of using mind maps.  They a great for taking notes, creating project plans, ideation, brainstorming, and other tasks where you need to connect unstructured information.  Where I think they get useful is when you start revising them and restructuring them to show new linkages and connections.

After a mind map is created, you can always add to it.  If I create one to take notes about a site, I may think of something that needs to be added later.  In addition to making minor revisions or additions to my mind maps, I usually convert them to an electronic format.  I primarily use Microsoft PowerPoint or Visio.  When it is electronic I can manipulate it easier which is where I get some of the really benefits.  A site analysis mind map will almost always be drawn with first level bubbles representing areas.  The subsequent bubbles note or expand on site features in the corresponding area.  When my initial mind map is complete and in PowerPoint or Visio, I frequently make a copy of it on another slide or sheet and revise the diagram to show another point of view.  I might revise it to put items in priority groups or revise it to show groups of similar issues, problems, opportunities, etc.  These types of changes are usually very fast and easy since it is electronic.  If the mind map is not too big you can also simply build a new one from scratch showing the different point of view.

Another technique that is again easy and quick is to color code the bubbles on the original mind map.  You could use green, yellow, red shading for example to represent a priority sequence.  Another example would be to color code problem areas and opportunity areas differently.  Within PowerPoint or Visio it is quick to use the format paint button to duplicate the color or other effect you are using.

You may sometimes have a need to combine two or more mind maps.  For example, putting the mind maps for site analysis and client needs into one mind map may be very useful from the standpoint of looking at the similarities and connections of data.  In these cases I find it is usually a judgment call as to whether it is easier to start from scratch or to cut and paste items from the two originals into a new mind map.

I have mentioned in previous posts that there is specialized software just for mind maps.  A list of packages can be found on Wikipedia [].  There may be advantages to some of these packages in the different automatic formatting and layout options they provide.  In most cases I find that PowerPoint or Visio are more than adequate.

The point is to look at the information from different points of view and perspectives to analyze all the aspects of the site, client, or whatever you are reviewing.

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

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

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

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.

Adjacency analysis legend

Adjacency analysis legend

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

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.

I am a big believer in visual tools.  Landscape designers use plan views, elevations, drawings, and other presentation devices to communicate their intent to clients.  However, there is a lack of use of visual tools by designers for their own analytical and decision-making purposes.

There are a number of tools designers can apply during the early phases of a project.  These tools will allow the designer to organize, analyze, and synthesize their data to make better decisions and make sure that nothing is overlooked.

We can consider tools as being hard or soft.  I consider hard tools to be paper, pencils, pens, markers, tablet PCs, laptop, desktop, or handheld computers, digital cameras, GPS devices, etc.  Even Smartphones can be included.  (I am actually writing this on a Windows-based phone.)

Soft tools cover a much larger range of things.  I include skills, techniques, methods, and software in this group.  An all-inclusive list of soft tools is impossible to compile.  However, if we look at some examples you will get a sense of what is in this group.  First, Using pencil and paper a designer may make a quick sketch the site and take baseline measurements.  Subsequently, the designer may transfer this sketch to a formal DynaSCAPE drawing.  Both are soft tools.  Second, the designer could create a mind map of notes from the client meeting.  This could be done on paper or with a handheld computer or similar device.  Again, back in the office the designer could transfer this to a specific mind map software package or to a generic software tool like PowerPoint or Visio.  Lastly, a designer could hand sketch some elevations of the site or take digital photos.

Soft tool usage is not about whether the tool is manual or electronic.  It is about using the tool.  The real bottom line with all of the tools is first, using them and second, how they are used.

It is one thing to take a stack of notes from the client interview and the site analysis, review them, and start creating the preliminary design.  It is another to take the same data, sort it, organize it, represent it graphically, manipulate it, analyze it, and then work through a process of evaluating design alternatives.  I know the second approach takes longer.  However, by going through the effort better decisions are made and the risk of an oversight is reduced.  Representing the data gathered graphically affords the opportunity to manipulate it visually to explore options and alternatives.  It also helps validate the designers thinking, which fundamentally is the source of the design.  All of the graphic, visual analysis also makes a great sales tool.  It demonstrates the thought process of the designer and their consideration of alternatives.


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