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.


The ultimate in validation would be measurable benefits for your client when the project is done.  What would those benefits be?  How do you measure them?  What are the measures?  I am not talking about cost/benefit analysis.  Landscape design is too esoteric for that.  Too many benefits are intangible.  You may save the client money with your design approach or reusing materials, which certainly are benefits, but that is not the type of benefit I am referring to.

Let’s start with a classic client interview question.   “What will be different, better, etc. when your landscape project is complete?”  Your client can give you a multitude of answers.  Most of us ask this question seeking to identify client needs.  If we know what the client wants to be different or better, we have defined a need that can be addressed.  But is there anything in the client’s response that is measurable?  Is there a benefit we can measure and track to show how we improved it for the client?

When I stop and think about this question I think there are things you could measure.  If a client asks for a quieter space, you could do ambient sound measurements before and after.  If a client asks for more entertaining space you could measure the space pre and post project.  But are these examples really the benefits we are looking for?  If I could measure the client’s satisfaction with their outdoor space when I first interview them and them measure it again after the design and install is complete, I would have a valid measurement of the increase in their satisfaction.  Unfortunately, satisfaction measures are intangible.  Getting rave reviews from the client is great validation but you are relying on your design to come through and for the client to actually give you those kudos.

There is a benefit for you in thinking about your client’s benefits at the beginning of a project.  Let’s take a look at a couple of examples.  Assume the client is complaining of a lack of shade in their current entertaining space.  During your site analysis you could do some calculations and measurements and determine that the existing space has ninety square feet of shade on an average day between May and August.  If your design increases that, you have the data to present to the client during the design review that your design increases the entertaining space shade from ninety to one hundred seventy square feet, almost doubling it.

Another example might be an unsightly view.  Depending upon the circumstances you may be able to say that you were able to partially or fully obscure it with your design.  There are other ways to handle this.  First, a digital photo of the current view can be overlaid with a drawing showing the fence, softscape, or whatever approach you are using to obscure it.  With 3D design software you would be able to pan around the area and show the client the new view.

Having benefits that you can address gives you an opportunity to use the Feature / Function / Benefit approach in your proposal.  Addressing many specific benefits may also allow you to be more aggressive in your pricing.

This comes back to the real fundamental issue, validation is making sure that client needs are addressed in the design.  Having a design objective that is a benefit for the client, and preferably one that is measureable, makes validation even easier.

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.

An important result from a space adjacency analysis is the linkages between spaces that you find.  Spaces that are linked can often be treated as single units when you begin functional design or conceptual design.  An equally important finding is the lack of linkages.  White space in the adjacency matrix means design freedom; few constraints in how components can be arranged.

Imagine a client who wants a dining area, a conversation area, and a pool area.  Within each of these spaces are sub-spaces.  The dining area in this example is to have an outdoor kitchen and the table / dining area.  The conversation area needs to include a large gathering space around a fire pit, a table for games or a small group, and a smaller more intimate area for more individual or casual use.  The pool area must include the pool, pool equipment/storage space, lounging area, a cabana, and potentially other amenities such as a pool area kitchen/bar and outdoor showers.

The space adjacency matrix for this project would list the elements individually because they serve different functions.  However, if you think about it, every component of the pool area is going to have high adjacency requirements with all other pool components because everything is associated with the pool.  The conversation area with its three areas is also linked as are the dining area components.  The space adjacency matrix will reflect these relationships:

Initial Space Adjacency Analysis

What we are seeing is the interrelationships of the three areas and also a lot of white space.  Large areas of white space in a space adjacency matrix usually mean a lot of design freedom to position and arrange the areas.  On the surface you would think we are dealing with the relationship between three spaces not a dozen sub-spaces.

We could think about how we are going to functionally position and arrange these three spaces as large units.  However, you cannot entirely eliminate the details of arranging the individual components either.  There are a couple of issues to consider.  First, one or more individual components of the large space may require special attention or have a negative adjacency relationship with the other spaces.  A prime example of this is the pool equipment.  We don’t want to position the pump, filter, and heater near the other entertaining spaces.  If we update our adjacency analysis to reflect this, we can see that we still have quite of bit of white space to work with:

Space Adjacency Analysis with Specific Negatives

Second, you can perform space adjacency analysis within each of the larger components, but it is difficult to know how to functionally arrange those components without having an idea of the overall functional arrangement.  The white space we are dealing with effectively represents the relationships between the three areas.  Those areas need to adjoin one another in some form so they are contiguous.  If we highlight our space adjacency analysis with the portions of the matrix that impact each of the three areas we get a better sense of how they are interrelated:

Space Adjacency Analysis Highlighting Areas of Design Freedom

This becomes a chicken or the egg problem.  It would make sense to work on the overall functional arrangement first and then deal with the functional arrangement within the individual space components.  However, you still have to look for those negative relationships between the larger spaces that are created from the specific functional space components (i.e., the pool equipment).  At a macro level we have three space adjacencies to deal with.  Within each of those three spaces we have micro level adjacency issues.  Those micro level issues impact the macro level.

The problem we have not considered at this point is the client’s preferences.  In this particular example the three spaces each has the potential for having a fair amount of client preconception as to where the space should be.  The pool is an obvious example of this.  Many clients are going to want the pool prominently positioned so it is the first thing you see when you enter the space.  A few clients may feel differently and want the pool away from the main entertaining area, visible, but not integrated into the other areas.  Most clients are going to want the outdoor kitchen and dining areas near the house to facilitate food preparation and serving.  The conversation area is probably less likely to be subject to predisposition unless there is a particular place in the area with a great view or attractive is some form or fashion.  All of that white space gives us a high degree of functional design freedom within the constraint of how the client plans to use the space and how they see the space relationships.

Space adjacency analysis is not a science.  There is a fair amount of logic and common sense in the process.  You don’t put things next to each other that conflict.  However, you have to also think about the adjacency from the standpoint of the client’s preferences and perceptions.  As a designer you can figure out what makes sense and what does not.  The art is in understanding how the client wants the space to feel, perform, and look.  However, neither of these steps, logic or client preference, are mutually exclusive.  Nothing in the continuum between art and science precludes creativity.

When I first looked at this project the first thing I saw was the potential to integrate the outdoor kitchen with the pool area kitchen / bar.  There is a lot of potential to not only save the client money but also create a dual function space that could actually be used independently or in tandem.  As great as this concept might be it is subject to the client’s feelings and preferences regarding placements.

The link between validation and analysis is understanding and knowledge.  We have to know what the client wants and we have to use our experience and knowledge to analyze the needs and make appropriate design decisions.

The use of space adjacency analysis is more common in architecture than in landscape design.  This is primarily because buildings are built to serve a purpose; to house a business operation or a functioning family.  In the case of a business the building supports marketing, accounting, production, management, and other functional roles.  Within every company the departments or functional areas interact with one another.  Space adjacency analysis can facilitate the smooth operation of a company by optimally laying out the building space.  An architect cannot do this effectively without understanding the relationships between the departments or functional areas.  They need to know that sales and marketing work closely together, that production has to be isolated due to noise issues, and other interrelationships.

The saying form follows function is probably an apt description.  Positioning various functional areas within a building requires understanding the necessary relationships between the areas (space adjacency analysis) and understanding how much space is required.  Other factors come into play but understanding these basic things allows an architect to explore various configurations and layouts to meet the requirements.  The functional layout may suggest various forms that can be applied to the building layout and design.

Space adjacency analysis as it applies to landscape design should also look into relationships of functional spaces.  Understanding how a space is going to be used is necessary to develop the adjacency analysis.  Simply saying that we have areas A, B, C, D, and E is not enough.  We need an understanding of how the space will be used.  A client who wants an outdoor kitchen for use in preparing family barbeques and entertaining friends and neighbors is one thing.  A client who says “our kitchen is the heart of our home, we want the outdoor kitchen to be the heart of our outdoor space” is something completely different.  A request for a seating area can mean many different things.  Some clients may want a children’s play area close by and very visible in order to watch their children while other clients may want the space more distant to reduce noise and give adults some space of their own.

The point is that space adjacency analysis is driven by understanding the functions of each space and how those functions are related and how they may conflict.  When thinking through a space adjacency analysis it is important to keep in mind that the space is outdoor living space.  You have to understand how the client intends to use it.  The client may have more than one purpose for a space.  That is fine.  You can treat each purpose as a functional area and look for adjacency issues.  You will develop a better design by creating a layout that address all of the issues associated with every space.  That only happens if you understand the functions of each space in your adjacency analysis.

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.

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.