Finding a landscape designer can be hard. There is no shortage of supply, but it’s difficult to know which landscape designer or architect will be the best for your project. Forget about the Landscape design awards as they are often a better predictor of how much you will pay for your landscape design rather than the quality of work they will produce. You can also forget about references. Let’s face it, a landscape design company is not going to provide you with references for a job that went bad, so you can be sure that any reference provided will be a good one. And forget about the online reviews because the good ones are often paid for and the bad ones are often from competitors.
So how dod you find the best landscape designer? A personal recommendation from someone you trust is by far the best solution but if you can not get one of those here are our 7 steps to finding the best landscape designer for your project.
Step 1: Define the personality of the landscape designer you want.
The landscape design process is not fast and it can be complicated, so having a good relationship with the landscape designer is going to be essential. If you already have the design mapped out in your head and nothing is going to change your mind make sure you don’t pick a landscape designer that is bursting with ideas, overly opinionated and strong-minded as it will only lead to conflict. If what you really want is someone to bring your predefined vision to life, someone to help execute your vision, that’s totally fine, but you need to be upfront about that with the designer.
Conversely, if you are open minded and want ideas, inspiration and direction, make sure you choose a landscape designer that can bring that level of creativity and positive energy to the landscape design process.
So personality match is the number one predictor of client satisfaction. Hiring a landscape designer that is a risk-averse, rule-following, traditional conformists and then asking for a bold and edgy design is going to result in a failed project, or at least a frustrating one.
Step 2: The best landscape designers are articulate, so test for it.
If the landscape design process is going to go well you and the designer need to be on the same page, so good communication is essential. What makes the best landscape designers standout is their ability to articulate design concepts and communicated complex ideas, either in words or with drawings.
Getting landscape drawings done usually comes at a cost and you don’t want to be paying large amounts of money before you decide which is the best landscape designer for your project, so we suggest starting with a call. In this call, you want to establish if the designer can listen, ask good questions and communicate effectively. You should also get a feeling for their enthusiasm for the job. If you are talking with a landscape design company for the first time and you feel they are disengaged, distracted and unenthusiastic you can expect that attitude to continue throughout the Landscape design process.
It can help to do a little homework on the landscape design process and the Encyclopedia of Landscape Design is a great resource. You don’t need to become an expert but it will help to have a top-level understanding of the process.
If you set aside an hour you can easily call six landscape designers, choose the best three and ask for an onsite consultation. These often come at a small charge but its well worth the money.
The onsite visit is all about establishing that personality match from step 1 and testing the landscape designers ability to visualise the potential of the space through the lens of the customer. Much of the time should be spent talking about how you, your family, your pets and the places and spaces that inspire you. These are important considerations that shape how you see the space and the designer needs to understand them so they can look at it through the same lens.
Step 3: Test for problem-solving abilities
Taking a tried and tested landscape design concept and squashing it into every design scenario might make things efficient for the designers, but this cookie cutter approach results in lookalike gardens that are unoriginal and often fail to address some of the core design problems of the site. You need to test for the landscape designers problem-solving abilities during the onsite consultation so that you can feel confident that your landscape designer can envision multiple scenarios and solve for them.
Having said that, it’s unfair to expect that all problems can be discussed and solved in a one-hour initial consultation. It’s reasonable that the majority of the design problems will be addressed in the many hours that the selected landscape designer will invest into the design, but you should pick one design problem and ask for some ideas to solve it.
For example, if you have a small yard and space is an issue, raise it in the onsite consultation and listen to what solutions the designer can suggest. You want curiosity to get the better of them at this point and you want to hear everything from custom bench seats with inbuilt storage buckets to hidden deck chairs and drop down daybeds. While the onsite consultation is not the time to go into detail on these landscape design ideas, the breadth of ideas is a good indicator of their creativity and problem-solving capability.
Step 4: Agree on the pricing structure for your landscape design project
The first thing to consider here is if you want a flat fee or an hourly charge. An hourly rate provides flexibility which is great, but a flat fee gives you certainty on the budget. Our experience has been that hourly rates can cause landscape design costs to stack up quickly. Hearing a small hourly rate is certainly less anxiety provoking than hearing a larger flat fee cost but you have to do the maths to see which option is truly more cost effective.
During the onsite consultation ask the landscape designer how many hours they believe the design process will take… and then add 30-40%. This 30-40% is not because the landscape designer is intentionally misleading you, rather its because you will make changes throughout the design process and that will extend the time required to complete the design. Given this, when you get an hourly rate for a landscape design it is up to you to account for the 30-40% additional time when doing the maths and that’s the reason we prefer a flat fee landscape design cost.
When a landscape design company provides a flat fee it is up to them to take account of the additional time required for changes and revisions in the flat fee cost they quote. Considering the landscape company has done many more landscape design projects then the customer they are much better placed to accurately estimate the time required and given that landscape designers are competing against each other to win the work you can feel confident that they won’t build in a huge buffer. Just make sure the landscape design company knows that its a competitive process and you are sourcing multiple quotes.
At the end of your onsite consultation, you will need to decide if this is a landscape designer you are seriously interested in working with and, if you are, you need to ask for a formal design brief and a fee proposal. While it can be tempting to ask all of the designers for a fee proposal and a design brief it’s actually just a waste of their time if they don’t have a good personality match for you or are not a good problem solver or communicator. These things will be more important than the price so if it feels like the designer is not a good fit for you don’t take it any further. Just thanks them for their time and focus on the landscape designers that are ticking the boxes from steps 1-3.
You can expect it to take 2-3 days for the design brief to arrive with a fee proposal.
Step 5: Review the design brief and fee proposal.
Once that fee proposal comes in you need to consider the cost with respect to the design brief. This is important. The design brief outlines the design problems that the landscape designer will be to addressing through their design and each landscape design company will have a different perspective on what the problems are. Given each landscape design company has identified slightly different problems, the complexity of the designs required to solve them will also be different and so you can expect the prices to be different.
You can not just look at the price. You have to look at the price in light of the design brief. Let’s take one simple example to demonstrate how the design brief can impact the cost of landscape design and the cost of construction also. That example is privacy.
Maybe you never specifically mentioned privacy as an issue to the landscape designer during your onsite consultation, but in describing the type of space you wanted you may have used terms like “sanctuary”. The best landscape designers understand what design elements are required to evoke different feelings in the people who visit the spaces they create and if you want to feel like you are in a sanctuary creating privacy is essential. The landscape designer who identifies this requirement will naturally incorporate design elements that others may miss and hence the cost difference, but all of this will be detailed in the design brief. That’s why you must consider the landscape design cost in light of the design brief to identify which is the best landscape designer for you.
Step 6: Ideation
By this stage, you have found a landscape designer that is a good personality match for you, is a good communicator and can articulate their ideas and is a good problem solver. You will have also identified which landscape design brief really meets your needs and agreed on a flat fee cost for your landscape design. Now you have to allow the designer time to ideate.
Ideation is the process of generating a large volume of possible solutions to a given problem and it’s important to allow complete freedom of creativity throughout this process. The best landscape designers will challenge your thinking and so be open to exploring new ways of creating space.
Step 7: Delivery and sign off
The best landscape designers ensure you will have all the information you need to move from the landscaping design process and into the landscape construction process. This may include;
Now you have everything you need to start the process of finding a landscaper and in our next blog, we will cover how to move from the landscape design process to the landscape construction process.