MEETING THE CLIENTS

The next step in the process is for the designer and clients to meet face-to-face to dis­cuss the particulars of the clients and their site. This meeting should take place at the clients’ home to allow the designer to see both the site and house firsthand (Figure 5—4). A meeting at the clients’ house gives the designer an excellent opportunity to fully un­derstand the concerns and interests of the clients in their own setting where they are apt to feel most comfortable. It also affords the designer the best chance to obtain the necessary information to properly proceed with the subsequent design process. In some instances, it is acceptable or even necessary for this meeting to take place at the designer’s office. If this occurs, the designer will need to make a trip to the clients’ site at another time.

Client Information

The primary purpose of this meeting is for the designer to obtain essential informa­tion about the clients that will serve as the basis for the design solution. This informa­tion should include (1) family facts, (2) clients’ wants and wishes (initial program), (3) clients’ likes and dislikes regarding their landscape, (4) clients’ lifestyle and charac­teristics, and (5) clients’ observations about their house and site.

In addition, the meeting gives the clients and designer an opportunity to discuss the design process and design fees as they relate directly to the particular project. The meeting presents both parties with a chance to ask questions and to air whatever con­cerns they might have about the overall process. This meeting also allows the designer to see the site in person and to make initial judgments about it. Many times, the

Figure 5-4

Theinitial meeting gives the designer a chance to see the site and house in person.

designer will need to return at a later time for a more in-depth study of the site (see Chapter 7). The ultimate purpose of this meeting is for the clients and designer to reach a professional agreement for working together on the design of the clients’ site.

Family Facts The designer should obtain basic data about the clients, including the following:

• Family members and ages

• Occupation(s) of adults

• Interests of family members, particularly as they relate to outdoor activities

• Type and number of pets along with their use of the site

Clients’ Wants and Wishes The designer needs to determine what the clients envi­sion for their site in order to translate this into a “design program.” To do this, the designer should attempt to have the clients identify their wishes by means of general descriptions of what they foresee as well as specific spaces or use areas they want included. The general descriptions or “goals” tend to describe the feeling or atmos­phere that the clients want and may be phrased in statements such as the following:

“We want the front yard to be a place of inspiration and provide an attractive setting for our visitors.”

“We envision a garden as a haven from the busy world where birds and other wildlife will visit.”

“I foresee an environment where both family and friends can gather in a relax­ing atmosphere.”

The designer can use this information to help establish the style and character of the design. In addition, the designer should ask the clients to identify specific spaces or outdoor use areas that need to be included in the design. These wishes might be stated like:

“We would like a hot tub for four people in a fairly private place.”

“I want to have about 12 apple trees near the back of the property.”

“I want to have a multilevel deck instead of one main level.”

“We need an extra parking space near the detached garage.”

“We want a new area for entertaining, a large lawn area for children’s play, and a quiet sitting space near the tree in the backyard.”

The designer will use this type of information to create the design program (see Chapter 7).

Clients’ Likes and Dislikes The designer should find out what the clients like and dislike with regard to landscape design. Although there may be some overlap with wants and wishes, this discussion typically relates to defining the clients’ preferences with regard to design style, aesthetic taste, materials (both structural and plant mate­rials), and special elements or features. The intent is to begin to define the aesthetics and palette of materials of the landscape design. The designer might inquire about each of these topics to stimulate response from the clients. The designer should also keep in mind that it is just as useful to know what the clients do not want. In some in­stances, clients have only vague notions of what they want, but are able to clearly state what they don’t want.

Statements about likes and dislikes might be similar to the following:

“I would like something that is unique to me, but still looks like it belongs.” “We don’t want anything that stands out; we are a fairly conservative family.”

“I see the same types of fences on so many different homes. I want something that blends with the house.”

“If we could just have something rather simple, but different from others, we would be very satisfied.”

Some comments regarding likes and dislikes are specific and are often relatively easy to incorporate into a design program. Other remarks about likes and dislikes may be more general and open to interpretation (Figure 5—5). Comments that include words such as “special,” “unique,” “different,” or “conservative” are subjective and reflect the clients’ thoughts about their proposed project as they envision it.

How should a designer interpret these types of subjective statements?

How does a designer transform comments like those stated into meaningful and usable design information?

How does one incorporate these interpretations into the proposed design solution?

Carefully, very carefully! The word special to a layperson can mean something different to an experienced designer. The words unique and different to one person may mean something else to another. It is important to seek additional information in order to clarify subjective comments. The following questions are examples that can be asked to gain more objective information.

Original statement:

“I would like something that is unique to me, but still looks like it belongs.” Clarification questions:

“Can you define unique more specifically?”

“Do you want the design to reflect special things that you prefer, such as mate­rials, patterns, or colors?”

Original statement:

“We don’t want anything that stands out; we are a fairly conservative family.”

Clarification questions:

“Can you give some examples of things that stand out to you?”

“Can you elaborate on the word conservative Original statement:

“I see the same types of fences on so many different homes. I want something that blends with the house.”

Clarification questions:

“Can you describe the sameness that you refer to in these other places?”

“What does the word blend mean to you?”

Original statement:

“If we could have something rather simple, but different from others, we would be very satisfied.”

Clarification questions:

“Can you talk about or show us examples of what simple means to you?”

“What do you mean by different? Different than what? Are there things that you really don’t like and therefore want yours to be different?”

These are just some examples. It is very important to have a better and more thorough understanding of what the client thinks and says. Questions alone may not always be enough. For a designer to get a better picture of what the client is thinking, it often takes actual pictures to stimulate additional comments. We have found that many subjective comments made by clients tend to relate to their concern for the de­sign character or appearance of elements in the proposed design.

Clients’ Lifestyle and Interests Additionally, the designer should try to determine the clients’ lifestyle. That is, how do the clients currently use their house and site, and how might this change with an improved landscape? The designer might ask ques­tions such as these:

How will you use the site around your house?

How much do you entertain and for whom?

How large are your social events?

Will you cook or eat outside? If so, how often?

Do you have any outdoor hobbies?

Do you like to garden?

What recreational activities do you enjoy outdoors?

Clients’ Site Observations The designer should ask the clients to define what they think are the assets and problems of the site. Even though the designer should still conduct a thorough site analysis (see Chapter 7), it is very helpful for the designer to get the clients’ insight as well. In fact, the clients are quite likely to know more about the site than anyone else because they have lived with and observed the site through the year in different conditions. Some site conditions may only be apparent to some­one who has observed the site over a period of time. The designer should take advan­tage of this unique insight and use the clients’ observations.

Clients’ Architectural Observations Finally, it is very helpful for the designer to seek the clients’ insight about their house and its architectural style. As with the site, the clients’ thoughts and observations about their house can provide valuable infor­mation that might provide ideas for developing the site master plan.

First, the designer should ask the clients whether or not there are any interior features that are of special interest. For instance, Figure 5—6 shows a section through several rooms of a house. In this particular house, the clients like three special things. They are: (1) the archway and trim detail in the room on the left, (2) the angled roof and window pattern in the great room, and (3) the white stucco finish on many walls of the house. This information should be well documented, for it can be used later when materials, patterns, and trim details are studied.

In addition to getting comments from the clients concerning the interior of the house, it is also important to get their remarks as they relate to the exterior architec­tural character. They will likely point out particular aspects of their house that influ­enced them to select it. As you can see from Figure 5—7, different people will like different aspects of the architecture. Some are partial to roofs and windows, others to specific materials and colors, and still others to special features such as porches and chimneys. In any case, documenting their likes and dislikes relating to the exterior character is as crucial as documenting their comments concerning the interior.

It is helpful to discuss the architectural character while you are walking around the exterior grounds (Figure 5—8). Being able to discuss ideas as you point to certain archi­tectural features can be beneficial. In addition, it is more effective to speak about land­scape design possibilities while you are outdoors. For instance, it would be very easy to understand the following statement made by the designer as it relates to the house in Figure 5—8: “Since you have both identified the arched window as your favorite form, it is easy to conceive that form being used in the major patio area, in the pool area, or in the arched entry way into the garden from the side yard. The patterns in the upper win­dow may provide an opportunity to use some irregular cut stone in the design to estab­lish the same kind of contrast.” Discussing ideas as you look at the architecture is very helpful. Again, make sure that comments made regarding any specific aspect of the ar­chitectural character, whether inside or outside, are thoroughly documented.