Methods of Inquiry

It should be apparent that there is much for the designer to learn about the clients, their site, and their house. Therefore, the designer needs to be well prepared for this first meeting with the clients. The designer should go to this meeting with a clear agenda of items that must be covered. If necessary, a set of notes can be organized be­fore the meeting to remind the designer of key topics that must be addressed.

The designer must also be able to accurately record the information and insights provided by the clients during the meeting. This can be done by careful note taking or with a tape recorder. The advantage of the latter is that it frees the designer from the burden of writing everything down and allows the designer to more fully participate in the discussion. Taping the conversation is also apt to be more accurate and allows the designer to replay it as many times as necessary to understand what was said. The taped information can be converted to notes sometime following the meeting.

Figure 5-7

Different people like different houses for a host of varied reasons. Design #N2855 (top), Design #N3461 (middle), and Design #N3452 (Bottom). © Home Planners. Blueprints available, 800-322-6797.

There are a number of possible ways for the designer to obtain the necessary information about the clients during their meeting. Each designer should consider these different methods of inquiry and determine which one (or ones) works best in any given situation. What might be appropriate for one designer or situation may not be suitable for another designer or set of circumstances. Ultimately, a designer should be able to use a number of these techniques to learn about clients.

Verbal Discussion Probably the most common method for gaining information about clients is through verbal discussion. This is a personable approach that engages

all parties and allows the clients to fully express themselves. The designer may permit the clients to talk freely or might direct the conversation with a series of questions. The clients should be given adequate time to respond to questions, though the designer may wish to interject from time to time to clarify points or ask other questions. In the end, the designer must be sure that the clients have discussed everything they wish to about their landscape and that they feel comfortable with moving ahead to the next steps of the design process.

Questionnaire Another form of inquiry is a written questionnaire. A questionnaire is a set of prepared questions that are organized on one or two sheets of paper (Figure 5—9). A question­naire ensures that meaningful information is asked of the clients in a clear, orderly fashion. When completed, the questionnaire gives the designer a record of information about the clients that can be referred to throughout the development of the design. A disadvantage of a questionnaire is that it is sometimes seen as being too formalized and impersonal in nature.

Some designers like to send a questionnaire to the clients before the meeting to stimulate their thinking. This gives the clients time to think more thoroughly about their responses. The designer then uses the meeting to review the clients’ answers to the ques­tionnaire and to clarify questions that either party might have. Other designers like to have clients respond to the questionnaire during the meeting as a way of directing the conversation.

Figure 5-9

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because it begins to suggest different ideas that they might not have previously consid­ered. It is also an effective method for the client to communicate what ideas or aspirations they have about the landscape. The adage that “a picture is worth a thou­sand words” is especially true for clients who are trying to communicate what ideas they have in mind or what kind of landscapes they find appealing. Sometimes, the de­signer may ask to borrow some of the photographs so they can be studied more closely during the early stages of creating the design.

Review of Designer’s Portfolio A similar method for learning about the clients’ preferences is for the designer to review examples of the firm’s past and present work. It is an excellent business practice for a designer to keep a portfolio of work that can be used for promotional purposes, for showing clients the designer’s capabilities, and for in-house record keeping (Figure 5—10). Although a portfolio can include many work examples, it is recommended that the portfolio include the following:

• A wide range of project types that vary in size, cost, and style

• Documentation of selected projects showing pictures of the design process from before the project started to its final completion

• Master plans and other types of drawings such as functional diagrams, detail enlargements, planting plans, construction details, sections, and so on

A review of a portfolio during this first meeting with the client serves several purposes. First, it gives the clients a chance to see what kind of work the designer has completed. Although the clients may be somewhat familiar with the designer at this point, the designer can nevertheless show a range of work that might expand the clients’ understanding of his or her abilities. Second, a review of the portfolio allows clients to comment on the designer’s work and to express opinions about what things they like or dislike. As with the other techniques discussed here, this, too, gives the designer insight about what will or will not be satisfactory for the clients. Last, a re­view of the portfolio permits the designer to explain how a project is undertaken and some of the thinking that goes into its development.