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  • Writer's pictureEric McQuiston, PLA

Landscape Design - What do you need?

3D design might sell, but does it help your bottom line?

Recently, there's been a surge of interest in landscape design within the contracting industry. Many are curious about the costs associated with professional design, the best user-friendly software for achieving top-notch results, and whether having an 'in-house' designer is a worthwhile investment.


Drawing from over 30 years of experience in the landscape design/build field, I've worn many hats, starting from laborer to becoming a licensed landscape architect. From digging holes to gluing pipes to laying pavers, I've been through it all. Through these experiences, I've gleaned invaluable lessons, chief among them being the pivotal role of a great design in ensuring project success, customer satisfaction, and financial profitability.


Let's unpack what design truly entails. While contractors might view design as a necessary yet cumbersome expense, it's crucial to understand its significance beyond being a mere hurdle. While some of the best ideas start as rough sketches on a napkin, translating those ideas into tangible solutions that clients can visualize and contractors can build, is where design comes in.


Design serves as both a blueprint for construction and a sales tool. It's the means by which professionals communicate their vision to clients. However, it's vital to distinguish between a plan and a sales tool. While 3D renderings are excellent for showcasing visual concepts and closing deals, they lack the detailed instructions necessary for execution.


Rendering a beautiful picture is one thing, but translating it into a feasible construction plan requires expertise. Climate considerations, soil conditions, land contours, drainage concerns, material availability and regulatory codes are just a few factors that must be addressed. That's where the expertise of a landscape architect or designer shines—they not only master software tools but also possess the knowledge and experience to navigate these and other complex design challenges. An architect will design the project and then render it, A renderer starts at the end result but offers no method of achieving it.


There is nothing worse than presenting a solution to a client and having no idea how to build it let alone what materials you will use.


Now, to address hiring a designer there are some things to consider. An 'in-house' designer, if competent and skilled, can significantly contribute to a company's bottom line by generating substantial sales. I believe a skilled sales/designer should generate $750k - &1.25m in revenue for the company they work for. Their role justifies the overhead costs, typically around 20%. They should be capable of producing at least $5k of work for every hour spent on a project, NOT hours on payroll. It is your job as the business owner to supply the sales leads. Similarly, freelance or contract architects who provide comprehensive design services should be considered as a percentage of the final project cost, generally around +/- 10% for full design, rendering & construction drawings or less for schematic plans and much less for simple 3D renderings that will require you to determine materials, quantities and methods of installation. In essence, quality comes at a price.


While a flashy 3D rendering might impress, it's the practical, executable designs crafted by seasoned professionals that truly add value to a project. So, when considering your design needs, remember: invest in expertise, not just eye candy.


Feel free to contact me for a more in depth discussion.

Best regards,


~ Eric

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