Does client input really limit the vision?

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums GENERAL DISCUSSION Does client input really limit the vision?

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    Lily-Love Toppar

    Intelligently assessing the client’s needs is critical in designing a usable, functional and sustainable design. Based on opinions of many design article writers, the architect usually focuses on his vision and personal artistic goals to the extent that the client’s desires become secondary.


    The other side of the coin establishes the notion that architects have become infamous because of their zealous efforts to gratify their clients, resulting in bland and less imaginative designs. According to Robert I. Sutton, writer in the Harvard Business Review, though it may seem counter intuitive, “clients can’t always imagine what’s possible” and their input may therefore limit the vision. Ted Hoff, an inventor of the microprocessor, therefore stated, “don’t do what the customer wants; do something better.”


    I wish I could agree more with Robert Sutton and Ted Hoff. Though it might be true that clients are not creative enough to “always imagine what’s possible”, they are the ones who will be staying in the building or using the site, at the end of the day.


    We as designers (architects and landscape architects) should strive to balance the two notions. We should be the voices of our clients, and creatively translate their ideas/dreams into a reality.






    Creating a firm culture that supports innovative design. By Andrew Pressman, FAIA. February 2008.





    Heather Smith

    “don’t do what the customer wants; do something better.”

    I think you could say that this means that you expound upon what the client wants. I don’t like the idea of creating a design in “my image”…haha. I think a good designer should be able to incorporate what the client wants while creating a vision that they can get behind. Could I do this? I don’t know. 😉 My husband and I were talking about this today in regards to our design/build business. One reason I think we have been successful in our region despite a recession is that he is continually communicating with the client about ideas they have and takes those ideas and builds upon them. He creates a landscape that is unique to them. So far, his designs don’t all look the same but are unique because he is working for individuals.

    ALEX P

    I think lily said it perfectly. Most normal people (dare i say non graphic people) dont know what they can have.  They come in with some generic photo pulled out of garden design magazine and want that, yet they dont realize the amazing potential lurking in the designers head.  Just because you are doing something better doesnt mean you leave the client out of it.  This could be a way to get the client energized about good design which could translate to many other realms of their life including eating organic local food, to using a good font when writing emails, or writing letters.  See… its all connected.

    Alan Ray, RLA

    try this, ignore the client and see how long you’re in business…..that’l show em.

    I go behind other LAs all the time because they didn’t do what the client wanted….

    You can give the client what they want with style and finess that’s why they hire you. they

    do know that you can help them otherwise they’d do the design themselves….most never implement a plan

    that does not address their program…be smart, you’re after all designing for the client not yourself, if you think otherwise then good luck unless your name is Pei or Halprin …

    always show the client the optimum design and show them how their program fits and how to phase it to reach the optimum condition….it works for me….

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    Well, there is no right answer to this in my opinion. Some people hire a designer (architect, LA, clothing, whatever,..) to get a “brand” or a “name”. Some hire facilitators who will get them to understand their own needs and work with them and take on their aesthetic values. Those are the extremes, but there is always another point between two points. The former has a very limited market while the latter can be limited because of that fine balance between never ending hand holding and a design fee that is affordable.


    I think it is fair to say that landscape architects are, in general, much more preprogrammed to adjust to clients as most everything we deal with requires assessment and adaptation. We need to adjust to climate, soil, light conditions, drainage, some architect’s building (LOL), … everything. When architects don’t have enough room for a closet, they make the room bigger, …. they are always in control of their design and the reputation is that many know any other way. We tend to habitually assess and adjust with people much more so than those in more of a habit of being in control of their media.


    We all have different types of client bases or markets. Most of my landscape design is in residential and my approach has changed over the last 30 years to much more of a facilitator than a dictator. I do what I want to do in order to meet the needs of the client, but that is after I get on the same page with them. I feel like it is all my ruthless dictatorship, but my clients are equally sure that it is their design that I helped them with. It works for me, but in no way do I believe that this is the only way that it is done, nor the only way it should be done.


    I think that it shows great strength in a firm that has its brand and can sell it. I happen to need to sell more than any brand that I may or may not have established.

    Nick Mitchell

    I like Pei and Halprin, but besides that well said. The client is your benefactor. Never loss your creativity but sometimes you can’t always get what you want, you can try sometimes and you might find you get what you need. 


    I always have thought that if I can’t graphically convey my idea to the client in a way that can’t convince him, I am either A, not doing a good enough job in a way he/she understands or B, its just a bad idea.

    Alan Ray, RLA

    sometimes you can reinvent the wheel and sometimes you can’t….experience will tell you when each is or is not appropriate.

    It was real important to me that I establish myself as a good designer in my younger days and it served me well in that 99% of my work now  is referral…in the early days of my career I was able to win several ASLA awards, a national design competition, and even an AIA award, imagine that!  so what?  I can’t cash those at the bank….

    Today, I could care less about awards. I havent submitted  a project in over 20 years…I don’t need a jury of my peers telling me how good I am……What I do care about is making my clients very glad they hired me….this keeps the referral ball rolling…..

    So, like Andrew, I’m more of a facilitator and I am enjoying my work more than ever…..have fun or find something else that you enjoy….life’s too short.

    mark foster

    Well said everyone. My two cents worth:

    No two clients are the same, and every project relationship is different.  It’s part of what makes this profession so interesting (the psychology of this is a topic all it’s own)  Thanks for the concept of  “facilitator”.  It is very apropos–especially with clients who have strong opinions!    At every level, I find that what clients want most (beyond your knowledge and experience) is truth–even the bad news. 

    We should always push beyond a clients vision (otherwise, why would they bother?).  I believe neither extreme (designer dictator vs. designer sycophant) is good.  It’s where we stand in the grey area in-between that we all have to decide for ourselves. 


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