December 20, 2011 at 3:18 am #158934
I have recently begun working on my own providing design and graphics services to maintenance companies, as well as comprehensive residential landscape design services. While we are hourly employees, we rarely pay attention to why we are asked to do something. Although I do know that I have spent countless hours redesigning a project or two, I never thought about how it was billed or the limitations of the original design.
What are some ways to protect myself from crazy revisions? So far the only things I have in place are: for commercial- approval of plant list prior to design commencement (because they never want to use ‘premium’ plants that they might have to replace due to freeze, etc), and for residential- preliminary, conceptual 30% plans. Sometimes though- if the residential customer just wants a conceptual design then there isn’t much of a check.
There are certain things that a ‘compentant’ landscape architect (or designer in this case 🙂 should not miss, and if so, should fix without charge, etc. What if we have miscommunication and our visions turn out differently from the clients? As far as the commercial- what if they just dont like where I placed a mass of plants, where they could be fine and still want it revised to show the community?
Do you have any insights or thoughs?
I appreciate your help in advance!December 20, 2011 at 4:26 am #158938
Seth Johnson BockholtParticipant
Amanda, I have been working in residential design for years and in my experience hourly is the only way to go, especially for the conceptual or design development phase. You hit the problem right on the head. If you and the client are not jiving by the completion of the conceptual phase, then really it won’t work between you anyway and it is time to get out. But if your clients are pleased with your concepts then they will be more open to allowing you to go further with CD’s. When approached by a new client sketch some things out in front of them to get their take on it initially, a little bit of evaluation of what their reactions are to some basic ideas can save you tons of time back at the office, Then the next trick is to work fast and propose several concepts so that they have options and are not shocked at the sticker price of the initial concepts. These people are not designers or artists themselves, that’s why they hired you in the first place and can be easily impressed so don’t get crazy with graphics. I like to keep the concepts all free hand and no color till I really know what the are looking for. Then to revise the selected concept and get their approval once again, this is where you really show your abilities graphically, once the basics of the design are set.
Have a small one page contract for hourly work up through design development. A short contract won’t scare them and will make sure that they and you are held to some basic expectations like, you will provide 3 concept sketches then revise within 1 weeks time. afterwards you will revise the favored concept and revise that revision for the final concept. Make sure they know revision meetings are billed, as well as design time. That helps them to make decisions. E-mail or mail your concepts a day before the meeting so they can think about it a bit not in front of you, and so they are not arguing with a spouse or something while your sitting right there. Then alway set a timeline like 1 week for the next revision meeting. make sure in your contract any printing or material costs are on top of the hourly rate.
I find that I can usually perform enough work in 4 hours between revision meetings, then one hour meetings and so within about 8-12 hours we have a final concept. Also concepts I usually only do on 11×17 unless its a real nice project.
I guess all I am saying is do everything you can to make your revisions early when everything is conceptual and free-hand. saves everyone time and money.December 30, 2011 at 11:40 pm #158937
Thank you so very much Seth!
All of these tactics are helpful and good reminders. 🙂 Sometimes I think we have a tendency to jump too far into things too quickly with our creative minds. Not every project needs to be a master plan to get the point across and the concept checkpoints and sketches really help our clients stay in touch with our thinking.December 31, 2011 at 12:45 am #158936
Andrew Garulay, RLAParticipant
Hourly is a nice way to go, but if you are doing residential in a competitive market, it is much harder to sell. The trick to doing contract price design is to define what you will do in a quantitative manner including how many meetings, how many revisions, … and what the hourly rate is for anything and everything beyond that.
I have been doing it with one meeting and one revision for several years. It is a little bit of a chicken and egg thing. You need the experience of doing it that way to be effective at selling it and getting it done within those perameters. It is hard to jump right in that way, but it works once you have it down.January 1, 2012 at 3:15 am #158935
Amanda, i have been working for myself for over 35 years and i have probably learned most things the hard way. i read your story a few times trying to understand what you are saying rather than what you are asking. Seth and Andrew have given you some practical advice, i can give you practical advice but i think it might be more beneficial to give you some philosophical advice. i specialize in residential projects and i charge hourly, it doesn’t matter if the project is a small back yard or a cliff side house w/ a budget that takes your breath away. if it can have some design significance in the way it solves site problems or deals w/ culture or the environment i want to do it.
I’ve recently started a blog which i hope will be helpful to young designers, i want to talk about design process, lessons learned and epiphanies based on my experience and observations. i think your issues are universal for a starting designer, you will find that many people will take advantage of you especially developers if given the chance. i will try to expand my response in to a blog post when i havemore time.
i don’t understand your employment situation, you say that you are working for yourself providing design services but you are an hourly employee. could you clarify this more because it makes a world of difference in the hat that you wear, your legal responsibilities and your loyalties. do you get to make design decisions and what is your basis for the decisions, budget, plants-on-hand or site problems?
when i think of you ‘working on your own’ i see several red flags in your story that you need to consider.
1. time is somebody’s money, you need to be aware of the implications of your time if you are working for someone else, they probably have another agenda than you. i try to get my staff to understand an urgency to come up w/ usable efforts.
2. clients don’t want to waste money on replacing ‘premium’ plants (exotic) that can freeze. Yikes, i don’t believe that you wrote that. you will find that most clients have worked hard for their money and they are making an improvement in their property and lifestyle. they usually don’t have money to throw away and they are actually looking to you to not have such things happen.
3. clients vision doesn’t match your vision, yikes again, I’m an old school modernist and i believe design is an act of solving problems and the beauty of the design follows the elegance of the solution. if you don’t have an understanding of the problems you can’t very well solve them, the clients program requirements, wishes and vision are the major part of the design process. it quite possible that the client’s vision is misguided because of site restraints or ill fitting preconceptions.
i have had clients give me magazine clippings and tell me they want that, it usually something that i hate, so i will ask them what about the photo do they like, the textures, the color, the pillows? i try to steer them away from preconceptions to looking at their site problems. the client can tell you what they want, it’s your job to tell them what they need. to do this you need to analyze the site to get an understanding of it limitations and opportunities. i consider myself a site-opportunist who is out to exploit the benefits of the site. the first thing i do when i go to a new project is ask myself what do the neighbors have that we can use.
when i first started in the field it was obvious to me that landscape design was arbitrary and divorced from the reality of the site. my first job was with a design-build contractor and i saw that landscaping was a situation where someone could spend an enormous amount of money and when they were done they could still have all the site prioblems they started with, it was eyewash where the client gets fleeced. my point is that your design needs to be beneficial to the client on several levels. A happy client is your best agent for referrals. you need clients to try out ideas on and to build your portfolio and your reputation. i have found that every project brings in another project.
4. designers should fix things they missed for no charge, not necessarily, unless it is an error, is there a situation that has affected you in your job?
i would venture that at your age you don’t really know what ‘crazy revisions’ are and how ‘comprehensive landscape design service’ can be. i typically revise my designs until i am convinced that i can’t make them any better, then they are ready to show the client, that’s what the design phase is to me, but this only happens after the client and i are on the same page and have mutual goals. i approach the design as a linear process where the client is involved, what is really good is if you can plant an idea that the client thinks is theirs.the easy part of a design is to solve the clients program needs the hard part is to make it art and i think that’s worth striving for if you plan to be a designer.
you should approach every project as if it will be your best design yet no matter what the budget is. if you want to be successful in this field you need a variety of tools and technical skills and design skills should be at the top. you can learn from every experience and entry level jobs at design-build firms can give you valuable experience even if you aren’t treated well. and you need to be sincere. 20 years ago i had a landscape architect working for me and i was looking at his design for a project and i said that i thought the design was pretty ordinary and that he was capable of doing better. he said he was but it was ‘good enough’ for that client, i fired him on the spot. just good enough should never be a consideration. this was really rambling and you may think I’m nuts. when it comes to billing for your time i think you need to evaluate the time you are billing to the client and ask yourself if the exact time spent had the value you are billing for. i learned that from my lawyer he would add up his hours and then bill for less time if he thought it was fair. i don’t bill all the time when i am learning something new or doing 3-D renderings because the renderings can be used in a portfolio and aren’t really necessary to sell the design. your time is cheap, you have lots of it, i think it more important to build your portfolio and gain experience than worrying about revisions, i hope this is of some help
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