Don't picture this

Features - Design/Build

You won't have to ask customers to close their eyes and imagine what their property will look like anymore. Design software does it for them.

July 15, 2013
Brooke N. Bates

A final design shows plants to scale.

A landscape architect might spend 10 hours carefully hand-drawing a design concept to present to a prospect. But when the average customer sees the blocks and circles on a traditional overhead plan view, all that hard work and painstaking detail becomes a maze of foreign symbols.

By trading in pencil and paper for a design software package, designers can shorten the process to quickly produce and revise realistic visuals that bring designs to life. The results, which leave less to the customer’s imagination, also end up shortening the sales cycle and synchronizing a more efficient process all around.

“Homeowners or end customers oftentimes have a hard time understanding the 2-D plan view,” says Joe Salemi, marketing manager at DynaSCAPE Software. “That’s why a lot of design/build companies are going to 3-D views to help customers visualize, and that visualization process is putting that sales close rate through the roof.”

Contractors or customers can pick specific plants, which can be inserted in a design for a realistic look.

Faster results.
Though the specific features vary, software tools simplify and automate often tedious design tasks: to offset a patio by six inches or to recreate common figures and symbols over and over again.

"Contractors and designers will be able to create and print precise drawings in any size or any scale," says Pete Lord, president of Drafix, creators of PRO Landscape.

"A user can quickly start with a CAD file, PDF file, physical survey/plot plan, or other formats to set up an initial base plan. From this point the contractor can easily design both residential and commercial projects that include plant material, hardscapes, water features, outdoor living spaces and more."

With one click, programs drop common plants, accessories and symbols from a library into a project, saving designers from drawing elements individually. That means they can complete more presentations more quickly, increasing the number of sales even possible.

“Going from a hand-drawn process to using a software application greatly increases productivity standards,” Salemi says.

“That will affect the amount of sales presentations you’ll be able to do. Just by sheer numbers, you’ll be able to get in front of way more people because the time savings is so massive.”

Where software really adds value, though, is where it goes beyond simplifying existing tasks to actually add functionality that can’t be captured easily by hand.

Some programs, for example, offer highly editable libraries where users can expand a catalog of cookie-cutter options by adding photos and customizing the variety, size, shape and color of every detail.

“Of course, designers want to produce something that’s unique,” says Anne Behner, sales manager at Visual Impact Imaging, which develops Earthscapes software.

“A Cleveland Select Flowering Pear is known for its pyramidal shape, so we can drag and drop a pear tree onto the design and, using the sizing or scaling tools, grab a hold of the top and just stretch it out.”

The design potential of technology enables far more speed, detail and customization on designs. When a customer sees the fuchsia of the flowers and the shape of the trees, they can visualize the change, rather than just imagine.

"Photo Imaging allows the designer to visually communicate design ideas to potential customers using pictures of their own home," Lord says. "You take a photo, bring it in to the software and simply drag and drop items onto the original photo. Most customers can’t envision the finished product and Photo Imaging helps the contractor bring design concepts to life."

“It’s visual, it’s realistic, but it’s also personalized,” Behner says.

“Now you’re taking an actual photograph of the client’s property and personalizing that design. You can even carry out the design creation with them right next to you so you’re creating this instant landscape makeover that the homeowner typically sees on TV, which gives them instant gratification. They have an emotional reaction, which does move them forward with the project.”

Design software allow designers to start from a sketch of a site plan to a lifelike rendering.

No imagination needed.
Krystal Bozarth, office operations manager at Land F/X, has seen software erase the doubt customers have when they wonder how illustrated symbols will translate onto a real lawn.

A photorealistic view lets them preview the final result, which propels them through the sales cycle. “An actual 3-D image gives people a lot more comfort in what the design is going to look like, as opposed to them having to imagine,” Bozarth says. “It gives a little bit more reassurance to the client that it will match their expectations.”

If the client does have changes, the revisions might take an hour of extra clicking and dragging onscreen, instead of another five hours erasing and redrawing.

Now, the design becomes more than just a pretty drawing; it becomes a responsive, living piece of data that can be repurposed, exported and used with other applications.

That’s why it’s crucial to evaluate design software beyond design.

Because much of the data can be exported and integrated with other applications – from estimating to billing to staffing schedules – Behner says shoppers should consider the file formats produced to make sure they’re generic enough to work in other programs.

“To take that step, you’re looking for design applications that mesh well with other software packages,” Salemi says.

Lord says PRO Landscape also contains the ability to create complete, professional proposals from either your Imaging or CAD projects.

"The contractor can set their own pricing and tax rates and even export to QuickBooks for invoicing and inventory management," he says. "Proposals can contain not only the quote itself, but materials lists, plant detail information, and a coversheet featuring the contractors logo and an image of the proposed project. This can be created, printed and sent, or sent to the customer via email with only a few clicks."

Since contractors are on the road a lot, being able to do work on the road is also important, which PRO Landscape Companion, avaialble on Android and iPhone tablets,  allows users to do.

"This allows the contractor to perform a number of tasks in a truly mobile environment," Lord says. "Companion is also closely integrated with the main piece of software (PRO Landscape) that runs on the contractor’s computer.

"This means that the contractor can actually create a design at their office on their regular desktop computer or laptop and then move that design over to the tablet for an editable presentation to the customer. The contractor can make any customer requested changes right on the tablet and then send the finished product back to the tablet if necessary."

The author is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.

Pictures courtesy of Land FX