Design on demand

Features - Design software

Landscape design apps and online design services can help contractors streamline their process and close leads faster.

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June 6, 2019

Design software can help bring client ideas to life.
Image courtesy of Yardzen

Getting clients to visualize the landscape you want to build is critical to winning a project. But, even if you have a design background, it can be challenging to put your plans on paper in a way that compels the average homeowner.

For contractors like Melissa Marie Wilson, founder of San Francisco landscape firm Green Gardens, finding the right design tools to illustrate ideas is key. Wilson has designs in mind after meeting with potential clients, but she’s quick to admit she’s “not much of a sketcher,” so she tried subcontracting architectural drafters to create technical drawings for her.

Unfortunately, they “were so inundated with work that they would take weeks or months to respond, or not show up to client appointments at all,” Wilson says. Even if she got a draft, the flat drawing didn’t show clients the full picture.

“Clients wanted to see something that wasn’t a 2-D drawing,” she says. “We were making photo collages and using samples of wood, stone, and plants to make our ideas tangible, but we still needed a better visual.”

Then, last year, Wilson discovered an online landscape design service that helped “bring the design to life” in a photorealistic 3-D render. “It opened the door to the visual conversation we can have with clients,” she says.

Whether your landscape firm needs to streamline your design process or outsource it altogether, there’s an app for that.

Save time with realistic design.

As owner and landscape designer at Luper’s Lawn Service and Landscape Design on Hatteras Island in the Outer Banks, North Carolina, Anita Luper needed a way to accelerate her design process so she could grow her business.

“I was doing everything how you did in the old days – going to the property and drawing everything in my own hand-scribbled drawing,” Luper says. “It was very time consuming, and it didn’t really set the customer on fire.”

Most of the landscape design software options she explored were either too expensive or not intuitive enough. Then in 2014, she started using the landscape design app, iScape.

“Using the app, I’ve not only saved a lot of time, but (my clients) can really get a sense of what things should look like,” Luper says. “It’s a great selling tool.”

“It brings to life the idea you’re trying to create for the customers.” Anita Luper, owner & designer, Luper’s Lawn Service and Landscape Design

Luper visits properties to snap photos from every angle, then uploads those images into the iScape app on her iPad, where she can tap and drag to add photorealistic elements – like mulch, grass, fountains, lights, furniture and plants – from a growing library of products.

Now, instead of spending half a day drawing one design, Luper can produce a professional, realistic render in less than 15 minutes. Once potential clients see the design, they’re ready to make it reality. “It brings to life the idea you’re trying to create for the customer, and it definitely shortens the sales cycle,” she says.

Additionally, iScape just introduced a service where users can “Hire a Designer” by submitting a few images and details. A professional designer from iScape’s network of more than 50 partners will send back a design within one week. Eventually, founder Patrick Pozzuto says, iScape will also offer lead programs to connect contractors with consumers.

  • Learn more: Iscapeit.com
  • App Pricing: $19.99 a month for a professional subscription (or $99.99 for an annual subscription) that includes unlimited designs, project proposals, additional photo editing tools and more.
  • Design Service: Starting at $69 for a DIY design consultation, $99 for one concept design, or $199 for three design ideas.

Streamline a difficult process.

Other contractors use Home Outside, a landscape design app that spun out of Julie Moir Messervy Design Studio, a landscape architecture and design firm in Vermont. The app can import property plans or Google Earth satellite images to create accurately scaled designs.

Some contractors just use Home Outside to obtain accurate property dimensions without visiting the site, and then they design the landscape themselves using the app’s tap-and-drag feature. Contractors who want to offload more of the process can leverage Home Outside’s online design service.

Clients start by downloading the Home Outside app, where they’ll submit an online workbook that details their aesthetic preferences and landscape goals, then meet remotely with one of Home Outside’s designers through a screen-share session. Once their design is finalized, they’ll bring it back to the contractor to install.

Contractors who want to be more involved in the design process can guide prospects through the collaboration with Home Outside, helping the homeowner select specific materials along the way.

“Contractors who use our design service can have as much control over the design process as they are comfortable with,” says communications manager Jennifer Silver.

  • Learn more: Homeoutside.com
  • App Pricing: $2.99 for the mobile app and $24.99 for the professional desktop version.
  • Design Services: Partial property designs start at $999, and full property designs start at $1,399.

Bolster your business.

Wilson knew her sketches weren’t professional enough to present to Green Gardens clients, and waiting for drafters to produce technical drawings just held up the process. So, Wilson turned to Yardzen. To communicate her visions to Yardzen, Wilson walks through properties with a video camera while narrating her ideas and her client’s requests.

Yardzen’s technology extracts measurements from that video to render the property in 3-D, and then Wilson consults with one of Yardzen’s designers as they draft a plan that meets the client’s needs.

“We work with a lot of contractors who are completely capable of doing detailed designs, but they would rather delegate the entire design to us,” says Allison Messner, who co-founded Yardzen with her husband Adam last year. “Having a design arm through Yardzen really bolsters a contractor’s business. It allows them to offer design services, while focusing on the work that’s most profitable for them, which in most cases, happens to be installing designs.” Contractors might send their clients straight to Yardzen to purchase a design, or they might interface with Yardzen themselves and present the designs as their own. They also might decide to skip the design process entirely and opt to receive job leads through Yardzen.

“There’s a lot of anxiety on the part of homeowners about moving forward and investing in a landscape, and contractors can spend so much time and money bidding jobs without even knowing if that person is just a tire-kicker,” Messner says. “Design gets people unstuck, so if the homeowner has a design in hand, that changes the conversation.”

  • Learn more: Yardzen.com
  • Design Services: Partial (front or back) yard design for $995, full yard design for $1,495, or a botanical plan for $495.