Bridging the Gap

Last night I was searching the web for landscape design inspiration and stumbled upon a blog post by noted landscape architect Steve Martino from Phoenix, Arizona. In his post, he was talking about lessons he learned early in his career, and something he wrote really caught my attention:

“Another lesson is the client can tell you what they want and your job is to say I understand what you want but this is what you need. To say this you need to understand the problems and opportunities of the site. It seemed that an ambivalent client is an open check book to do what you want. Even when working with a sophisticated client you must absolutely solve all clients’ program requirements which is the easiest part of the process; the hard part is refining the design to make it art.

My first thought after reading this was, “Wow! I could never be that direct with a client.” And then I thought, “Besides, you’re Steve Martino, people know and respect you. You can get away with that.”

But something about these words struck a chord with me, and I went back and re-read this portion of the post. As I read this again, “I understand what you want but this is what you need,” something inside of me clicked and I understood what Steve was saying.

Our clients don’t hire us for our fancy plans or graphic abilities. They hire us for our expertise. As a landscape architect, it is our duty to provide our clients with the best design we can for their site and conditions.

Sure, it sounds awfully intimidating to tell a client that what they want isn’t necessarily what they need, especially in this economy. But as a professional, we owe it to our clients to do just that.

Of course, there are ways to do this and not portray ourselves as cocky or arrogant. We must remember that we know things the client doesn’t, and if we educate our clients throughout the design process, we are almost guaranteed a happier client when the project is complete.

At the very least, we know in our own hearts and minds that at the end of the day, we solved not only the client’s needs, but we gave them something they should be proud to call their very own.

What really resonated with me was the last bit that Steve wrote in this paragraph, “the hard part is refining the design to make it art.

As designers, we truly aspire to create something beautiful though our designs. We mold the earth and create beauty where little or none existed before. Sometimes we wear many different hats: architect, designer, and hopefully artist.

Regardless of the term you choose, I’m proud to be a landscape architect and to be a member of a profession that strives to create a sustainable environment in every project we acquire.

As a new or seasoned landscape architect or designer, what are some of the challenges you have faced in your career? Would you be willing to share your experience here? If so, I’d love to hear about it.

Feel free to leave a comment below, send me a tweet, or even an email. I look forward to hearing from you. Have a great weekend!

Boyd Coleman is a landscape architect in Phoenix, Arizona. He can be reached on Twitter at @CDGLA or email: