What is the Landscape Design Process?

Casandra Maier- September, 2021

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The same way an architect is needed to develop plans for a building or structure, a landscape designer is needed to develop plans for the landscape.  When major infrastructure work is needed, the stamp of a landscape architect may also be required.  These industries use the design process to arrive to their landscape solutions.

Most professional design processes are composed of six essential steps, including:

  1. Defining needs and problems

  2. Gathering data and info

  3. Brainstorming and analyzing

  4. Drafting solutions

  5. Feedback and editing

  6. Developing improved solutions       

Hiring a landscape designer means working with a professional to develop concepts, plans, construction documents, material lists, and plant lists for the outdoor space.  While there may be variations based on the designer's business model, clients can expect to navigate a standard design process when requesting landscape design services.  This article walks through each step of the design process as it pertains to landscape design.    

Step 1: Initial Consultation

The landscape design process begins with an initial consultation.  Many designers offer a complimentary 20-minute consultation to meet with potential clients.  This provides a chance for both the designer and client to see if they are a good fit to work together.  During this meeting, the designer gains an overview of the landscape project.  Clients have a chance to talk about their needs for the outdoor space, including: 

  • Goals

  • Intentions

  • Concerns

The initial consultation is also the time to talk about:

  • Project expectations

  • Scheduling

  • Production timelines

 

Upon assessing the project, the designer offers a selection of design services to facilitate the client's needs for the landscape.  As the meeting wraps up, the designer and client talk about a plan of action to move the project forward.  During the pandemic, many businesses have moved from in-person meetings to online platforms to adhere to social distancing measures.  A free 20-minute online landscape consultation is a safe and efficient way to meet with a designer and start the design process.

 

**Following through with the landscape design process may not be suitable for smaller budgets and DIY landscape projects beyond the initial consultation.  These projects save and get the most out of hourly consultation.  Many landscape designers offer online consultation at an hourly rate.**                    

Step 2: Proposals and Contracts

If the client indicates they would like to move forward with the project following the initial consultation, the designer drafts a proposal and contract.  Landscape design services are typically broken into two phases:

  • Phase One: Conceptual 

  • Phase Two: Administrative (optional)   

The initial contract typically covers phase one, which involves the development of a landscape concept and design.  Phase two is optional and involves the designer staying on through the project's build to offer additional administrative design services.  The contract and proposal also detail the:

  • Terms of service

  • Production start date

  • Production timeline

  • Cost of design services

  • Initial deposit

  • Required permits and approvals 

Clients are responsible for paying a deposit to secure a place in the designer's production schedule.  Be sure to read the proposal and contract so all the terms of service are understood before signing.  Please note that landscape design services do not begin until the client has signed the contract and paid the deposit.  The proposed production start date is subject to delay until the designer has received these items.  The best way to keep projects on track and avoid setbacks is to submit these items in a timely fashion.  Most landscape designers operate on a first-come-first-served basis.                  

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Step 3: Site Inventory

Site inventory is the next step in the landscape design process.  During this phase, the designer gathers more specific data and information about the project site, including:

  • Current landscape conditions

  • Design opportunities

  • Design constraints

  • Site images

  • Dimensions

Site inventory is performed multiple ways and depends on the designer's business model and contractual agreement with the client.  In some cases, the designer asks the client to provide basic landscape measurements and photos of the outdoor space.  This is typical of online landscape design services, where the design process is conducted remotely.  Remote landscape design services utilize the following to analyze the site and topography:

  • Online maps

  • Online databases

  • As-built documents

  • Detailed drone studies 

Many landscape designers and studios are adept at providing remote services, as they regularly facilitate regional and national design projects.  In other cases, the designer arrives on-site or sends a team of surveyors to conduct site inventory.  Currently, expect in-person site visits to require masks, proper social distancing, or zero-contact, as protecting public health and safety is the cornerstone of the industry of landscape architecture and design.  The way in which site inventory is conducted varies by designer, and is based on business model and project scope.          

                       

Step 4: Aesthetics and Preferences Review

Once the designer has taken inventory of the project site, it is time to schedule the first long-form consultation of the landscape design process.  During this step the designer and client begin to brainstorm potential landscape styles and solutions.  Where the initial consultation provides a brief overview of the landscape project, this meeting is a deeper dive into the client's values and preferences for the outdoor space.  During the aesthetics and preferences review, the designer takes account of their client's favored:

  • Styles

  • Aesthetics

  • Plants

  • Materials  

To get an idea of the client's likes and dislikes, the designer presents:

  • Landscape image boards

  • Design samples

  • Example solutions

Clients are encouraged to arrive to this meeting with strong opinions and any sources of design inspiration.  Designers note that client involvement is key to the overall success and satisfaction with the landscape solutions developed.  Production time and edits are reduced in later parts of the process when clients are present and involved during this step.  This consultation may occur in-person or online depending on the designer chosen.  With a runtime of 90 minutes or more, the aesthetics and preferences review is one of the longest meetings in the landscape design process, but also foundational to the success of the project.        

                       

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Step 5: Preliminary Design Review

Following the aesthetics and preferences review, the designer spends time independently in the studio.  Here, they continue to brainstorm and start to develop preliminary landscape solutions.  They synergize the information they've collected from the outdoor space with the client's:

  • Goals

  • Intentions

  • Values

  • Style preferences

This data is used to inform and create the first conceptual draft.  Like any rough draft, the preliminary design relies on the following to aid the client in visualizing the proposed landscape solution:

  • Simple sketches

  • Hand-drawn symbols

  • Basic colors

  • Basic textures

Refined drawings and realistic digital renderings are presented in later steps of the design process.  This saves both money and production time in the event major edits or changes are needed.  After developing the first round of solutions, the designer and client meet again to review the preliminary design.  Depending on the contractual agreement, multiple rounds of edits may be included, meaning this consultation may occur more than once in the design process.  Like the aesthetics and preferences review, this is an action-packed meeting.  The designer relies on client feedback to understand which landscape solutions are to be actualized in the final concept packet, and which are to be edited and refined.  Designers note that this step represents the peak of brainstorming and creativity during the landscape design process.       

                                   

Step 6: Final Design Review

With the preliminary review process complete, once again, the designer retreats to the studio for production.  To create the finalized landscape design, they incorporate the changes and revisions discussed during the preliminary review.  The result is a detailed and refined concept packet that fulfills the landscape design services contract and aids the client in visualizing the proposed design.  This often includes:

  • Plan-view drawings

  • Photo renderings

  • 3D models

  • 3D video fly-through presentations

Concept packets may also include:

  • Plant lists

  • Material lists

  • Construction documentation

 

If the contract specifies, the landscape designer may offer further information about:

  • Potential contractors for installation

  • Project permits and approvals

  • Material procurement

When production is complete, the designer and client meet again for the final design review.  The digital nature of this presentation lends itself to both in-person and online meetings.  The designer and client review the final landscape design and discuss the next steps for getting the project off the ground.  In some cases, this is where the contract ends, officially concluding the conceptual phase of the landscape design process.  The client takes their new design packet and moves on to work with their preferred landscape contractor for construction.  In other cases, the designer drafts a new contract and stays on as part of the client's creative team to handle further project details, also known as entering phase two of the landscape design process.    

                                                    

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Step 7: Entering Phase Two (Optional)

Depending on the scope and complexity of the project, there may be a need to continue consultation with the designer beyond the conceptual phase of the landscape design process.  Entering phase two is optional, and in some cases requires a new:

  • Proposal

  • Contract

  • Deposit 

In other cases, the designer and client agree to move forward at an hourly rate.  During phase two of the landscape design process, the designer provides added support and services as the project moves through construction.  This includes:

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  • Developing further construction documents

  • Shopping for contractors

  •  Analyzing contractor bids, proposals, and pricing

  •  Construction management and administration

  • Obtaining city or county building permits and approvals

  • Project budgeting

  • Development of project phases for construction and maintenance 

Some landscape designers also offer to procure specialty landscape and construction materials, such as:

  • Planters

  • Sculptures

  • Water feature kits

  • Designer landscape panels

  • Trellises

  • Shade elements

  • Specimen plant material

  • Seasonal flowers

 

Landscape designers offering material procurement work with vendors outside of typical retail.  Clients can browse specialty landscape items that they would not have access to otherwise.  When designers procure materials, they arrange for:

 

  • Purchase

  • Shipping

  • Delivery

          

This is typically the final phase in the landscape design process.  However, most landscape designers continue to provide support to their clients for any maintenance or troubleshooting issues beyond phase one and two at an hourly rate.  The landscape design process is adaptable to projects of all sizes and scopes.    

Sources:

Dodge, N. (September, 2021). Interviews with ND Design Services Inc. 

Chicago Architecture Center. (2012-2019). "What is the Design Process?  Why is it Helpful?." Discover Design Handbook. 
https://discoverdesign.org/handbook