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Sketching a Masterpiece

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Landscape Software Makes Designing Easy

There’s an old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” So when you’re creating a design for a landscape, you want your thousand words to be good ones. Well, with computer design software, it’s easier than ever to compose your landscape.

Forget about the pens, the paper, and having to go to a blueprint shop. Now, all you need to make a stunning design, plans, and an estimate, is a laptop—or a tablet—a software program, and your imagination.

Going from digital photo to design photo

The computer age has brought about many changes, as far as what people can do with photographs. Probably the best-known program that has made it possible to add or remove things from a picture is Photoshop. It can make a photo appear like it is forty years old, or add a person into the picture, or it can change backgrounds; it can do a myriad of things. Then, you can print or send that image, and no one knows that it isn’t an original image.

Landscape design software has capitalized on this ability with photo imaging. If you were called in to see a potential client, or a client that you had worked for in the past, and they want to renovate their landscape, now you can take a digital image of the client’s house—front, back and sides—go back to your office or truck, and start the work right there.

To begin a design, download a photo of the property. Your client would probably like to keep the grown trees surrounding the property, but would like to remove the overgrown shrubs and turf that make it look like it was landscaped 30 years ago. You want to bring it up to date.

Most programs offer collections of images, accessories and plant material that allow you to put together a visual design of the new landscape in no time at all. All you have to do is simply drop and drag flowers, grass, mulch, hardscapes, and various other elements into your design, and you can create a digital image of what the house might look like.

This also means that there’s no need to spend time explaining what each of the plants will look like. The client can just take a look at the image, and have a clear sense of the finished product. And when your clients get a sense of what their new landscape is going to look like, that’s when they’ll get excited.

Editing and adding on

Beforehand, discuss with your clients what they would like to see and what they don’t. based on that meeting, you begin to design. but what happens when you show them the landscaped picture and they don’t like it?

Don’t sweat the details; it’s easy to change. In fact, psychologically it would make sense to have some pieces in the design that would need changing. When you start talking about additions you would like to bring in, or when your clients see something they are not crazy about, it’s easy to make it right.

In the past, that would usually mean going back and redrawing from scratch. but when you are using design software, changing elements of a design becomes much less of a chore.

You can change elements of a design very easily when working with a computer image. If there is anything in the design that the client doesn’t like, or if there’s another option you’d like to consider, all it takes is a few clicks (or a few swipes of the finger, if you’re on a tablet) and you can display what the landscape will look like with the modifications.

This gives you, as a contractor, a big advantage. You can create exactly what a client wants. This will save you from costly problems due to miscommunication down the road.

“If you put in purple flowers, and they don’t like purple flowers, well, then you can address that up front,” says David Sloan, sales and marketing director for Drafix Software, Inc., based in Kansas City, Missouri. “You not only find out what they like—but more importantly, what they don’t like—before you start digging holes in the ground. You want them hands-on enough to know just what they want.”

“A client can say, ‘I like this, but let’s change this over here. I’d like to put the fireplace over here and I’d like to add a spa over there.’ In the old days, with a pen and ink drawing, you’d have to erase everything, or you’d have to redraw,” says Steve Secondo, owner of Steve Secondo designs in Santa Ana, California. “With the computer, you can easily make lines and features disappear. It makes changes and revisions easier, and makes it simple to put an image together that can be shared with the clients.”

Not only is it easy to factor in the clients’ input, but because they are right there with you, they feel involved in the design itself. Here is where the psychology of this comes into play. They can see a finished image of a design, and think to themselves, “I helped design that. This is just what I want, and I’m looking forward to seeing this when it’s done.”

Working with lights

If your company also does landscape lighting, guess what? You can design the landscape and put in the lights where they belong as well. It’s quick and easy to create a lighting design for your clients’ needs that can be clearly shown to them.

Even better is the fact that the software can show your clients what the landscape will look like at night. There’s no need for them to imagine what it might look like at night; you can show them what it will look like, right in front of their eyes! Remember that old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words?”

Simple to work with

But what about the contractor who doesn’t have the desire to design? What can he do with this? Well, contractors who don’t have the vision or the desire to design usually outsource this work to professional designers.

Fortunately for us all, technology keeps getting easier to use, even for technophobes. Today, you can do a design with your laptop or your tablet, right on the site, while meeting with the client. With a little imagination, using design software could not only be enjoyable, it can save money, too.

It also saves you the time wasted on repetition. One big annoyance with drawing a design by hand is the need to continuously pencil in the same plants over and over again to fill in a bed. Or having to sketch flowers in a front yard and try to make each one appear unique. but with a collection of images to work from, putting together a row of plants or adding a pool in the backyard is a piece of cake.

“I was doing it by hand previously, and I went to software to increase productivity,” says Patrick Duchene, owner of Duchene Design Solutions, based in Branchburg, New Jersey. “Your accuracy greatly improves, and now, thanks to the software, I’m probably doing about three to four times the work. Also, your presentation is superior to anything you do by hand, in my opinion.”

“If you can turn a project around quicker, people are a lot more inclined to buy and to sign on the dotted line, because you’ve delivered something in a timely and professional manner. It sets a precedent for later on, for when you do a project and you say you’re going to finish it on time,” explained Duchene.

There’s also a far greater clarity as to what’s actually in the design. unless your client happens to also be a contractor or designer, odds are he isn’t going to know how to interpret a blueprint. but with a colorful image of his home, there’s nothing to interpret. When you insert a tree from the image library, it will look like a real tree when someone other than a designer looks at it.

“This software is a very big benefit to the client,” said Joe Salemi, marketing manager for dynaSCAPE Software, Burlington, Ontario, Canada. “They instantly have much better clarity as to what they are getting.”

design software allows the contractor to work with his clients better, so that they can find out precisely what they want. The clients have a better grasp of what the finished product is going to look like. This leads to less hassle for you, happier clients and fewer problems down the road.

“When I add water, it looks like real water. When I add in trees, they look like real trees,” says Secondo. “The clients understand that what they’re looking at are trees. This is all about communicating an idea, visually, in two dimensions.”

Features of the system:

Transferring

Computers are valued for a lot of reasons. for one thing, they make transferring ideas and projects much easier. A design created on a computer can be sent from person to person with ease. A design developed online can be put into a Pdf, and can then be sent out anywhere you want. Or, you could print out that Pdf and hand it over to a client, so they can have a picture of what their future project will be like; a nice reminder of what their yard will look like.

It also means that you can send your thoughts and ideas to clients even when they’re not in town. They can be away but you can still keep them informed of what is happening. The software has completely revolutionized how you can communicate with your customers.

More perspectives, more possibilities

But your ways of wowing the customer don’t end there. Remember, people don’t look at a landscape from just one perspective the whole time. They’re going to walk out into the middle of it, or look at it from the sides. So wouldn’t it be smart to have your design display what it will look like from these angles as well?

If you really want to wow them, turn that photo imaging design into a full 3d image. That way, you can allow the client to see their potential landscape from a variety of angles and directions. Let them see it from the corner of the property, or let them stroll through it from one end to the other, or even let them see what it looks like as they are walking out from the house onto the landscape. These multi-angled views give buyers a better sense of what the finished product will look like.

Creating a detailed map

But there are times where you need that detailed, 2d site plan. When you need a detailed model of what a design may look like, fear not, because landscape software designers have your back here, too.

Most of the big names offer easy-to-use computer-aided design (CAd) software.

CAd allows you to easily create a 2d site plan that accurately represents the installation of plantings, sprinkler systems, and hardscapes. The result is an image of the landscape that has color, but also contains details on what’s going in the design.

Better measurements and better estimates

There is something else that computers can do that make a contractor’s life easier: they can make calculations far faster than any human can. When operating with design software, there can be no doubt that a measurement of a backyard can be spot on, saving you the hassle of measuring by hand. And as a result, the amount of material that you are going to need is also going to be right for the job.

“I don’t do anything without the software,” says Cassie James, chief designer for James Landscaping in Grapevine, Texas. “It makes it possible for me to create a bid without guessing at the square footage. The hedge lines are always accurate; the placement of plants is always correct. It just decreases all the time and effort. So I never go to a project without it.”

When the time comes, you can also generate blueprints, and then you can create a take-off sheet.

The software comes in just as handy for that. Many programs offer built-in bidding capabilities that can help you create an estimate that is ready to print out.

What this means for a contractor is that he can bring everything he has worked on together into a professional-looking sales presentation, with a cover sheet, an estimate, and a list of materials that will be used. You can even give information about the plants you’ll be using. All that makes you look like the landscape professional that you are.

Now, it is easier than ever for landscape contractors to create their own landscape designs. businesses that are already making use of designing with software have found that it saves them time, it saves hassles and provides an even more professional approach to the client.

 
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