By Jeromey Naugle
Back in 2001, I took a job working for a high-volume pool-construction firm as one of its 30 salespeople. For the first four years or so, I did all of my design work by hand.
Quantity was always king in that operation, so I never even left the office: Someone would hand me a set of plans and I’d start working, despite the fact I’d never walked the site, seen its surroundings or had any chance at all to wrap my head around what was needed to make the project really work for the clients. But the work was steady and I kept at it.
In my case, happily, things began to change in 2005 when I stumbled across Pool Studio, the design software published by Structure Studios of Henderson, Nev. I was the first one in the company to start using the system, and I immediately saw a return on the investment of time I put into figuring it out.
Indeed, using this software package completely changed my professional path. Once I was able to see my drawings in three dimensions, I began to perceive the importance of every little detail I had been hurriedly drawing in two dimensions. My sense of what I was doing as a designer started to deepen, and I gradually began to reshape the way I approached my designs.
To be honest, I became a bit obsessive: Before long I was paying attention to everything – elevation changes, lines of sight, patterns of sun and shade, correctible flaws in the existing lot – and began working through a whole array of factors and details the software put at fingertip control. As I became increasingly familiar with this valuable new tool, I saw myself producing work that was not only stunning (if I do say so myself) but was also capable of being built on the job site without major modifications – the key to success in a volume operation.
In another few years, I was familiar enough with design, construction and working with clients that I decided it was time to step out on my own: In 2009, I started Premier Paradise (Phoenix, Ariz.) and began applying everything I’d learned to my own stream of more customized projects.
I was ready for the change: By the time I launched Premier Paradise, an expanding, digitally driven creativity was touching every aspect of my work. My main focus had always been on the site and its characteristics, for example, but now I also found myself supplementing those insights by studying the home’s architectural style, its best details and the little things that made it special.
I was also starting to feed off of interior spaces – art hanging on the walls, color selections, textures, furniture – and anything about the way my clients lived indoors that would give me clues to what they might like outdoors.
I was looking at traffic patterns inside the house, too, considering how easy (or difficult) it was to move through the space – then deciding how to approach patios, decking, dining areas, pathways and other exterior features. I found myself becoming a much more thorough, much more engaged designer and became comfortable with the thought that my goal should be to create environments that flowed effortlessly and efficiently from inside the house and out into the surrounding spaces.
|The design software offers me ways to put a newly created environment in an extraordinarily precise and familiar context, from hills in the distance to prominent trees in neighbors’ backyards and maybe a romantic moonrise over a proposed waterfeature. Even clouds play a role in helping create an immediate sense of the homeowners’ reality.|
Moreover, I saw my goal as being development of designs that never seemed forced and always seemed as though they belonged. Instead of plugging away like a soldier ant, rarely thinking in any detail about how things worked together, I became a Design Professional armed with a Design Philosophy – a much better way to be.
As I mastered the digital design system, I found it easier to understand what sites were offering me, easier to recognize how each one is different and what it takes to pull together designs that make sense for the clients, their properties, their budgets and my construction crews. To sum up, the technology has changed the way I look at backyards, photograph them, assess their close and distant views. Best of all, it has given me the desire and ability to incorporate familiar, existing features into my designs in ways that help clients “connect” more easily with my vision.
DESIGNER AT WORK
Once I’m at my desk – armed with information gleaned from the clients, their home and the site – I start by setting up the space as it is before digging into what it might become.
I begin with the house, the perimeter walls and the property’s slopes. Then I work with traffic patterns and organize gathering areas – spots for sunbathing, shade structures, fire pits, fireplaces, outdoor kitchens, dining areas and any other features that have emerged on the wish-list my clients have outlined for me as well as from my own thoughts about various other details and spaces.
Next, I review site lines and various views (near and far) and place specimen trees at appropriate spots. I consider planting beds and pathways and a list of other landscape and hardscape details and start including them in the design where they make the most sense and offer the greatest visual and directional spark.
|I expend a great deal of energy in developing a project and figuring out ways to get my clients involved. I’ll pull details from the home’s interior – colors, textures, traffic patterns and general style – and move them outside, thereby introducing them to environments that are both entirely new yet ring internal bells. And I’ll also show them how things will appear at various times during the day.|
After all of this, I turn to the watershape – where it will go, its size and shape and its basic functions and appearance. But of course, it has been in the back of my mind from the start, so by the time I get here in my design process, its nature basically reveals itself to me, fully developed and ready to go.
I like working this way. It’s a complete transformation from what I did in hand-drawing plans for backyards I’d never seen, and it’s an infinitely more satisfying process – one that produces results that make me proud, make my clients happy and give me a gratifying sense that what I do has real value.
I write this knowing that there are still lots of people in this business who draw pool after pool and never give a second thought to what surrounds them beyond maybe a ribbon of deck. And that’s fine, because it gives my company a competitive edge, lets us show off our attention to detail and presents us with the opportunity to demonstrate a level of design skill that allows us to charge more for what we do. And we close more business, too.
As I see it, this is a genuine win-win-win situation: I’m happier in my work and can focus on pushing my skills as a digital designer to increasing levels of excellence; our clients are thrilled by the thoroughness of our attention to their needs and the quality of the outcome; and the company benefits operationally because the documentation emerging from the design process makes things go so smoothly on the construction site.
All of this value is delivered because Pool Studio has brought so much speed, precision and flexibility to the table.
There’s no comparison between what I was able to accomplish with ink and paper and what I can do digitally. I can draw a watershape using the software in a matter of minutes, evaluate it in context and, if necessary, move on to a fresh approach with the click of a button or two.
There’s tremendous freedom here: The system allows me to try lots more ideas than I ever would have considered at a drafting table, simply because I’m not consuming so much time in the physical act of drawing. It’s also true that, with ink and paper, I’d sometimes find myself settling for something with which I wasn’t fully happy because of the sheer amount of time invested in the process to that point.
|It’s difficult for me to believe that I once designed pools for clients whose backyards I’d never seen. The change has been total: At this point, I’m so immersed in the clients, the site and the surrounding space that I get the sense I’m creating a whole world for them that they’ll ‘experience’ even before we’ve started the construction process.|
Now, however, I find myself pushing the envelope on custom features and design ideas in ways I’d never before considered. This capability has pushed me to grow as a designer and contractor: Being able to reach past ordinary expectations in my work has raised my standards to a much higher level; it has also helped me see the necessity for continuous education – both in the design technology and as a designing professional.
As suggested above, the system also plays a key role in the field: From my first experience of the software a decade ago, in fact, Pool Studio has always made me much more aware of what’s involved in the construction process. It’s reached a point where, now, my desire is to answer all possible questions before documentation goes to the site. Gone are the days when, as with hand drawings, plans would go out with notes reading “field verify”: Our three-dimensional drawings remove virtually all of the uncertainty.
Tripling the Benefits
As I mentioned in the accompanying text, my early experience with digital design led me to reshape my design approach: Basically, I reverse-engineered everything I did to take advantage of what the software was able to “tell” me about what I was doing and how I was doing it.
I also mentioned that the software helps explain, clarify and expedite what should be happening on site: Clipping three-dimensional images to the two-dimensional plans my crews use helps them see how things should look when their work is done.
What I didn’t mention is that clients get involved in the same way, processing information more rapidly and developing a better understanding of how everything will ultimately come together. I can’t imagine this happening so easily with pen and paper – at least not without a huge investment of time, patience and effort!
It’s not that digital documentation eliminates the need for on-site project management – far from it! In fact, it’s safe to say that construction processes have some catching up to do when it comes to matching the efficiencies now possible in the design process. Even at this point, however, it’s interesting to observe how much more quickly design details and ideas can be communicated and then executed in the field when quality 2-D plans are backed up by great 3-D images.
In my business, we have a saying: “Anything can be built if you take the time to execute it correctly.” I stand by that statement, and another: “Digital designs don’t show any flaws, so it’s our job to build without flaws as well.” Ten years into my digital design career, the sky is indeed the limit, and I find myself exploring more of that vastness every single day.