When it comes to design in the watershaping industry, I see all of us who creatively put pencils to paper as being in states of transition – particularly where I live in the pool/spa realm, where design has traditionally been used as a sales tool and charging for design work was largely unheard of as a service above and beyond construction.
All that is changing – and for the better, I think. But with more and more of us gravitating in the direction of professional design consulting either within companies or on our own, what’s to guide us as we reach toward that goal?
A book I’ve just read may be a big help: Andrew Pressman’s Curing the Fountainhead Ache: How Architects and Their Clients Communicate (Sterling Publishing Co., 2006) has led me to recognize that good design is mostly about establishing effective dialogue with clients. Indeed, he has convinced me that the way I talk to my clients – and, as important, how well I listen to what they have to say in return – has everything to do with
whether or not I’m going to be successful in my design career.
The title refers to Ayn Rand’s great novel, The Fountainhead, where she uses the life of a visionary, self-determined architect to define a conflict between those who seek to create art and generate distinctive designs rather than burden themselves with the demands of functionality or a client’s desires. (See WaterShapes, June 2006, page 74, for a detailed commentary on this classic book.)
Although Pressman doesn’t mention watershaping directly in the 260-page text, I found his views on striking creativity/practicality balances through designer/client dialogues to be easily transferable to my own endeavors. He conveys those views through a series of real-life case studies that illuminate the nature of client/designer dialogue, and the fact that most are focused on residential projects rather than commercial work makes the discussions highly relevant to most watershapers.
Some scenarios, however, do cover commercial designs, and I found these to be quite helpful because they discuss how designers in that realm must learn to work as parts of teams and balance the input of several parties – a need I’m encountering more and more in recent years. There’s also a section that turns the perspective on its head, focusing on communication from the client’s perspective – quite informative in every way.
The text weighs a range of important issues, including practicalities such as dealing with budgets, establishing the scope of work, setting expectations for timetables and dealing with changes along the way. There’s also a strong suggestion that the real challenge is balancing the desires and needs of the client against the designer’s desire to create works that stand out from the norm.
When boiled down to its bones, the book does a great job of defining the value of establishing a comfort level with clients, opening channels of communication and, most important, striking balances between creativity and the practical needs and desires common to many clients. Pressman also looks at why communication breaks down and processes fail to move forward – and then offers suggestions about ways to set up dialogues that will help a designer avoid common pitfalls.
Certainly, all clients and situations are different – and knowing how to deal with each case individually is a big part of the designer’s job. If you’re looking to hone these often-subtle skills, this book is a terrific place to start.
Mike Farley is a landscape architect with more than 20 years of experience and is currently a designer/project manager for Claffey Pools in Southlake, Texas. A graduate of Genesis 3’s Level I Design School, he holds a degree in landscape architecture from Texas Tech University and has worked as a watershaper in both California and Texas.