With so many landscape architecture firms to choose from, how do you find the one that’s best for your next project? We’ve created a list of the most important questions to ask to help you narrow down your list.
- What is your experience with [my specific project]?
Broad experience in a category isn’t enough; you need a landscape architecture firm with an innate understanding of projects similar to yours. The firm should be familiar with the challenges you may face, have expertise on local rules, regulations and ordinances, and be aware of the opportunities that may present themselves during the project. For example, while a landscape architect may have general recreation experience, the expectations for a fully-accessible, universally designed playground will be vastly different from a picnic area. The design needs for a healing garden in a hospital are nothing like those of a waterfront.
Areas of expertise you might expect from your landscape architecture firm include hardscape and planting design, familiarity with the local/regional climate zones, understanding of permitting processes, and established relationships with various contractors and vendors that might be needed.
- How can you help me reach my goals?
Landscape architecture is as much about math as it is art; it’s about setting concrete goals and reaching them, while effectively measuring those goals in order to determine success. Knowing those goals at the start of any project and designing to achieve them is imperative. That’s called evidence-based design (and that is what we practice at Hitchcock Design Group).
For example, when creating a landscape design for a public space, budget is everything—the ability to meet landscaping goals at the lowest cost is critical. For a business, however, cost might be secondary to maximizing profits. To gain a complete understanding of the goals, the landscape architecture firm must ask questions such as, “Do you want to save money or make money?” Only by asking these questions, can the firm deliver an appropriate solution.
- How much will it cost?
You should expect total price transparency from your landscape architecture firm. Clear communication regarding the total cost of the project and how it meets your budget is essential.
At Hitchcock Design Group, we’re often brought into jobs to replace other companies. We are told that the most common reason a company is released is due to an unexpected cost overage, and a lack of communication about it. We take a “no surprises approach,” making sure every line item is carefully explained at the beginning. Understanding what is not covered is often more important than what is covered. Make sure your landscape architecture firm explains the full scope of their work so that there are no surprises.
- Who will I be working with?
Landscape architecture is, first and foremost, a people business. It’s about collaboration and having regular progress reports and conversations. If you don’t like and get along with the people you’ll be dealing with, you shouldn’t hire this firm. For example, you might like the person pitching the business, but you may never see or talk to that person again. Ask if your day-to-day representative is part of the presentation team. If not, what are their credentials? What is their experience? Ask to meet or talk with them—you want to make sure their personality and working style are compatible with your own.
- Do you have references?
Don’t take the landscape architecture firm’s word for it; always ask for client references and then talk to those references. Hopefully that client’s experience was wonderful, but an honest and objective conversation with a past client can sometimes yield eye-opening insights.
- When can you get this done?/How long will it take?
You want your project done on time, especially if the landscaping is needed by a certain date or for a certain season (such as soccer season). Unfortunately, the design timetable can be unpredictable due to a variety of unknown factors including the availability of contractors and other specialists, permitting schedules, delivery times for materials and plants, good weather and so on. Given all of these scenarios, picking an exact due date may be close to impossible, but you should expect an estimated, realistic range for your project.
- What is your communication approach?
Your landscape architect/designer will need to share drawings and ideas with you and regularly exchange information so you can stay on schedule. You’ll want to establish expectations for communication frequency, as well as how communication will happen such as in person, via conference calls, phone calls, emails, a workflow process app and so on. The landscape architecture firm should be adaptable to meet your expectations. Remember, it’s about your convenience, not theirs.
- Why you?
OK, we admit this is an open-ended question. But, in many ways, it’s the most important one. You need to hire a landscape architecture firm that knows what they are good at, what they stand for, and why they would be the best choice for your project. With so many landscape architecture firm options out there, if your firm can’t answer “Why you?” with a convincing point of difference, then you should continue looking.
So, why hire Hitchcock as your next landscape architecture firm?
How would we answer the Why you? question? Our ability to help our clients maximize the potential of their valuable outdoor places is well established, and we are particularly proud of these four specific points of differentiation:
- Specialized expertise: As respected leaders, we have deep expertise in each of our markets, which means we can understand your needs and considerations.
- Purposeful creativity: We think big and unconventionally, yet our ideas always align with your objectives, expectations, budget and timeline. Our designs are creative, distinctive and impactful because we are meticulous about the smallest details.
- Caring relationships: While we are in the business of creative landscape design, we are equally focused on building relationships and consensus with clients, communities and colleagues.
- Responsible advocacy: Hitchcock Design Group tirelessly pursues results that satisfy and delight our clients. We protect and enhance your vision and promote the best use of resources to achieve project goals.
If you’re thinking of hiring a landscape architecture firm, do your homework and arm yourself with the eight questions above. With the right answers you’ll be assured you have the best firm for your project.