My Dad’s Guide to Great Design


I recently had the opportunity to visit with my parents who live across the country by Niagara Falls. My Dad and I went for a long early morning walk and I had the chance to ask him “what’s your philosophy for design?” He’s a retired landscape architect who spent his career with the city of Mississauga and city of Niagara Falls. He now designs freelance for residential and commercial properties.

His straightforward advice applies to any professional, across many industries, and can lead to better results for all of us.

1. Start with an Accurate Assessment: Most people jump into their day or projects too quickly. It’s important to take the time to fully understand the detail of the requirements and deliverable, and how communication with your team and clients is going function. Do that work upfront and come back to it throughout the life of the project. When thinking through the deliverable, try to understand the deeper goal of why your client/customer/boss wants it in the first place. For example, the client may say they want a cool flower bed, but their true goal is to create colour and make a statement when people first enter the space. They just think the answer is a flower bed… but there may be better options.

2. Focus on the Total Experience: Delivering the project on time and on budget is not the standard of a job well done. As a professional service provider, our job is to add value and usefulness on-going. For example, creating a children’s park is not a goal. A real goal is to create a children’s park that kids will actually love using and that parents will want to visit and stay at for hours. It’s to inspire and excite children to live more active lives and use their imagination while being physically active. This goal requires thinking through the human senses (smell, touch, sight, hearing, etc.), the flow of the equipment and walkways, the durability, and maintenance of the park, etc.

3. Always have a Defining Feature: A defining feature is one element that stands out, makes the most impact and completes an experience. In landscape architecture, this could mean a cool sculpture or monument, inspiring waterfall, one large/unique structure or something else. In other professions, it could mean the cornerstone image that’s used in a brand design or that one big strategic insight that defines a report. Whatever it is, it needs to pop and help define your thinking.

It’s nice to be able to learn from experienced and wily vets in an industry. It’s even better and fortunate when it can be within your own family.

Have a great day!