Design Off Challenge

Becca LaBarre

Supposedly you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. Luckily, I’m not that old and don’t ever plan on being old enough to have this apply to me. Every winter our landscape jobs switch gears. We swap out fresh air, and sun for office procedures, price updating, and goal setting. Every winter, I get the chance to learn new things through continuing education, seminars, and a book or two written by a confident salesman who claims to have all the answers.

Last week I was able to attend a unique opportunity that gave me great insight into the design process. An interesting title, “The Design Off” , was actually far less cutthroat than Bobby Flay’s version of a throw down. In grand elementary school fashion, there were no winners or losers, only six different designs from the minds of six different designers all working with the same real life client and their beautiful real life property. The event was through an organization of which my boss and I are new members. The Landscape Design Association was originally formed by a few designers taking classes at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, IL in the late 1980’s. I had not heard of the group until this last year and their newly redesigned website really took me by surprise. The group is now over 180 designers and other landscape professionals.

Not knowing what to expect attending my first event, I was blown away by the relevance to my actual job. The atmosphere was intriguing, as it is focused on mentorship and learning from one another. I was welcomed by the new member hosts and several other members.  Each designer presented for about an hour.  They explained their design thought process,  how they overcame challenges, and how they solved the clients’ problems. They did it all by wrapping it up into a nice package that held all the clients’ hopes and dreams for their home.

The homeowners, who were present, had never seen the six designs until the day of the presentations. They asked awesome questions, along with the many professionals in attendance, and took an immense interest in all the work done by all of the presenters. I would have hated to be the homeowners, who had the task of deciding between all the projects because I myself had several  “A ha” moments from the different ways in which each person approached the designs.

There was the beautifully rendered design that excelled on plant design and balance, the contemporary design that went so beyond the box to gain a fresh prospective, the hand drawn design that had every nook and cranny thought out to create the most inviting spaces of all, the design that took nature into account, the design that really listened to the needs of the family, and the design we could all learn from.

In the end, the client was overcome with emotion at the work put in by the six landscape designers.  Bingo!  That’s what it is all about. I can read any number of sales books, and they all do have some good points, but it all comes down to one vital point, which I observed last week at the Design Off. My job is to listen, and then listen some more. I hope I never approach a meeting as just another “sale”. A client will never be overcome with emotion, have their breath taken away at a finished product, or go ga-ga over a plan of their home if it is just another “sale”. Not to mention how little I would actually like myself at the end of the day. Thanks goodness for winter down time to revamp, re-energize, re-prioritize and learn something new.


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