Picture this: Using design software to your advantage

Three-dimensional rendering of patio (Photo: Belgard)
Three-dimensional rendering of patio (Photo: Belgard)
3D rendering of patio (Photo: Belgard)
Upsell Showing clients a realistic rendering of what’s possible within a space can be a strategy for upselling. (Photo: Belgard)

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but in the landscape design world, a picture — or rather, a realistic rendering — may be worth so much more.

“Showing the design to the customer can be like the Achilles’ heel,” says Kevin Smith, owner of Online DesignScapes, a web-based design service. “Using a service helps because the customer can see exactly what the finished product will look like.”

In addition to helping transform a flat blueprint plan into a lifelike reality, using a design software or service can assist landscape contractors with upselling.

“Using a design program or service can be the difference between a simple 300-square-foot patio and showing the homeowner what a fully functional living space could look like,” says Mike Miles, senior designer for Belgard Design Studio. “The clients may ask for something simple, but showing them what they could do with the area makes them more likely to bump up their budget.”

LM spoke with several design experts to get the picture on the value these services and software can add to a landscape design firm.

Rending of outdoor space (Photo: Online Designscapes)
Realistic rendering Programs that bring a design to life help make visualization easier for clients and crew members alike. (Photo: Online Designscapes)

The contenders

With many different options available, companies have the freedom to select a program that works best for their needs.

Some firms may decide to incorporate a software that enables the in-house designer to use a computer-aided drafting (CAD) program, which then does the “heavy lifting” by automatically outputting the lifelike renderings. For example, DynaScape Software offers a CAD system, complete with color rendering and three-dimensional (3D) features.

“When you do it by hand, you’re faced with several repetitive and tedious tasks,” says Joe Salemi, vice president of DynaScape Software. “Using a design software solution eliminates the monotony of landscape design, as it allows you to automate.”

Dynascape’s software comes with about four hours of video tutorial training. Each tutorial video is between five and seven minutes long, according to Salemi. Pricing for Dynascape’s CAD system starts at $1,195, plus a $37.50 monthly subscription fee. The full bundle, which includes color rendering and the 3D add-on, runs $2,850, plus a $50 monthly subscription fee.

Other contractors may opt to have their layout designs — along with a few photos and notes — sent off to a web-based design service, such as those provided by Online DesignScapes and Belgard.

In these cases, the user simply has to upload the materials to the provider’s website and wait for the polished design to be returned, typically within a week or so, depending on the time of year.

“Ours is more of a conversion process,” Belgard’s Miles says. “It’s freeing up (the designers’) time. They’re still able to be creative. They put their focus on the design itself and getting us the information, and we take care of the dirty work.”

Belgard’s Design Studio is free to Belgard authorized contractors (BACs) and costs $249 per project for non-BACs. Online DesignScapes services start at $119, but Smith says the average project design ends up costing about $300, depending on the scope of the project.

From Online DesignScapes, customers receive the 3D color images, two-dimensional (2D) blueprints and a virtual video tour to present ideas to potential clients. From Belgard, the user receives 3D renderings presented in a 2D format. From there, the contractor may choose to present the 3D renderings using virtual reality technology, made possible by virtual reality goggles (which cost about $30), a smartphone and a free app called Scope by IrisVR.

Some design programs offer other detailed features such as giving the user the ability to include a timeline that’ll portray where the sun shadows will be at any given time of day, the ability to view a project through a bird’s-eye-view animation and integration of a design into a business software to assist with items like job pricing or crew tracking.

Start to finish

While designers may not experience any trouble picturing what the final product will look like, it’s likely the client will.

“(The service) is a good closing tool. It’s a lot easier to close someone on a job that’s $70,000 to $80,000 when you have a 3D rendering,” says Scotty Coyote, owner of San Diego-based Coyote Construction and Pavers, which started using Belgard’s service about 10 years ago.

Miles, who has experience as a contractor, adds that if a client is able to visualize a design, it helps ease their worries once ground is broken.

“Being out on the job site, I’ve seen homeowners watching through the window to see what’s happening,” Miles says. “Giving them the image upfront, they know their funds are going to the right place.”

He adds that using these programs can cut down the selling process from 20 hours to three to five hours.

The programs also can make it easier for the designer to edit the plan if a client wishes to make changes.

“It gives contractors a huge advantage than if they’d do a hand-drawn design,” says Joe Monello, user of Online DesignScapes and owner of Monello Landscape Industries in Wayne, N.J. “These designs can be saved, changed and gone back to without wasting time, energy and money.” He adds that using a design service assisted his company in making its first $1 million sale.

In addition to helping the clients visualize the finished product, the design software and services can help streamline the production process by giving foremen and crew members an accurate depiction of the space.

Salemi says having the image available trumps other methods such as relaying details of the proposed design through word of mouth or even spray painting it over the designated area.

“There’s no need for handholding. The project manager can show crews exactly what he wants, where he wants it,” Smith says.

Sarah Webb

Sarah Webb

Sarah Webb is Landscape Management's former managing editor. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Wittenberg University, where she studied journalism and Spanish. Prior to her role at LM, Sarah was an intern for Cleveland Magazine and a writing tutor.

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