Design With Style

Recently I was asked to stand up and describe my design style to an attentive, eager group of (very) young professionals. In so doing — and never being one to shy away from a speaking opportunity — the first thing out of my mouth was “Oh my!”

What’s your design style?

Admittedly, I was a bit stumped.

Standing in front of this group, I had one hand in my front pocket (perhaps subconsciously reaching for a coin to flip) and the other squeezing my forehead as I collected my thoughts.

I had to go back to the days of floppy disk drives to recall the last time that question had been asked of me. I realized then that my design style has been as much evolutionary as it has become adaptive.

We all learned design styles in college, through all those history classes and required textbook readings. Our design styles have also been influenced by professional mentors and projects that have struck a chord (and caused a photograph) with our liking.

OK…back to the original question: What really is my design style?

Personally, I much prefer the free-flowing, curvilinear design approach — sometimes to a fault. I have been known to force the concept to the point of imposition and distraction. It is then that my able colleagues smack me up side of the head and say: “Come on, Timbo, you can do better than that.”

You know, one should never become too old or experienced to not take a rappin’ on the noggin every once in a while.

But let’s take the academics out of design styles for a brief blog minute.

In a long career, these other “styles” of project design have seen my exercise over the years:

1. “Business Design”

For landscape architects, this can be ornery and restrictive at times. We are often tasked to design on a dime, and with a project deadline wreaking havoc on our professional and personal time management. Design decisions are seemingly based solely on economics, production, and construction efficiencies. That’s not to say it is the right way of going about it, nor OK to do so, but it is an unfortunate reality in the impatient world of business and development.

2. “Crisis Design”

This really is self-explanatory to most of us. It is the style that involves last-minute workings of design and construction documents because, don’t you know, landscape architects are always the last to get the base files from the architects and engineers. And the project deadlines certainly don’t bump a few days for our benefit. Crisis Design can also be that “will this fix it?” request sketch done on-site, on the back of a utility bill envelope, in reaction to an unanticipated surface drainage, exposure, or maintenance design issue…after the fact (construction).

3. “Blue Collar Design”

This “git-er-done” style is often applied when projects have little opportunity to showcase creativity. Perhaps it is the owner’s budget, a physical site constraint, or another professional’s design reaction to a project need that limits our creative use of bum-wad and markers, two-minute thumbnail perspective sketches, and inspirational site visits when designing the landscape of a project. These projects can also be known as “Code Compliant Design”. And it is these projects that challenge our creativity to the max (or not at all).

4. “Engineered Design”

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