When a designer presents a concept to homeowners, the clients must try to visualize a backyard that doesn’t yet exist. They’re required to make aesthetic choices as well as become familiar enough with pool and spa technologies to select the right products.

“It can be overwhelming,” says Scott Cohen, president of The Green Scene Design & Construction in Northridge, Calif. “So I tell the client at the very beginning that we have a process in place for this, and I outline it.”

Here, Cohen and other designers explain how they present their concepts so clients can absorb the information, visualize the final project and make the best choices to meet their needs.

  • Set the tone before bringing out a drawing.
  • Before unveiling the drawing, some professionals recommend a recap of what was mutually decided at the initial meeting. This might include overall architectural style, features and desired uses.

    Designers also can use this opportunity to create some excitement before producing the drawing.

    The point is, once artwork comes out, a client may only pay partial attention. So if there’s any issues that need to be addressed, the designer should say it first. “At my last appointment, I could see how their eyes were all over the plan,” says Steve Chepurny, president and director of sales for Beechwood Landscape Architecture & Construction in Southampton, N.J. “I’m talking and they’re not hearing.”

  • Show clients how a drawing works.
  • Most people don’t work with plot plans on a regular basis, so it’s a good idea to provide a brief tutorial on how to read the drawing.

    Point out the back of the house, as well as windows looking into the yard and doors that provide access points. If the drawings contain symbols, explain what they mean.

    “You can go through a presentation and 30 minutes later they say, ‘Now where was the pool?’ says Michael Logsdon, president of Land Design in Boerne, Texas. “You lost them at hello, and you have to go back to the start.”

  • Physically position the clients for visualization.
  • If conducting the meeting inside the house, try to position the clients so they’re sitting at a primary viewing spot to the backyard, Logsdon says. This way, they can look out the window and imagine what they’ll see when the backyard is complete.

    After you’ve explained the overall concept, take the homeowners out to the backyard and have them stand in key spots to imagine how things will look.

    This exercise can also help determine if there’s anything missing in the design. “I’ll tell them to stand on the patio, stand where the pool will be and experience what they’re seeing,” Logsdon says. “Are their neighbors seeing too much? I need them to take ownership up-front and say, ‘Make sure we’re blocking the view.’”

    But don’t do this too soon. “A lot of times people want to jump right outside and start talking about how everything’s going to fit in the yard,” Logsdon says. “I’ll say, ‘Let’s make sure you understand the design first.’”

  • Organize the information clearly.
  • The concept should be presented in a clearly organized fashion, with information properly grouped. For example, designers should not go from talking about the view through the outdoor dining room to the available automatic cleaners.

    Some designers like to begin by explaining the overall flow of the project, starting at the door from the house and walking through the yard. This quick “tour” can help orient the customers. “To me it’s almost like building a story,” says Joey Pecoraro, owner/designer for Las Vegas-based Architectural Design Concepts.

    It also helps to start with broad concepts and then move on to specifics. “At first, I’m trying to explain the method to the madness,” Logsdon says. “That’s when I start talking about the whys — why did I put the spa there, why did I put the waterfeature there? I’m talking about the architectural style. I may mention a color palette, but in generalities. I’m not telling them they’re going to have Texas cream limestone or Oklahoma stone, unless I have it firmly in my mind.”

    When discussing the design itself, Chepurny starts with what he considers the most important items — generally the pool and major hardscape features. He discusses the various items in order of prominence, with ornamental plants usually coming last.

    Once the clients have gotten their sea legs, you can go back and discuss each space in more detail, addressing materials and finer points of the design.

  • Take plenty of breaks along the way.
  • While providing the information, stop occasionally to ask the clients if they have any questions. “A lot of times, if you’re talking 20 minutes, they’re only hearing five,” Chepurny says. “After I’ve been talking a bit, I’ll ask, ‘Do you have any questions?’ They may be five minutes behind you, and you have to get them back up to speed.”

    In particular, ask if they can picture what’s being described. “Sometimes they’re not being honest. They don’t want to feel like, ‘No, I don’t get it at all,’” Logsdon says. It’s helpful to pay attention to how in-tuned they seem, and explain that many people have a hard time visualizing something from scratch, so they don’t feel embarrassed.

  • Use active, descriptive language.
  • Discuss how it will feel to go to and from different areas of the project.  If moving from a tighter space to a more open environment, for example, describe the sensation as they transition from place to place. If another area is meant for entertaining large crowds, help the homeowners picture guests interacting with the space.

    “People buy emotionally,” Cohen says. “You build emotion by tapping into visualization. If I’m selling a spa, I won’t say, ‘Look at this pretty spa with the nice curves and the flagstone coping.’ I’ll say, ‘Can you imagine yourself at the end of a hard day soaking in this spa with a glass of wine and a hot water massage on your shoulders soothing away the stresses of the day?’”

    Describing what the clients will see and how they can use the property also helps identify discrepancies between their wishes and the proposed design, so that any problems can be fixed.

    “You don’t want a customer, when you’re halfway through a project, to say, ‘Oh, it looks like that. I thought it was going to look like this,’” Cohen says. “Those can be expensive changes.”