How To Buy the Right Design Software

Digital Toolbox   |  

FROM Patty Vaughan  |  

April 7, 2014 |

Photo: 3D Outdoor Living

If you ask any landscaper, buying design software is not always a fun, quick or simple task.

In fact, buying design software for a business can be a long-term decision that can greatly affect daily productivity.

With a variety of landscape design software on the market, it can be difficult for landscapers to pick the right software. However, landscapers should be aware that the right software for one company might not be the best for another.

From drawing to digital
One of the biggest challenges a landscaper can face is switching from hand-drawn designs to creating designs on a computer.

Design software can come in both 2-D and 3-D photo imaging, as well as can be used on iPads and Android tablets for landscapers on the go. Photo: PRO Landscape

Design software can come in both 2-D and 3-D photo imaging, as well as can be used on iPads and Android tablets for landscapers on the go. Photo: PRO Landscape

“I had drawn everything and 80 to 90 percent of my work was referrals,” says Matt Medlock, owner, 3D Outdoor Living. “I didn’t care too much about presentation.”

However, Medlock’s business model began to change, because he wanted to grow his business. It became crucial that Medlock started focusing on advertising, marketing and, most of all, his presentation.

“I found out in 2012 that I wanted to grow, and 60 percent of the projects that I was doing as an install company was someone else’s design,” Medlock says. “My hand drawing was close, but they had a computer-generated design that had nice lines and blue prints. I don’t have design formal education except for 25 years of experience.”

After learning one of his brick suppliers, Unilock, had a free demonstration disk of Uvision, Medlock took the plunge into learning design software.

“After a year of having the free version, I made myself learn the software during the winter months,” Medlock says. “I purchased the full version to do a design on my house and one for a client. I sold the client project on my second visit. I was hooked.”

Suiting a need
Because choosing the right software can be difficult, landscapers should determine specific needs to get started.

“I really wanted something that I could exchange files with other disciplines with,” says Joe Hanauer, Vectorworks user, Landscaper of the Year finalist and owner of Landscape Architecture. “I really wanted something that I could get files from architect engineers and vice versa.”

Before going and buying the first software on the shelf, like Medlock, Hanauer did his own demoing.

“I probably spent about a year looking at it,” Hanauer says. “I demoed it, and I demoed a few others. I read about them. I talked to the sales person.”

Changing software or starting new software is not always a simple process.

Many software design programs are different and can be difficult to master in a short time.

“You don’t want to go back and forth between programs, because this is really hard,” Hanauer says. “I did do a lot of research, and I made the decision.”

For Hanauer, it was something he had to purchase knowing it would take months to even get the basics down.

“It’s nothing I would purchase today expecting that you are going to be up and using it tomorrow,” Hanauer says. “It’s going to take a good month of training before you are even comfortable with it and a couple months of using it to really feel like you can do it.”

For those who need designs built on a computer, but are lacking the computer skills, Medlock says there are landscapers out there who can help.

Through social media, other landscapers were able to see Medlock’s design. After a few communications, Medlock started doing 3D designs for others.

“I’m excited about helping other contractors with the same experience that I had with a 3D design,” Medlock says. “Going from 2D to 3D is a whole different mindset. You actually have to build them and show them.”

Design Software Don’ts
When selecting the right software, it’s important for landscapers to not buy something that will only suite a company for one or two years.

For David Marciniak, owner and lead designer of Revolutionary Gardens, he wanted to buy software that would last his company four or five years.

“I was looking for CRM (customer relationship management) software for my company to track my clients, and you buy it for your projected needs four to five years out,” says Marciniak who uses AutoCAD and Sketchup. “I recommend doing that with your software as well.”

Because landscapers have a tendency to be busy year round, sometimes there is no time to sit down and learn a new program.

“It’s March coming into April, and how many of us have time to reinvent the wheel and learn a program?” Marciniak says. “Think about where you’re coming and going and really think about what is going to be something that your firm can continue to go back to year after year.”

Another aspect to avoid is expecting CAD (computer-aided design) software to be the solution to make everything go quick, fast and easy.

“It does help in certain things, but it still takes time,” Hanauer says. “It still takes the ability to draw and understand it. You have to think like a computer.”

Investing in design software in the height of the season is also discouraged.

Hanauer says if you’re going to invest in design software, make sure it’s the right time of year and use the right resources.

“I would plan on enough time to really learn it if that means you go and take a class or watch their webinars,” Hanauer says. 

He adds that if a landscaper is interested in buying CAD software, it’s a good idea to buy training time or tech time to help catch on quicker.

Even if landscapers are in a rush and desperate to find that perfect design software, Medlock says to not settle on the first thing you see.

“Get a software that is not too difficult to use and that works for your type of clients,” Medlock says. “Don’t settle on the first one you come across, the more expensive ones are not always the best for your company.”

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