From planters to planting schedules, residential to commercial exterior spaces and environments, garden designers and landscape architects and designers use SketchUp to communicate their vision and bring ideas to life. In this follow up customer case study, we caught up with Bedfordshire based garden design business Solutions4Gardens to see how they were getting on with their SketchUp subscription and discuss workflows, SketchUp extensions and making use of Trimble's SketchUp campus and resources.
When we first spoke with you about SketchUp you told us you spent a while looking for the right piece of software to help with garden design. Is SketchUp still central to the design and delivery of your projects?
Yes, we still rely on SketchUp, and LayOut, heavily in our workflow. As you say, we mostly use it to deliver our garden design offering, but internally we also use it to help with quantity calculations and build planning.
I use SketchUp and LayOut most days - it is embedded now.
SketchUp fulfilled two aspects of your work: first, helping you communicate vision and scope to your clients, and second to help you with internal processes by being able to digitise everything from site plans to producing accurate material quantity calculations. Does Sketchup continue to serve you well in this respect?
Yes, with the exception of “Business Software” (accounting, email etc), SketchUp and LayOut are the only software applications we use to be Landscape Gardeners. As a client communication tool, being able to offer the client a “Picture” of their garden is so much more powerful and useful than trying to describe a project in words. To that end, with varying degrees of fidelity depending upon the project complexity, we will prepare some kind of design drawing for all but the most straightforward project.
As discussed before, we use SketchUp from the very beginning of an engagement to digitise our site survey data. From that initial model we can either take that model down a full design path and/or use the information to help calculate build quantities.
When we first started using SketchUp and LayOut in the design process it was a loss-leader for us to win contracts. For several years now we actually offer our design service as a separately chargeable service, so our client facing SketchUp work is actually a revenue stream for us now.
I have been super impressed with the commitment to education content being developed by Trimble / Sketchup. The SketchUp YouTube channel is updated almost daily, and the content covers everything from beginners tips to more advanced skill development
With a number of key feature changes over the years, SketchUp provides an even more comprehensive toolset for users. Has your workflow changed or adapted over the years? What does your workflow look like now?
Since we last spoke we’ve been regularly refining our workflow and output with respect to how we communicate garden ideas and designs with clients. Within SketchUp itself we’ve built libraries of document templates, which allow us to standardise Tag structures, Styles and Scenes. We’ve also spent time on our Component and Material libraries, building re-usable elements that we can quickly drop into designs, particularly planting libraries.
Within Layout we have also built a library of templates that feature common page blocks and layouts, common style treatments for lines and text. When we engage a client we take them through several defined steps, from preparing a brief, through presenting design concepts and design iterations, and finally a design presentation, and we have templates for each of those steps.
Having SketchUp and Layout organised and structured well means that our client presentations are of repeatable high quality. Internally, it allows us to focus our time in the client design, and spend far less time on the mechanics of the process.
Perhaps the biggest change in our workflow since we last spoke is our move away from photorealistic rendering. I love the idea of producing photo realistic output, but I came to understand that creating stunning (and if it isn’t stunning, there’s no point) renders is a whole art form and process in of itself. I wanted to find a way to communicate my designs without the huge investment in time that building and rendering models was taking.
Now, having developed a staged process for our design offering I can increase the fidelity of the output as we work with a client to hone the design. In the early stages I might use a simple “Pencil” style to communicate an outline. I also use the SketchFX plugin to layer additional styles together to build the detail as the design progresses.
I will still occasionally produce a photo-realistic render for a client project, particularly if there is a considerable amount of lighting design in the garden and we need to show how that might look at night. The key though, is that we now have a suite of output styles that can be leveraged at the appropriate time in the project lifecycle.
What extensions are you currently using?
We’re big fans of mind.sight.studios. We use QuantifierPro to help us gather construction information from our models. Now, with a single click, Quantifier will report for us all the quantity information in a format that plugs straight into our quoting system. For example, if I mark out an area to excavate, Sketchup will tell me how many Lorry fulls of waste disposal will need to be disposed of as well as how many tons of hardcore are required to build a solid foundation, as well as how many man hours and what equipment we’ll need.
We also use ProfileBuilder from mind.sight.studios to build complex, parametric components. So for example, we have a component that is a contemporary cedar slatted fence. We simply click and drag the length we want the fence, and Profile Builder will insert all the fence posts, spaced correctly, as well as the cedar panels. Of course, that fence can be “quantified” with QuantifierPro so that we can cost it.
As mentioned above, we use SketchFX to create visual output that are more compelling than the stock colours in SketchUp but require less time to generate the full render. A SketchFX drawing generates in less than a minute.
When we do render, we use SUPodium. It is fairly lightweight and has a reasonably good component library. There are loads of alternatives, and of course VRay is part of SketchUp now.
Recent additions for us are Scribbler, which is really simple and useful for drawing top-down 2D Plant symbols. This year we spent time creating a custom library of plants , and created the 2D versions using Scribbler. It is a paid extension ($9.99) from the Extension Warehouse.
We’ve also found Soap Skin Bubble very helpful. It allows you to create a “Sandbox” contoured plane from any set of joined edges. This is great when trying to draw organic surfaces (such as sloping, bumpy gardens).
Any you have your eye on?
I do keep returning to Skatter from Lindalë. There are times when we’d like to distribute a number of (usually) plants around a garden, but have an element of randomness to the positioning, size and orientation. In truth, it is really aimed at rendering workflows, and there are probably more appropriate, cheaper extensions that do what we want - it’s on the list to research.
We’ve also been trying out Architextures, which is a library of procedural seamless textures. So you can, for example, create a brick pattern of a style, size and pattern that exactly matches your specification. The library has wood, tiles, bricks, metal … the list is pretty comprehensive and seems to be receiving regular development.
Are there any other resources you find helpful?
I have been super impressed with the commitment to education content being developed by Trimble / Sketchup. The SketchUp YouTube channel is updated almost daily, and the content covers everything from beginners tips to more advanced skill development, they have weekly ~2 hour model along sessions, as well as videos on all the new features released in minor and major version of SketchUp and LayOut.
The SketchUp Campus content is also really good. The topics are fairly broad and seem to be added to fairly regularly. I completed the “SketchUp for Landscape and Site Design”. It was a really comprehensive course, with 38 individual lessons. It is an investment in time, but there are always good take-aways and it is a free resource.
Finally (and I wasn’t asked to add this) I find the CadSoft Solutions articles (like this one) really useful. For example, John Woods recent article on ProCreate and SketchUp was really interesting and had some really great tips. It’s always worth stopping by every couple of months.