Design Principles (03)

After the previous post on the 10 basic principles of design-in my opinion the 10 basic principles, I felt a follow-through was needed.

So here we go

design principles, landscape design principles, landscape principlesI wanted to discuss this business about:

  • Point
  • Line
  • Planes
  • Forms


This work by starting out with a point in space, we take this single point and add several other points together . . . connecting the points to create a line.

From here we connect several line together and presto-bingo! A plane is formed. Looking at this from a design perspective the 1st plane we deal with is the ground plane.

Ground Plane

landscape design, ground plane, design principlesThe lines for the ground plane are the 4 horizons/horizon lines you see to your front/back and left/right.

Even more specifically to landscape designers the ground plane is the perimeter lines/boundary lines of the property.

We can get even more specific about this ground plane if our client only wants us to focus on the backyard, or perhaps we are only to look at a entry to the garage/front door. This just shrinks the ground plane the Designer is looking at or working with. Looking right down there, taking a measurement or two and looking for a way to connect a few lines to create a plane within a plane.

We are working on that ground plane, and looking for all solutions there.

The Problem:

design principles, 2 dimensional thinkingHere’s the real issue in understanding planes and how most Designers fail in their work. I will digress for a moment.

Let’s face it most work in the U.S. is mediocre at best and I think I know why. The failure to get off the ground plane.

To work only looking down.

To draw everything in plan view, sketch lines in plan view, measure in plan view, look for solutions in plan view. The homeowner is leading you around the yard-looking down, you’re looking down, the dead shrubs or broken concrete is down there. Heck it’s all down there.

But it’s not all down there, it’s about more than 12 shrubs across the front, 2 trees, 3 pallets of sod and some mulch. Great design is about the entire space.

We need to quit looking down, we need to think, sketch, draw, conceptualize, create, develop, and find solutions in 2dimensional and 3dimensional thinking.

3rd Dimension

design principles, 3 dimensional design, landscape design in 3DWe live in a 3 dimensional world and it’s time all Landscape Designers design that way.

For me it’s a simple recognition of looking at all the planes(6) and finding the best was to work with them. To create the best designed space we possibly can.

In it’s simpliest explanation you have the ground plane, the house is usually 1 vertical plane, and walls, fences, trees, large shrubs, 3 Dimensional design, landscape design in 3Dpots, pergola post, etc., can all be considered vertical planes, or at the very least elements that make up (a) vertical plane(s).

It’s making these planes relate to each other and connect with each other-landscape design.


This way of designing/thinking also should lead to a new design process through sketching/drawing/conceptualizing.

The ability to render or sketch 2 dimensionally, or in perspective makes this process go much faster. Sectionals are another drawing tool in looking at these vertical planes.

Get off the ground. Quit looking down.

Looking Up

I always hear experienced designers say stuff like:

“Well I just know intuitively what I am doing”

“The space, the client, and the surroundings speak to me”

“I just know, I follow my gut instinicts”

landscape rendering, garden design, 2dimensional designWell how do we just know? How do we know right from wrong?

How did we get to where we are?

And; maybe most importantly, how do you teach intuition? gut instinct? feel?

<shrugs shoulders at the keyboard> I don’t know, is that even possible? I know I’m not anywhere near smart enough to teach Intuition 101 in Landscape Design.

So this is where I start

  • Point
  • Line
  • Plane
  • Form

I am anxious to hear what you think.

I’m sure some are thinking, what about:

  1. Order
  2. Unity
  3. Rhythm
  4. Harmony through Order and Unity
  5. Unity of Three
  6. Color
  7. Mass Collection
  8. etc, etc.

But we aren’t there yet, those are yet to come . . . in my way of thinking how Landscape Design should be taught.


Design 01

Design 02


Addendum: I went over this several times to try and make it read and or sound cohesive or somehow make some sort of sense. I continually am working this process through my head.

The entire idea of what landscape design principles really are is becoming close to an obsession with me. It seems no matter who I talk to the answer is different, and a lot of times . . . it’s really different.

Occasionally an academic or two will sound the same line, describing by rote some class they have taught over and over to wandering minds sitting in rows, inside a room, behind some walls their version of LD 101.

Not in the field, the wind, the dirt, the sun-or rain and mud. Dealing with clients who more than likely have unrealistic expectations, desires and dreams . . . this is design in the real World.

This is most likely where I will find my answers.

By Rick Anderson

The Whispering Crane Institute was originally formed to act as the umbrella organization for the Philosophy of Design Symposium, and other seminars and workshops given by Rick Anderson and Richard L. Dube’. In the year 2000 WCI became a sole proprietorship owned by Rick Anderson. Today the WCI provides design and consultation services for Landscape Contractors, acts as a Green Industry think tank, and provides training for others in the form of workshops, seminars, and individual consulting. The WCI also provides written material, opinions, case-studies and how-to articles for industry trade magazines.


  1. The book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
    by Malcolm Gladwell is a facinating read, written in layman’s terms, with insite into intuition and other areas of learning and thought. has it available used for $5.20 at:

    Rick I would buy it for you but I don’t know your address for shipping.

    You present a great argument. How can we work at approaching the best design without knowing how or what the work will fit into. Obviously the the whole is bigger than the sum of the parts.

    Gladwell has several things to say about he Professional Landscape Designer who says:

    “Well I just know intuitively what I am doing”

    “The space, the client, and the surroundings speak to me”

    “I just know, I follow my gut instinicts”

    You are correct in saying:

    “…in the field, the wind, the dirt, the sun-or rain and mud. Dealing with clients who more than likely have unrealistic expectations, desires and dreams . . . this is design in the real World.”

    It is in this real world where solutions, otherwise known as designs, are found. Not is the class room. The problem as you stated it is ‘How to teach the concept.’ It’s more than the good Dr. Ann Marie says: “…a principle is never applied the same way twice”. The doctor may know intuitively what she is saying but conveying the idea is not quite as simple as she says.

    Dr. Marie is taking her lumps, poor lady. I guess when you talk about design the way she does in that video you open yourself up to that kind of carnage.

    Your remark about fitting . . . I guess I am trying to get folks to realize that the BEST solutions do not fit neatly on 11×17 or 24×36 inch paper all lined up in circles and squares.

    I look forward to the read, and as always appreciate the comments.

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