Our Collaborative Design Process
"Designing" generally implies that a process will be followed in
developing a plan that shows how something will look and function once
A plan is usually required when a number of elements need to be drawn
together in a coherent fashion.
Depending on the project, each element (which the dictionary defines
as a part or aspect of something abstract) may consist of a number of
components, each of which may be abstract in itself.
So a typical client will have a number of components that need to be
categorized into elements that need to be drawn together in a coherent
You need to find a designer to help you do this.
Finding a designer
Here's where the discussion can become complicated, because there are
good designers and designers who are not so good, and it's really
difficult to know the difference.
Furthermore, even a bunch of good designers will each have a different
approach and each will develop a different plan, and all the plans may
work equally well.
In terms of evaluating designers, this is not all that helpful.
So maybe it would be better to begin with something more familiar:
playground equipment companies that offer to send representatives to
your site to help you design a playground.
You probably already know that about 25% of the cost of all equipment
goes toward design fees, so even though the companies say the design
consultation is free, it isn't. These fees are used to pay for the
consultant's time and to design new equipment for their catalogs, but
not necessarily to help you determine what's best for your site.
Second, though these representatives are very familiar with the
various safety regulations outlined by ASTM and the Consumer Product
Safety Counsel (CPSC), most of them do not have any formal training in
the field of design.
Their design sessions consist of a large group meeting which
brainstorms about playground themes and activities, and with those in
mind, they help you choose items from their catalog that meet your
Your "design" consists of laying out this equipment according to the
distance between items as required by the CPSC and ASTM safety
Finding a good designer
Remember in the beginning we said that designing was a process of
bringing together a number of abstract components to form a coherent
To us at the Natural Playgrounds Company, it's way more than looking
at the safety guidelines and arbitrarily plunking down equipment with
the right spacing between it.
Our design approach is a very comprehensive process involving
assessing the lay of the land, the people, the culture, the climate,
the environment, groundwater flow, drainage and erosion issues, soil
characteristics, bedrock formations, existing vegetation, the
curriculum, the age of the children, age-appropriate activities,
special needs, movement patterns, aesthetics, the buildings,
transitions, the neighbors, community traditions, after hours use,
energy levels, sustainability, maintenance, safety, supervisionâ€¦â€¦
Whenever we take on a project, our first step is to present an
informative, narrated, interactive slideshow designed to create a
whole new frame of reference around Natural Playgrounds with an
accompanying vocabulary, so that everyone who wants to be involved can
provide informed, valuable input to the design process. This is also
the point at which questions are addressed.
Our next step is to survey the property with our sophisticated land
survey equipment so we can establish accurate boundaries, building
locations, existing tree locations and sizes, sidewalks, parking lots,
underground utilities, fence lines, and so on, and most important,
land contours down to a 3 inch interval. This fine delineation gives
us accurate information about the flow of surface water so we can
direct it and use it creatively on the site for either water play or
for watering plants, and it allows us to know exactly where to enhance
the three-dimensional characteristics of the property in the most
The third step in the process is to watch how the children interact
with the existing playground, and how the supervisors interact with
The fourth step is the visual analysis, part of which is taking a full
set of digital photos for future reference during the actual design
phase. During this step, we look at the lay of the land, signs of
water issues, condition of the existing vegetation, the relationship
between the building(s) and the land, the scale of the site, the
architecture of the neighborhood, views from the site and to the site,
the movement of the sun, direction of the wind, and so on.
Fifth is the administration of two very comprehensive questionnaires,
one for the teachers in each age group, and one for the
administration. This gives us a range of information about curriculum
needs and desires, comfort levels, playground issues, nature-based
education, land use, expectations, and so on.
All of this is then taken back to our office where our professional
design staff assesses, evaluates, and interprets the information, and
turns it into a beautiful, workable, efficient, buildable design
presented to you in a photo-realistic format which is dimensionally
accurate and to-scale, looks very much like a photograph of the
finished project taken from the air (which even children can
understand), and which is an outstanding fundraising tool.
We know a lot about fundraising and grant writing, so we are more than
happy to help in those areas, and if you need construction
coordination and/or oversight, or actually need someone to build the
project, our Natural Playgrounds Construction Company can easily
handle those aspects of the project, as well.
We love community built projects and can work with you around many
aspects of this approach. We can coordinate and direct them, or
oversee them to make sure they're being done correctly.
You should know, however, that it is a rare occasion that a completely
volunteer project is successful for these reasons:
Finding this kind of volunteer is almost impossible.
- Depending on the size of the project, from beginning to end can take several weeks, and maintaining the interest and energy level necessary to finish the project, especially when most people have full time jobs, is sometimes impossible.
- Many clients don't have free, unlimited access to the machinery necessary to move and shape the earth, move boulders into place, and efficiently distribute materials.
- Organizing and coordinating a number of semi-skilled and unskilled volunteers to accomplish complicated tasks is not easy, and requires someone with construction and landscape knowledge, people skills, and an ability to simultaneously coordinate numerous activities at various stages of completion. This person also has to know when to try alternative approaches when something's not working out well.
We have also had a number of clients who have hired landscape
contractors to build their Natural PLaygrounds.
If you're lucky, this can work out well. Usually we find that while
landscape contractors can be very good at installing patios, walkways,
terraces, stairs, and landscaping, they aren't comfortable with
installing natural playgrounds because it's new to them and they don;t
understand what goes into them.
Further, they usually know nothing about the ASTM and CPSC safety
guidelines, and nothing about licensing standards, which then
increases the risk of a substandard playground that does not meet code.
Additionally, because most landscape contractors haven't built a
natural playground before, they don't know how to price them, so they
bid high, which is unfortunate for you.
These are all the reasons we started our Natural Playgrounds
Construction Company. We know what we're doing, we're very efficient,
we're very competitive cost-wise (even in other parts of the
country!), and we build to all ADA, ASTM, CPSC, and licensing safety
standards and guidelines.
Further, all our decisions during construction are guided by the
principles of sustainability, so that whenever possible, we
incorporate indigenous vegetation, natural processes, local habitats,
rainwater harvesting, xeriscaping, and so on.
If you're at a point where you merely want to add some natural play
elements to your existing playground, check out our on-line store here.
Please contact The Natural Playgrounds Company® to discuss your thoughts and plans. We welcome your inquiries and will get back in touch with you promptly.
Thank you for spending some time with us today.
(Don't forget to check out our online store of natural play elements!
Click HERE to go there now!)