10 Things Every Landscape Lighting Designer Builder Hates to Hear

10 Things Every Landscape Lighting Designer Builder Hates to Hear

By Mike Gambino

It’s happened to every designer at some point: A client makes a hurtful comment about your work.

Feedback is important. And often the problem with some of these elements no designer ever wants to hear is that they cause a slowdown in the construction process. So here we look at some real-world situations and ways you can handle what comes across as hurtful, thoughtless comments with grace.


This might be one of the most useless phrases in this history of design. Why don’t you like it?

To learn more about what’s not working for a client, you will have to ask some questions. There are a lot of people who operate on the “I’ll know it when I see it” philosophy. That’s just not practical.

Develop a set of questions to ask when you get this response. Ask about the brightness, featured subjects and focal points to figure out what is liked and what is not. Often something as simple as a dimmer switch can “fix” the entire design.


If you start working for free today, your work will never be valued tomorrow. While there is a time and place for pro bono work, someone who is hiring for a landscape lighting design Build job or project needs to understand the cost – and be able to pay for work.

If a client tries to negotiate a trade or “publicity” for projects, take a moment to educate them on the costs of design. There’s time and hardware and expertise. And if the client still doesn’t want to pay, walk away from the job.


Um … no.

Before you roll your eyes – ok, after you roll your eyes – explain politely that it is also to their benefit as watermarking photos are needed to help prevent unauthorized use and representation of the work by others. It’s also important for branding and promotion of your company and an effective way for people to contact you need be.

  1. MAKE IT “POP”

So, what does “pop” mean, exactly?

This is one of those phrases that everyone tends to use, but no one really understands. Is “pop” color, brightness, or “showy” ? Does is mean make it standout? After getting their definition of “pop” ask what element needs to “pop”.

Sometimes this is the start of a design conversation, try to pull the information out of the client. Have them show examples they do or don’t like from your photo gallery to give you a place to start.


Just assume from the start of a design project that you’ll hear this phrase and inquire what they mean by that. What is too much light? Everyone’s perception will be different. If they mean they don’t want “too many fixtures”, explain to them that it will take the minimum amount of fixtures to create the desired effects even so it will probably take many more fixtures than they think it will to achieve effective results. Have a conversation about fixture counts to help the client understand why multiple low wattage fixtures are desirable over fewer higher brightness ones without distracting or detracting from the goal of the design. If their intent is to save money by cutting back on equipment quantity or quality at the cost of the design then you’ll need to determine if you want to work with this client or move on.


In other words … “I have no idea what I want.”

These really are the most difficult type of client. I’ll take someone who knows exactly what they want—even if I don’t agree—over the “be creative” people any day. The phrase “just be creative” is an almost foolproof sign that there will be so many revisions, all without direction.

If that’s the creative direction, you can help develop creative direction by finding out what the client is looking for. Ask these questions to get started:

  • What is the goal of the lighting?
  • What are the primary viewing locations and angles both from inside and outside the residence or building.
  • Who are the occupants or viewers of the space?
  • What do you want the design to do?
  • How will the property be used?


Copying a design is boring and just plain wrong.

It’s OK to share examples of likes, but not to just mock up something that looks like another design. It will hurt your credibility as a designer and has the potential to present issues for the client.


I can, but I’m going to charge you by the hour.

It’s a tough situation: You have already taken the job and in early stages of production the client starts asking for a lot. It’s more than just scope creep; it’s scope creep on a runaway train.

It’s important that you explain and set boundaries from the beginning. Some landscape lighting designer builders write a number of comps or revisions into the contract, while others set revision or mockup times to a certain number of hours. These “rules” can help you keep the idea dump from becoming a real problem, and provide an opportunity to charge for it if the client really wants to see it all. (Occasionally, there are some that will want to do that). Time is Money.


Collaboration is one thing. Designing with a client is another thing completely.

You might have to do a little client management in this situation. Rather than sitting down and working on the design together, offer some other ways they can help:

  • Provide examples of design they like
  • Gather images to work with from your library
  • Make a list of garden elements they already have and like

Then keep this client in the loop. Long periods without communication could be stressful for them and lead to even more desire to “help.” Provide frequent progress reports and updates to make them feel like part of the process.


Nothing makes a designer feel devalued like someone else telling them the work is easy and doesn’t take long. It’s offensive.

But before you just ignore them completely, politely ask what needs to be done and provide an estimate of time (and cost, if applicable). Don’t get caught up in anger as you want to tell them everything that goes into changing a design or creating something new, just state the facts.

And if they continue to devalue your work in the future, fire them as a client. (Or show them this article in hopes that they will see the error in their ways.)

This landscape lighting blog is published by Mike Gambino of Gambino landscape lighting inc. all rights reserved. Mike is a professional landscape lighting system designer/ builder and has been designing, installing and maintaining landscape lighting systems for more than 27 years. Mike resides in the Los Angeles area with his wife and 2 sons. To visit his website go to www.Gambinolighting.com . To inquire about hiring Mike please click here .

Blog articles may be published with permission on other websites without editing or removing links.


  • Mark Carlson
    Posted at 08:41h, 18 August Reply

    Great content again Mike. Being that I focus more energy into the design side of the business, I liked your feedback on “collaboration” with the client. This is a delicate issue, because if taken too far, it can get out-of-hand. I think there should be limits to this act, and I must say that in most cases, people are generally fine with basic contributions. However, there are examples such as the one I had this past month.

    The customer, a retired husband-wife team of building industry background, felt they knew most everything about any aspect of the building trades. He was a home builder and she was a county planner type. As you can imagine, not a positive relationship to enter into. The challenge was that they could not understand the true value I brought to the table…..my experience and deep skills as a designer-contractor.

    They proceeded to attempt to perform a ‘mock-up’ of some of my lighting design with their existing, failing and poor quality lighting system still in place on the site. Their goal was to attempt to see where they could eliminate lights from my conceptual plan. I won’t drag on this conversation, but I ended up drawing a line-in-the-sand and I said it’s best that they either do it themselves or find another service provider.

    As you know, the majority of the population has little to no background/experience whatsoever when it comes to lighting and lighting design…..this includes the architects, and most trades. My point is that the customer must better understand “what” it is we do and “why” we provide such value. There’s no point in wasting a bunch of time trying to teach them these things at the front end. Unless one is getting paid for “all” of the time they spend in this process, then there has to be limitations.

    Anyways, you already know this and understand that this is a much larger industry issue–education. Thank you for your continued time and dedication to educating the masses.

  • Mike Gambino
    Posted at 16:08h, 18 August Reply

    Mark, thanks as always for reading and for your contribution. Sorry to hear that project didn’t work out as I know you invested a lot of time and patience but sometimes the best result is to just part ways freeing you up to serve others who value what you bring to a professional landscape lighting project.

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