Will an online design forum make you hate your yard?

The internet is great. I mean, where else do you get to see stuff like this?

cat rock

I spend a good bit of time online, as my social media activity (it’s all for work!) will attest, and I enjoy some of the industry-specific forums. I occasionally check in on home improvement forums geared to homeowners as a way of learning more about what my clients and potential clients are looking for. Houzz, for example, has a phenomenally active discussion forum in which folks can solicit advice from other homeowners and the occasional pro who stops by. My goal as a designer is to help people get where they need to be faster than they would otherwise, but I’ve begun to wonder: is this possible in an online forum, where opinions and ideas can pour in – literally – by the dozens, even hundreds?

This question popped back into my head when I came across this article, “Conformity and the Crowd,” in the July-August 2013 issue of the Harvard Business Review. In a nutshell, the researchers looked at sites where people could customize their products and get feedback on the designs via social media. In one experiment, one group of women designed their own earrings online and got feedback from someone who was supposedly a part of the online community while another group designed their own earrings without feedback. The noteworthy result?

Their designs changed far more between the initial and final stages than those of a control group whose members got no feedback. And the women who got feedback were more likely than the others to have trouble finalizing the the design and less likely to be satisfied with the results.

That’s quite a result! So I mentioned these intriguing findings to my wife, MJ, who happens to be a social psychologist who studies (among many other things) what makes people choose the things they do. She told me about Barry Schwartz’s book “The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less,” a book that discusses the surprising notion that the more choices we have, the less satisfied we are with that we end up choosing. You can see Schwartz’s TED Talk about this for an overview:

This idea, that too much choice can lead to “analysis paralysis”, is pretty familiar to me. It’s why our job as designers is NOT to give our clients every possible option and say “figure it out and let me know.” It’s our job to talk to the client, get to know what is important to them, and help narrow the choices for them. After all, the choices that they’re making are expensive and, if not permanent, certainly long lasting. They need a trusted advisor!

Coming back to my original question, “will an online design forum make you hate your yard?” – quite possibly. These forums can be a great opportunity to see what’s out there and bounce some broad ideas off your peers. The research shows, though, that it’s no substitute for the design process with an actual designer as your advocate.

If you’re convinced that hiring a designer is the best way to move forward with your landscape project, contact me to set up a consultation! I’d love to sort through the myriad options available to you and help you get an amazing landscape!

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