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The Rigors of Private Planning Practice #3: Opinions of Work Product

Wannaplan?

Bounty Hunter
Messages
3,217
Points
29
Do you know what your clients think of your finished planning documents?

I am talking about the overall aesthetic of the page design, including how graphs, charts, and images relate to the text, including the overall look of the completed document. The way it is bound can also leave an impression on your client, but I don't know too many firms that use anything beyond GBC comb or wire bindings, so don't feel as if you have to comment on the binding (unless your finished products are square-bound!).

Here's where I'm coming from. Maybe I'm getting a little self-conscious about the work I do, so I thought I'd throw this out to the Throbbing Brain and see what y'all think. Those in private practice call share their stories about client opinions on their plans, and those in the public sector can tell us what worked or didn't work from the consultants they've hired. Or if you have a link or two to an online plan, share it so we can judge for ourselves if the plan aesthetics are acceptable. Feel free to brag!

Here are a couple of stories from the trenches in my neck of the woods:

1) A client once told us a plan that I drafted was in a "magazine format," and I took that as a compliment. I think it was meant to say that each page was lively enough - with just enough graphics - to hold the readers interest.

2) I've heard a complaint about a plan in that it looked like a "textbook." I would imagine the charts that are clearly labeled with figure numbers, a title, and explanatory text (apart from the analysis in the main narrative) make it look like something out of a BIO 101 college course textbook. Further, the fact that I can go three straight pages with relevant and meaningful text without interruption from charts or images gives it a text-heavy feel. Never mind that I use a 12-point font at a spacing of 1.5 lines - not overly text-heavy if you ask me. Ever see a 10-point single-space document? Ugh!

3) Just the other day, we got a complaint at a meeting that the color charts wouldn't reproduce so well if a developer or resident wanted a B & W photocopy of the plan or a part of it. Never mind the fact that our letter agreement said the final product would be in color. So, we get into a big hooha regarding the benefits of using a hatch pattern on color, or a hatch pattern on B & W, blah, blah, blah, which led to a smart-alecky comment from a resident that we are a big engineering firm with the ability to do what they wanted. At this point, the top local official finally stepped-in and said that color is the way to go, it looks better, and is what they asked for. That put an end to the discussion. Whew!

Clearly, client opinion on what looks best in their plan varies considerably.

Which leads to the inevitable question: Are there standard practices for plan document page designs?

On one end of the spectrum, there are those plans that are so flimsy and lack substance that, at best, they could only be considered brochures, full of clip-art, overgeneralizations, and platitudes. On the other end are the plans that are so Ivory Tower, so densely written, that the average citizen would never want to read it. What's in-between these two extremes is probably where your firm is at in terms of page and overall document design
 

Chet

Cyburbian Emeritus
Messages
10,623
Points
34
Wanigas? said:
Which leads to the inevitable question: Are there standard practices for plan document page designs?
Plan publishing is like cooking - presentation is everything.

Its too important to leave to the planners - we have graphic artists on staff and every major document that leaves goes through them for review and sprucing up.

EDIT: We dont have a standard page format for plans per se, since they should be tailored to the client and not be cookie-cutter. But we do have clerical staff trained to follow certain page setup standards for text correspondence etc.
 

Wannaplan?

Bounty Hunter
Messages
3,217
Points
29
Chet said:
Its too important to leave to the planners - we have graphic artists on staff and every major document that leaves goes through them for review and sprucing up.
Cool! You are very lucky. Here, the planners do all the document formatting and page design. We get no specialized graphic assistance and technical expertise.

What do you use for the main document: Word, PageMaker, InDesign, or something else? We have been a PageMaker shop, but we are slowly transitioning to Word. I use Word exclusively. PageMaker seems like such an anachronism.
 
Messages
5,352
Points
31
Chet said:
Plan publishing is like cooking - presentation is everything.

Its too important to leave to the planners - we have graphic artists on staff and every major document that leaves goes through them for review and sprucing up.

EDIT: We dont have a standard page format for plans per se, since they should be tailored to the client and not be cookie-cutter. But we do have clerical staff trained to follow certain page setup standards for text correspondence etc.
How nice it must be to have other people do that for you. I'm the only captain on this ship so I pretty much control how things look. I have liberally borrowed layouts from other consultants and have followed whatever guidelines the client and/or prime consultant has given me regarding the look of the final product.
 

Wannaplan?

Bounty Hunter
Messages
3,217
Points
29
Planderella said:
I have liberally borrowed layouts from other consultants and have followed whatever guidelines the client and/or prime consultant has given me regarding the look of the final product.
Take a look at this county-wide Land Use Atlas:

http://ftp.antrimcounty.org/webpages/lup-menu.html

All township PDF document links can be found on the left-hand collumn. I think the maps are attractive, but some of the charts are confusing. I like how they highlighted some of the more significant data results, though. What do you think?
 
Messages
5,352
Points
31
I really like the layout of those atlases. They are attractive and easy to read. However, the land use table overview towards the end gets a bit muddy. It looks like they used GIRAS data as a basis for the land use maps. I had a very similar project in which the municipality did not have a single bit of land use recorded anywhere, not on paper maps and certainly not on electronic file. The only way we could build their maps was to use land cover data, overlay it over the DOQ's and have the planning staff verify as much as they could. It was my very first project from hell.
 

Cardinal

Cyburbian
Messages
10,080
Points
34
A plan should read easily and be attractive, with photos, maps, drawings, tables, charts, graphs, etc. to highlight the important information. I think appearance goes a long way to making a plan effective. Think back to some of those horrible, double-spaced, black-and-white plans left over from the eighties. They were hard to read, if not painful to read, if even readible at all. Compare that to what is possible today, with the ability to lay out pages and illustrate ideas in a way that immediately communicates the intent. I would add one more thing - in addition to being attractively laid out, the document should be deliverable in an electronic format and be easily reproducable on the typical computer and inkjet computer.
 

Chet

Cyburbian Emeritus
Messages
10,623
Points
34
Planderella said:
How nice it must be to have other people do that for you. I'm the only captain on this ship so I pretty much control how things look. I have liberally borrowed layouts from other consultants and have followed whatever guidelines the client and/or prime consultant has given me regarding the look of the final product.
Dont get me wrong. I'm still a one person dept but in a firm of over 200 other consultants that has been around for over 75 years. They have learned a thing or two... I was a client of theirs...err ours, so I am glad that they have this.
 

michaelskis

Cyburbian
Messages
20,175
Points
51
Chet said:
Its too important to leave to the planners - we have graphic artists on staff and every major document that leaves goes through them for review and sprucing up.
That is part of the reason that took art and design as my minor. Seeing how important the final product is made me realized that I need to know to make it look good.

When I put that presentation togeather for the 8th grade class, my supervisor was a bit shocked that I put something like that togeather.
 

Doitnow

Cyburbian
Messages
496
Points
16
Out here we focus too much on the planning and making of maps, documents etc. Presentation has improved only recently. Other wise if we are poor at something it's the presentation.
Many times I painfully realise the absence of a graphic artist specifically good at improving planning related documents and maps.
I am try to work on it myself but it's not enough. :-(
 
Messages
37
Points
2
What firm do you work for?

Chet said:
Plan publishing is like cooking - presentation is everything.

Its too important to leave to the planners - we have graphic artists on staff and every major document that leaves goes through them for review and sprucing up.

EDIT: We dont have a standard page format for plans per se, since they should be tailored to the client and not be cookie-cutter. But we do have clerical staff trained to follow certain page setup standards for text correspondence etc.

Out of curiosity, what firm do you work for? I am a planning student who is specializing in Urban Design and I plan on going to graduate school to get my masters in Landscape Architecture. I hope to someday be a designer of communities or someone who works on putting together all the artsy fartsy and graphic presentation materials.
 

Gedunker

Moderating
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
11,491
Points
41
Mini vent follows:

Just curious as to why some consultants feel compelled to place their corporate logo on every friggin page of the comp plan -- I mean from cover to cover in rather bold fashion, at that. |-)

Mini vent ends.

Chet's comment is spot on so long as content closely/nearly matches presentation. If the end product is crap, then who cares how nice it looks?

I had a very small archaeological consulting firm do field investigations and prepare a report for a CDBG activity we were doing and they put together an absolutely superb finished product. I asked them if they used out-of-house services and I thought by their reaction I had insulted them. :-c
 

Masswich

Cyburbian
Messages
1,303
Points
23
Style over Substance (if at all)

I can tell you what I think of 90% (note that I was careful not to say all!) of the consultant work I have seen in ten years: crap, which at best is made to look pretty in the hopes that I don't bother to actually read the content.

I don't know if this is a regional thing or not but I find most of the consultants in my neck of the woods act like we're blessed to have them working in our municipality at all and that we should just shut up and pay the bills.

Its gotten so bad that I try to do as much as possible in house, even if time is not really available to do so. We do a better job on the content and a competitive job on the graphics.
 

monkeyflower

Cyburbian
Messages
58
Points
4
Wanigas? said:
I am talking about the overall aesthetic of the page design, including how graphs, charts, and images relate to the text, including the overall look of the completed document.
I haven't spent enough time around any one department (or their documents) to see any standard practices. One (county-level) that I interned with had a graphic design division that helped the other divisions with their deliverables, though the division heads' personalities strongly determined how much each used the graphic folks.

My grad program (U-Michigan) includes Tufte fairly prominantly in one of the required courses.
 

Mud Princess

Cyburbian
Messages
4,898
Points
27
Masswich said:
I don't know if this is a regional thing or not but I find most of the consultants in my neck of the woods act like we're blessed to have them working in our municipality at all and that we should just shut up and pay the bills.
Hmm, maybe you should be looking at consultants from out of state. ;-)
 

monkeyflower

Cyburbian
Messages
58
Points
4
Wanigas? said:
I think I started a thread on him a while ago. Check it out here:

http://www.cyburbia.org/forums/showthread.php?t=10002

Is this the same Tufte you speak of?
The very same.

His (overly harsh, I think) criticisms of PowerPoint are only a very recent thing, though. He's better known in most circles for his earlier books, such as "The Visual Display of Quantitative Information". When we were presented with his various guidelines in class ("maximize the ratio of information to ink"), we were each then asked to find a dataset somewhere, make an informative table out of it, and bring it for presentation to the class, so that everybody could spend two hours critiquing the informativity of various graphs. It was entertaining, at least.
 

Doitnow

Cyburbian
Messages
496
Points
16
I have realised that for ifferent needs different presentations are required.
For example for a Master Plan Proposal I have seen two-three volume reports starting right from the historical background of the city and covering rainfall patterns and agricultural trends. Theres too much data which is nver integrated into the final output( i.e the Proposed Land Use Plan and the regulations).
All these reports are well made and have enough charts, maps, figures done up very well.
But these plans are only attractive but the administrators dont find it easy to read and sift through.
MAny times the plan implementors need an Action Plan with clearly spelt out steps.
I have realised that and in some projects after compiling huge data and making big reports I have started giving a very brief and precise presentation( in conjunction with the clients objective) mostly in powerpoint slides and hard copy outputs. These short presentations are useful for the beaurucrats to carry and present and convince the politicians. They are not only attractive( I try my best with hte limited skills I have) but also semi-legal( as I superimpose the proposals with the MAster Plan. It also becomes easier for the government to implement such proposals in the ambit of the Master Plan.

I tried this last month for the circulation plan proposal and it worked wonderfully well.

The many volmued master plan reports end us as reference for thesis students ashte the people in the agencies never read them( but are happy to keep and/or distribute copies).
Only people like me read them.:)
 

Wannaplan?

Bounty Hunter
Messages
3,217
Points
29
This one is for those in the public sector.

Have you ever had a consulant deliver your final plan, although it looks a little sloppy or amateurish, is actually well-written and has a wonderful set of goals, objectives, and recommendations? Just curious, I am just trying to get a sense of how important aesthetics are for the final product.
 

NHPlanner

A shadow of my former self
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
9,945
Points
40
Wanigas? said:
This one is for those in the public sector.

Have you ever had a consulant deliver your final plan, although it looks a little sloppy or amateurish, is actually well-written and has a wonderful set of goals, objectives, and recommendations? Just curious, I am just trying to get a sense of how important aesthetics are for the final product.
Yes.

The last master plan done for my community in 1997 has awful graphics, and very boring formatting....yet the stuff in the plan was very good, and we implemented over 80% of the recommendations.
 

Lee Nellis

Cyburbian
Messages
1,369
Points
29
I have worked on plans for small towns and rural counties where the budget simply would not support much in the way of graphics, layout, etc, although I have always insisted on a few good maps. Some of the low-budget plans had better success in actually guiding the community's decisions than better-funded projects. So, I have to say that graphics clearly aren't critical. But that doesn't mean I don't use them when I have the resources to do so.
 
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