What is Sketch Design and Detailed Design and why are they important?

In Landscape Architecture, the design process involves several stages. Two that you will often hear us talk about are: sketch design and detailed design. These stages serve different purposes and involve different levels of specificity and detail. 

Sketch design (also sometimes called concept design) is the initial phase in the design process where broad concepts and ideas are explored and communicated through quick, informal drawings, diagrams, and visual representations. This plan is usually a coloured plan that has no technical specifications, however an experienced landscape contractor may be able to work off if the design is straightforward.  

Detailed design is the phase in the design process where the chosen concept from the sketch design is refined, and specific details, technical aspects, and precise specifications are developed. This detailed plan is used for a landscape contractor to build off as it will provide finishes, levels, planting setout and material specifications for your landscape contractor to quote and built off.

Here is an overview of each:

Sketch Design

Conceptual Exploration:

During the sketch design phase, landscape architects focus on exploring and developing conceptual ideas for the project. This stage is characterized by the generation of rough sketches, diagrams, and other visual representations to communicate and test design concepts.

Spatial Arrangement: 

The emphasis is on overall spatial arrangement, relationships between different elements, and the general aesthetic and functional goals of the landscape. Sketches may be quick and informal but are crucial for brainstorming and refining the initial vision.

Client and Stakeholder Input:

Sketch design often involves collaboration with clients and stakeholders to ensure that the proposed concepts align with their goals and expectations. Feedback obtained at this stage helps shape the direction of the project.


Sketch design allows for flexibility and creative exploration. This stage is where ideas can be easily modified and refined based on feedback and evolving project requirements.

Detailed Design:

Refinement and Detailing: 

In the detailed design phase, the focus shifts towards refining the chosen concept from the sketch design. Details related to materials, specific plant selections, grading, drainage, lighting, and other technical aspects are addressed in greater depth.

Technical Specifications:

Landscape architects create detailed drawings, plans, and specifications that provide precise instructions for the construction and implementation of the design. This includes more accurate measurements, construction details, and material specifications.

Cost Estimation:

Detailed design allows for a more accurate estimation of costs associated with the project. This is important for budgeting and ensuring that the design aligns with the available resources.


Addressing zoning regulations, environmental considerations, and other legal requirements is a critical aspect of detailed design. Landscape architects need to ensure that the design complies with all applicable codes and regulations.

In summary, sketch design is a more conceptual and exploratory phase, whilst detailed design involves the refinement of chosen concepts and the development of precise plans and specifications. Both stages are integral to the landscape architecture process.

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