The Problem with Outdoor Designers

There’s a villain in this tale.  It’s Target.  Yes, that big box store, who actively promotes its designer relationships and products is the bad guy of this story.  What’s worse though, and it still doesn’t absolve them, is that they’ve been unconsciously aided by us.

Take a look at this.

image via ActiveRain

It’s an old story.  A relatively unknown designer outside of design circles with a beautiful and considered product gets ripped off by a corporate giant.  It happens all the time.  Why? Because many designers- especially those who design products for outside and the landscape designers who use those products don’t have the cache that other disciplines do. We’re generally not well known outside of our own design communities.  We don’t have big media profiles. In other words, we are invisible to the public who won’t recognize the complete and total ripoff by Target of ModFire’s fireplace.

The core of the problem is that those of us who actually design for outside are outsiders. We don’t think about establishing ourselves in the media as a goal that will ultimately raise our profiles and expand our businesses.  Designers in other related (and some unrelated) disciplines have product lines (think fabric, furniture, and other garden ornaments) for outside, but few of us do. Fashion designers like Oscar de la Renta and Trina Turk have lines of outdoor furniture and fabric. Interior designers and architects do as well. Why? Because they recognize how much these products can add to their bottom lines and  they brand themselves from the get go as lifestyle tastemakers and we don’t. Why don’t we? Few designed environments add to the quality of life like those outside do.

Very few landscape or garden designers have a goal to be high profile enough to matter to beyond the immediate neighborhoods they work in. They assume that focusing locally is what will make them money and they’re right in the most immediate sense, but many are doing work that deserves wider acclaim, and don’t actively pursue it. We don’t reach out to national consumer media and pitch our best projects.  We don’t court the companies who produce the  products we use by going to events outside of our discipline. How many textile manufacturers or furniture would want to have a booth next to the much pile or tree spade at a landscape show? Not any.

We need to make our best work much more visible and recognizable to the public. Our names should be on products and we should be collecting the percentages paid from licensees instead those from other design fields.  We need to put ourselves out there– and not just as an offshoot of gardening.  We need to reach out to the larger design community and create relationships with other designers as well as with plants people and landscape specific suppliers. We need to be regarded as a design discipline in the same way as interior designers are. We need to foster relationships with the press and promote our work as design worthy–it’s not just about the garden and plants.  It’s about a beautiful and designed lifestyle that those elements are a part of.  We relegate ourselves to the backyard and miss out on so many opportunities with our own short shortsightedness. When we do step out in front there’s not enough recognition or marketing cache attached to our businesses or names because we haven’t set ourselves up that way.  We need to set our own bars higher in this regard.

Shame on Target for knocking off Brandon Williams who has worked and reached out to the larger design community.  They stole his ModFire product design, but even though it makes my blood boil, I’m not all that surprised.

As a side note…the subscribe button should be working now!–sc