As the watershapes and surrounding outdoor living environments we create continue to advance, it is imperative to stay current with the technologies that help us continue to push the envelope. There is no substitute or shortcut for acquiring the knowledge required to execute our projects, only education and experience can provide for this; however, technology truly affords us the ability to push this knowledge to new heights and to create some incredibly complex and functional works of art. I am a firm believer in embracing current and developing technologies as tools to improve processes, and ultimately to provide for better outcomes and experiences. My role in this industry is mostly within the design, client interaction and construction documentation sphere, and as such, I will be highlighting several of the key technologies I utilize in my process; those which I feel are critical for me to serve my role in this industry to the best of my ability. Below are phases of my typical design process, along with the tools that enhance each of these phases.


Beyond the initial consultation meetings with the client, the design process typically begins with gaining a firm understanding of the future project area; spatial measurements, elevations, existing architecture, exposure, flow, etc. are all vital elements needed to develop a quality design which integrates seamlessly into the existing environment and will exceed the client’s expectations. Site analysis needs, and therefore techniques, can vary widely from site to site; whether it’s the difference between a new construction home site to that of an existing, or varying topographic conditions from region to region (recall Jeromey Naugle’s recent E Zine article featuring the extremely challenging mountain side build of his “Sanctuary Floating Spa”). In my core market area, we see a fairly wide range of topographic conditions, from near-level suburban lots to lake lots with significant elevation changes. Even with near-level sites, obtaining accurate elevation measurements of the project area is an important part of the site analysis process. If a topographic survey is not available, one tool I have found to be indispensable for measuring project area elevations is the ZIPLEVEL high precision pressurized hydrostatic altimeter.


Unlike a rotary laser, ZIPLEVEL lets you truly work alone to quickly and easily level and read elevations directly in unmistakably clear digits. NO MORE rods, tripods, sensors, line-of-sight, error with distance, factory calibration or tedious computations. Now you can measure over any distance or elevation on earth, from paper thickness to the height of a mountain without error-inducing tabulation or math.-ZIPLEVEL, Technidea Corporation

What I love about this great tool is the combination of speed and accuracy it provides. As I’m sure many of you can relate, I often measure a site by myself, and the use of the ZIPLEVEL has improved this process for me. Now, there are no excuses for not performing this critical step in the site analysis process, which helps to ensure the design is custom-tailored to work for the site.


DESIGN DEVELOPMENTjohn-ogburn-enterra-design-group-tributary-revelation-3

Once the site analysis process is complete, it is time to compile this information and begin development of the design. The beginning of each one of my designs involves the “layering” of the site data collected – typically an engineered property survey, field spatial/elevation measurements, architectural plans of the home, etc. to build an extremely accurate model of the project area, home and any existing surrounding john-ogburn-enterra-design-group-tributary-revelation-4elements. I feel “model” is the correct term in my and many of your cases, as the design trend for our industry, and many others, has shifted john-ogburn-enterra-design-group-tributary-revelation-6heavily towards three-dimensional modeling. I spend a significant amount of time reverse engineering sites in order to recreate them as a realistic 3D virtual model, and I rely on powerful computer hardware and software to do so efficiently and accurately. Between Structure Studios, various iterations of AutoCAD, and Sketchup, to name a few, quality 3D design software packages with varying capabilities are readily available today. This is not an article to advocate for one over another, rather to emphasize the power they each can provide when implemented appropriately in the design process. For me personally, working in 3D makes me a better designer. I can say this confidently, as I can see a substantial improvement over the 2D design work I developed prior to making the switch to 3D. Recently, I was struggling through a design I had john-ogburn-enterra-design-group-tributary-revelation-5agreed to complete as a traditional 2D design plan (the client was not convinced of the value, and therefore additional cost of the original 3D design proposal I offered). In attempting to develop the 2D design, I kept running into dead ends/designer block, and I eventually shifted gears and began building the project out as a 3D model. In doing so, I arrived at a significantly improved design, through a much more fluid progression than my previous attempts. Needless to say, the client too was pleased. Through the process of modeling the project area in 3D, I become in-tune with the space, especially the elevations, allowing me to create more site-specific, functional designs.


As 3D design software continues to improve, allowing us to create increased levels of detail and realism, so too does our ability to present these designs to our clients. This is important, as the complexity of our projects intensifies, we can communicate our ideas/plans with greater ease than ever before. What may be second nature to us is often new territory for our clients, and the ability to showcase our designs as realistic 3D design renderings is incredibly powerful. Of particular note are projects with multiple elevation changes, water-in-transit features, and/or detailed structures. There will always be a place for traditional 2D plan view drawings, most notably as construction plans; however, these drawings can be somewhat limiting when it comes to presenting a design to a client, especially to those with limited visualization capability. Presenting a detailed 3D design to a client takes the guesswork out of the equation and allows for clear communication of the proposed design. In its simplest form, a 3D design has the ability to ensure everyone has an aligned vision for the project; however, newer technology is allowing us to create virtual experiences with unparalleled opportunities for us to connect with our clients. As we design and build projects with an ever-increasing level of detail and complexity, the budgets needed to support these builds has to increase as well. I have found that high quality 3D design presentations have the ability to increase client buy-in, allowing for easier justification of the bottom line. The presentation options have moved from simply showing a static 3D design image to creating an experience for our clients that they can truly connect with. We can now create an animated 3D fly-through video which guides the client through a custom storyboard of the design, complete with detailed materials, characters, furnishings, lighting effects, sounds and other environmental features which transport the client into the personalized design. One of my favorite experiences presenting a design fly-through video to a client was when we stepped into their home theater room and they viewed the video for the first time, as a family, on the big screen. The excitement level of the kids was amazing! As kids do while watching their favorite shows, they were claiming which virtual kid character they were in the design. “I’m the one throwing the ball!” & “I’m the one in the spa!” It was a lot of fun and very rewarding!




Great communication and data management, although not nearly as exciting as other aspects of the process, is essential for staying organized and providing a high-quality, professional service to our clients. It is rare that I do not purposefully meet in person with a client for the initial design presentation; however, in certain circumstances (i.e. out of town clients, or for subsequent design revisions from the initial presentation) there is a need to present remotely. In doing so, I want the client’s attention on the design and the feedback I’m requesting, and not on any technical difficulties they may encounter while trying to view, download, access, etc. the content that I’m sending. I also prefer not to send emails with massive attachments, which can quickly fill up inbox quotas and be challenging to manage on mobile devices. My solution for this is to take advantage of online Cloud storage; my go to being Google Drive, but others may be more will be familiar with Dropbox. For each client, I set up a project folder in which I can host their design files for easy sharing & viewing. I can then simply send an email with a link for them to access, for instance, a revised design fly-through video in which they can quickly stream in high resolution from their smart phone or tablet. I also use the same approach for providing construction documents to contractors. This ensures that everyone has access to the current design and construction documents, on demand, at any given time.I find online Cloud storage solutions to work extremely well for the distribution of project design and construction files; though, these files only constitute a fraction of the data I collect and create for each project. Most of the other files are just for my reference during the design development (i.e. site photos, initial project sketches, preliminary design iterations, etc.) and do not need to be shared. I do, however, prefer to preserve all of this information with redundant backups. I’m sure we all have either a first or second-hand account of a damaged laptop or failed hard drive; mine being that of a close friend losing her nearly complete doctoral dissertation to a failed hard drive. We all have enough on our plates to keep us busy from sun-up to sun-down without adding nuisance IT department chores to the list, and an effective automatic backup solution will makes life easier. I rely on a networked attached storage (NAS) device from Synology Inc. which has several terabytes of redundant data storage. Anytime I am connected to my office network, which is typically most every day, my local data is automatically backed up with two-way synching to the Synology NAS. john-ogburn-enterra-design-group-tributary-revelation-9Not only does this automatic process create backups across multiple hard drives, as well as, offsite backups, I can access these files at any time via my smart phone or tablet app while not needing them stored locally on the device. This isn’t a daily need, but when I do need to reference past information in a pinch, it’s a great solution. I could go on, but I feel like I might be losing some of you as I geek out a bit 🙂




I would be remiss if I didn’t briefly mention the technology that allows many of us to connect daily, helping us elevate and support each other. The various social media outlets, online communities and electronic publications currently available allow people, and in our case professionals in the watershape industry, to connect like never before. There are many marketing opportunities associated with these technologies, but my focus here is on the professional networking aspect they provide for. Our ability to instantly observe and interact with each other on a daily basis, regardless of distance, is priceless. On any given day we get a window into the activities of our fellow cohorts: a posting of an incredible new design rendering; a new forming detail; final photography of a remarkable new project; or simple commentary on the trials and tribulations of being a professional in our industry. These interactions strengthen our community and keep us all motivated in continuing to raise the bar in our respective area of expertise. These online technologies also create opportunities for us to pool (pun intended) our knowledge and talents. As the Tributary Revelation community has grown, it’s been incredible to watch strong partnerships form and the next-level achievements that result from this teamwork. Excited for what the future holds!

“Teamwork makes

the dream work.”

-Bang Gae


Thank you kindly for the time! Please feel free to contact me anytime with questions or comments.

John Ogburn, EnTerra Design