As with any great design, whether it’s painting on a canvas or a designing an outdoor space, it’s important for a designer to work from general to specific. As designers, before we ever get to specific material decisions with clients, we must first make foundational decisions about the design concept for the space. The concept of the space includes both the purpose of the space (or program elements) as well as the overall theme.

First and foremost, the process always begins with something that most people don’t include in their design considerations: grading, drainage and circulation. These are not exciting factors in the design process but understanding the site is pivotal for creating a design that actually works. Understanding grading, drainage and


circulation is like knowing the size of paper you’re drawing on. There’s a really big difference between what you would draw on a Post-It versus a large roll of butcher paper. Similarly, knowing the ins-and-outs of your usable space impacts the design.

Once grading, drainage and circulation are established, creating an overriding concept is key to a successful design. The concept includes both the theme of the site and its function. Having a clear concept is important because it’s like the plumbline by which every other future decision is measured. It keeps the design and program elements on track. When you flesh out the concept with a client, you will focus on the function of the space. How will the space be used? Is it a resort style or kid-friendly pool? Is the space for entertaining or for quiet relaxation? These questions help determine the program elements that define the space.

The concept also includes the theme of the project. Is it French Country, Mediterranean or Midcentury Modern? Are the repeating forms linear or organic in nature? Clarifying the overall theme will keep all design elements integrated with the overall aesthetic of the project.




And finally, after you’ve address practical aspects of the job site and the overall concept design, you’re free to make material selections. Most clients want to jump into this step right away but it’s important to wait until more general decisions are made. Remember, designers need to work general to specific. Material decisions are the cherry on top, not the foundation. However, once it’s time to make selections, less is more. Having a small palette of colors and materials will pack more of an aesthetic punch. As we’ve suggested, if you lead with an overarching concept, you can remind clients of the ultimate goal when they go off track. You can hearken back to the original intent and ask, “Is this selection in line with our concept? Is this addition in line kurt-kraisinger-lorax-design-group-tributary-revelation-15with the function of the space and the theme we’ve selected?”

Pool Design is an expansive topic. It includes principles like balance, proportion and repetition. It also includes design elements like line, texture and form. While those aesthetic elements are really important, they only come into play after the space itself is defined and an overall concept is established. We lead our clients well when we put first things first.

Kurt Kraisinger, PLA, LEEDAP