As planners and landscape architects, our clients come to us for big ideas that will set the course for development of their projects. Because our design is inextricably tied to the land itself and the surrounding context, each project is different from the last and each project presents new challenges to be addressed. So with each new challenge,how is it possible to predictably meet the client’s schedule while producing quality work within budget? This past month, RVi Vice President and Director of Design Mark Smith addressed this topic in an office-wide presentation.

Throughout our professional lives, designers are taught the five phases of a project – Schematic Design, Design Development, Construction Documents, Bidding, and Construction Administration. But these phases can only begin after the designer has a “Big Idea” to work with. Little time is dedicated to teaching us about how to arrive at that big idea. Over the course of several years, Mark has researched dozens of individual theories about the design process. He concluded that while the number of steps in the process varied, most theories could be summarized in 4 key steps.

The first step, Investigation, is commonly referred to as site analysis in our field. It involves objective gathering and study of available data, conditions, constraints with the goal of understanding the design problem. The second step, Incubation, requires the conscious and subconscious processing of the data gathered during Investigation. During this step, new combinations of ideas come together and the mind identifies combinations with the most potential. The third step, Illumination, involves the conscious evaluation of opportunities and the visualization of potential solutions with a goal of narrowing the options to one most viable solution. The final step, Implementation, is the realization of the most viable solution and the implementation of a creative and strategic plan that can be effectively communicated to others.

Following this four-step creative process helps us create a more efficient design process, and gives us the ability to logically explain to the client how we arrived at a design concept. The following case study shows how this fourstep process was successfully applied to one of our master planned community projects.


Loma Colorado is a master planned community located in Albuquerque, NM. RVi was hired to provide master planning and landscape architecture services for this community.

We started with a thorough analysis of the project site and the surrounding area. This analysis provided many insights – including discovery of a valuable high point on the land.

It occurred to us that taking advantage of the high point would create many opportunities for the community. We developed a host of concept sketches illustrating different ways to develop this portion of the site.

We worked with the client and ultimately achieved consensus that an overlook park was the best solution. The overlook would be highly visible from the surrounding area and create a unique amenity for Loma Colorado residents.

The concept for the overlook was translated into construction drawings and ultimately into a finished product, which has been very well received by Albuquerque residents and the Loma Colorado community.