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  • Writer's pictureMatt Daly

Why We Emphasize 2D Design over 3D Renderings

We live in a modern world that is increasingly ruled by technology. As a landscape design company, that means the software in our industry is ever-advancing. While most of our clients aren’t so interested in what particular tech or programs we’re using, there is one thing everyone is interested in: 3D renderings.

Whether we’re talking to Silicon Valley clients in California, or to the incredible people right here in Richmond, VA, presenting a 3D rendering of a new space is exciting. Not only can 3D design show a prospective backyard in incredible detail, but it brings the design to life in ways that pen and paper cannot.

So it may come as a surprise that, in most cases, we emphasize 2D design over 3D renderings.

Let us explain.

Water and Earth is well-equipped and knowledgeable about the best of the best in 3D rendering software. But we are simultaneously wary to brush off the importance of 2D designs in the design process. Rendering a space in 3D can be incredibly helpful and exciting once a client knows what they want.

However, in the preliminary steps of the design process, a premature 3D rendering can do more harm than good.

So whether we’re out in San Jose, or here in Richmond, VA, we will nearly always present 2D designs first--often, before a digital image is ever even created.

Here’s why:

3D Renderings Can Be Distracting

In our opinion, we think the initial stage of design should consist of laying groundwork, and solidifying and conveying the overarching direction of the design. This is no small feat, and the last thing we want to do is distract or confuse our clients. Working with 2D renderings first lets us provide our clients with a distinct idea of what is possible in their space. At the same time, it prevents them from becoming distracted and caught up in minute details.

2D is by no means a lesser form of rendering. 2D designs have the unique ability of portraying beautiful visual representations of what your outdoor living space can be, without becoming an inflexible medium. In these early stages, we want to work with clients directly to modify focus areas, or change or redirect critical elements of the design.

Richmond, VA landscape design has many familiar elements to any other area of the country. Pools, pergolas, patios, decks, etc. There are a lot of moving parts. In our experience, it is easier for clients to imagine a pool repositioned, or an auxiliary patio removed when the design has not yet been brought to life.

Minimizing distractions by presenting 2D first is a means of streamlining the design process. We can provide our clients with a blueprint that is not yet set in stone, but still conveys mood, concept, direction, and intent.

Infrastructure & Understanding The Space

A big factor in understanding your prospective outdoor space is being able to visualize how you will move through it. Our years of experience has proved to us that the broader perspective of a 2D design presentation lets our clients get a better feel for the layout of a design.

From scale, to seeing how each part of the design interacts, critical factors are easier to understand on paper. This understanding is even more helpful when clients give us feedback.

In consultations, we bring two design concepts (an A, and a B) to the table. A 2D design gives our clients a more accessible look at how these two designs differ, how the space is being used, and a good point of reference for noting what they do and do not like about each design.

From there, they can easily explain to us which parts are working, and which they’d like to change. The simple infrastructure of 2D renderings means we can more easily modify and combine design elements. We feel this gives our clients more control over their final product, as changes can easily be made many times over if necessary.


One of the best aspects of being a design-only company operating in Richmond, VA is that every project we complete is a true reflection of who our clients are. Every space gets considered independently, keeping in mind both the lifestyle and preferences of the clients who own them.

Because of this, we care more about feedback than a lot of other design-build companies in Richmond. And good feedback is made possible by creating a seamless process where our clients are never made to feel overwhelmed.

In the past, we’ve found that holding an initial consultation complete with an immediate 3D rendering is as limiting as it is inspiring. It’s amazing to see a detailed example of what your outdoor living space could look like. But today’s 3D models are often so intricate, and so refined, that it can almost be hard to comprehend what you’re looking at.

The no-frills appeal of leading with 2D allows for each project to have a wide open opportunity to evolve and change. Our clients are able to see the full potential of their yard, without getting the impression that any one design is set in stone. This open endedness gives way to great conversation. We can learn what parts of a design a client loves, and which they’re less confident about.

Keeping the introductory steps of design accessible gives our clients a better understanding of what they’re looking at, and where that design can go. We’ve found that this understanding leads to empowerment, constructive feedback, and ultimately, a space that is tailor made for their individual wants and needs.

Client Centered Design in Richmond, VA

As a premium landscape design company working in Richmond, VA, 3D renderings will always have their place in our design process. We simply feel strongly that the place is not in the first steps of design.

For those first few consultations, we still prefer to opt for 2D to allow clients to really understand the direction and style of their new space. We believe this approach better enables Water and Earth to continue to put our client’s vision for their space first. It allows for more constructive feedback, malleability, and accessibility to the design process, all values that make our client experience truly next-level.

Interested in learning more about the design process? Read through our blog, or give us a follow on Instagram to see more of our work in Richmond, VA.

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