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New Tech is Changing Landscape Design

I'm always on the hunt for the latest technology. Anything that will save time, increase accuracy, make things easier, or make the design process more engaging for my clients. As a tiny Roman soldier once said in “Night at the Museum,” “we expand or we die!” In other words, it's important to keep up with the latest tech or you risk becoming obsolete. Landscape design is a fairly traditional field compared to most other lines of work. It is not overrun by myriad apps and gadgets to the same extent that other industries have been for some time. But that has changed in recent years.

Many companies still sketch their landscape designs by hand. There is nothing wrong with this- I am envious of the skill of landscape designers who can create these beautiful hand-drawn plans that are practically pieces of art in themselves. I think there will always be a place for such skill, but we also need to have our eyes open to where the market is going and what clients want today.

It takes time to learn a new program or acclimate to using a new tool in the yard. I have also learned to be careful of being overconfident in a piece of technology, particularly when it is on the “cutting edge.” Sometimes that is code for “not quite fully developed yet.” With any new tool you try, know exactly what you want/expect it to help you with before purchasing it. If it's not helping you accomplish the desired objectives, move on and find something else. If you try to incorporate sub-par technology into your process, your process becomes sub-par (ask me how I know.) That can be hard to swallow when you’ve just dropped a bunch of cash on the latest gizmo, but keep looking until you find something that does what you want it to.

Another thing to remember: Just like any tool, the latest tech does not make you a good designer. Your knowledge and experience makes you a good designer and the tools help you do that more effectively.

I thought I would share a quick list of some of the tools I have incorporated into my process, along with my thoughts on their effectiveness. I will start my list at “occasionally helpful” and end with the “game changers.” I plan to update this list occasionally as I add new tools to my arsenal. Hopefully my experience will save you some heartache (and cash) in your search for the latest and greatest.

Moasure ONE ($349 + $10 monthly subscription)

What it does: The Moasure ONE is advertised as a measuring tool that can create digital outlines of different shapes and perimeters, complete with accurate measurements. There is a monthly subscription that allows you to download these shapes and elevations onto your computer to use directly in your 3D landscape design software.

What’s hot:

Moasure recently came out with the “Moasure STICK,” which I consider a necessity if you are purchasing the Moasure ONE. For $69, you can place your Moasure device on the bottom of a pole to avoid bending over every time you set it down to create a point. Your back will thank you and you will look much more professional. It also makes it easier to reach into tight corners or behind bushes.

Everything is really well made. You can tell the people who make these are really passionate about their product. The Moasure unit itself is encased in a hardened rubber of some sort and I have used it in snow and mud, cold and heat. It comes in a protective pouch and the Moasure stick is also really well made- similar to the build of a nice camera tripod.

I would say the most useful thing about the ONE is its “3D Draw” feature. It is by no means perfect (more on that below) but you can basically create your own topographic map of a property and also record significant features, like rock walls and the placement of the house in relation to the rest of the yard. I use it with every project and download the map I create as the starting point of my 3D models. I have found it more accurate and quicker than trying to model topography from pictures, but not accurate enough to pull actual measurements from. In other words, the Moasure ONE is perfect for creating the starting point for your model as you are creating a concept. You can make something that LOOKS like their yard very quickly. But be sure to supplement this with your own measurements from the yard when it comes time to draw up the plans. I always scale my Moasure file to the homeowner’s plot map to ensure I’m not too far off.

There are some great tutorials on their website to help you improve your measurements.

What’s not:

The Moasure communicates with an app on your phone to record the measurements. There have been a couple times where it has shut off on me halfway through a measurement, which was incredibly frustrating. Granted, I have used this hundreds of times, so I wouldn’t say that is a huge issue.

My biggest issue with the Moasure is that it is not nearly as accurate as I hoped it would be. The main reasons I bought this tool were to record elevation changes and get a basic outline of the yard that I could use as the foundation for my 3D models. My accuracy with the ONE in 3D Draw mode has ranged anywhere from within a few percent of the actual measurement to not even in the same ballpark. Don’t use this tool to tell your guys how tall a retaining wall needs to be. You might get lucky and be correct or you might be off by 3 feet. That's a lot when you’re building a fancy Belgard wall!

With that being said, the Moasure seems to get less accurate as you add more points. This could potentially work better for people using it for simpler projects. For example, if I’m working on a ¼ acre backyard with 3 tiers, I can get pretty good info if I trace one tier at a time. But if I try to trace that whole yard in one file, the numbers are usually way off.

This leads me to the next issue. The Moasure ONE is incredibly touchy. It's not something you can use perfectly out of the box. There are some great tutorials on their website to help you develop your measuring technique, but even with hours and hours of practice, I am not getting the results they advertise. My accuracy has improved, but not enough for me to have total confidence in my numbers every time. In theory, you can get your measurements and outlines within one percent accuracy. I’m not doubting it's possible. I have gotten lucky and had some of my projects come out that close. But that's the problem. I don’t have time to be “lucky.” I need this thing to work predictably and accurately every time I use it.

This is a “motion measuring tool.” Which means it is recording distances and heights based on your movement. If you move too slow or too fast, take too long to set the device down, set it down too hard or set it down too gently, it can throw off your measurement and make your file essentially useless.

Overall score: 3 out of 5

I love the idea of this technology, but practically it is not there yet for me. Moasure continues to update their offerings and I have hopes that someday it will work as advertised and with greater ease of use.

Would I purchase it again? Probably so. I still use it on every project as it quickly helps me create a starting point for my clients’ 3D models. I have simply adjusted my expectations and understand that I can’t rely on it for actual measurements. But it is great for getting the idea of overall shapes and topography on a property. I think the Moasure ONE supplemented with a Ziplevel for elevations could be a perfect combo (that will be my next investment.)

In my next article, I will be giving my review of VIP3D, the landscape design software from Structure Studios.

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