Permaculture Design Process – 3. The Client Interview

By Aranya


This is the part where we identify why we are redesigning the site. The following process we would ideally go through with each client (everyone involved ought to be interviewed to some degree). Sometimes, your clients will include both adults and children, though one or two may guide the process more than the others. From time to time, you will also need to take into consideration the needs of animals (even if you cannot question them directly!).

Often, the clients involved will include your self. In this case it can be helpful to get someone else to ask you these questions and make notes for you.

The interview

If you can, impose no time limit on these questions. Often the most important answers will be the ones you receive first, however given enough uninterrupted time to ponder, some real gems can emerge much later too.

We shall base our interview around the following questions:

1. What are the client’s needs and wants?

This acts as the overall guidance for your design:

  • What is their vision for the site / project? Get as much detail as you
    can. Let them draw or paint it if they will.
  • What are their needs (the priorities that they must have)?
  • What are their wants (the ‘would be nice to have’s)?

2. What are the client’s values?

What is most important to them? You must design taking into account the client’s values (e.g. a vegetarian might not be too impressed if you hand them a livestock-based design!).

3. What are their personal limiting factors?

Again, your task as designer will be to identify their key limiting factors, but for now, just help them with ideas if they get stuck, and write everything down. Limiting factors (handout 10.2) might include:

  • Physical issues (e.g. poor health, little strength).
  • Emotional issues (e.g. lack of confidence, motivation).
  • Mental issues (e.g. lack of imagination, understanding).
  • Lack of money, time, skills etc.

4. What personal resources do they have?

Like limiting factors, resources can be either physical (e.g. being able-bodied) or non-physical (e.g. being patient). Most of the things that can appear under limiting factors, can be found here too, for instance:

  • Vision.
  • Inspiration.
  • Experience.
  • A good network.
  • Time, money, skills etc.

5. What is their timescale for the design?

Finally, you need to identify how quickly they would like to achieve their vision. Is it a short-term fix that needs to be up and running in a few months, or do they have a much longer view? Perhaps they have both and are looking for a phased design (one that changes over time)?

6. Other site related questions that you may have from your survey?

Don’t forget to ask the extra questions that you noted during your site survey. These may include questions about things that weren’t immediately visible to you then, like the routes of underground utilities (e.g. gas and water pipes, electricity cables etc.), local availability of resources, previous use of the site, ownership, planning restrictions etc. Your client(s) may not always have the answer themselves, but may be able to point you in the right direction.

7. Personal details

Finally, make a note of your clients’ details: names, approximate ages (especially if designing for children) and contact details (postal address including postcode – useful for online maps, phone number, email etc.).

Other information that may be relevant include the client’s:

  • Eating habits
  • Occupations
  • Lifestyle (including how often will they be spending on site?)

8. Anything else?

And don’t forget to ask them that all-important last question… They may tell you something really vital that wasn’t covered by any of your other questions.

The analysis

OK, well done! Once you have gathered this information from your clients, you are finally in a position to begin the next stage – the analysis phase (part 4).

Go to part 4 – Identifying functions