David Fox has been with Land F/X from the beginning. In fact, he was the company’s first client.
The Los Gatos, CA–based landscape architect discovered the software more than a decade ago at an ASLA convention, where he first met Land F/X CEO and developer Jeremiah Farmer. “Jeremiah gave a demo and I recall being especially impressed with the planting plan module,” he says. “I walked around and thought about it overnight. I came back to the booth and bought it the next day.”
David immediately had the company’s “undivided attention,” he says. “It was really easy to get tech support in those days for obvious reasons, but their tech support has always been and continues to be great.”
As the sole user of the software, David became a willing “beta tester” for new developments. “I gave a lot of feedback in the beginning, including input in how to work out any kinks that I saw,” he says. In fact, several Land F/X tools came about as direct responses to David’s suggestions. Jeremiah has done this consistently with many people through the years and part of the great strength of the program lies in his response to user input.
David welcomed the opportunity to be an influence during the Land F/X crescendo from prototype to tool used throughout an entire industry. “I tend to be an early adopter on most things,” he says. “As time goes on and the software has more users, the improvements become more of a consensus. There is nothing that replaces actual use in the field and feedback from users.”
The Art of Self-Determination
Building was a genetic inevitability for David. “My dad’s dad was a general contractor, and my mom’s dad was a tool and die maker,” he says. “I was framing houses by the time I was 8 with one grandfather and learning to draw with the other. I grew up in a business environment but was also surrounded by people who were creative and practical.”
As a sophomore at Rutgers University, he started out in law and business but was looking for something more. A fraternity brother took him on a tour of the landscape architecture department, and the rest is history.
After graduating in 1978 with a newly minted degree in environmental planning and design, David made his way back home to Southern California to find work. His first real job at Hogan and Roy Associates led to a subsequent position at Closson and Closson. Eligible to take the licensing exam in 1980, he was fortunate enough to pass on the first try.
In 1983, he made his way to San Jose in Northern California and, after a short stint at a local firm, went out on his own in the fall of 1984. "I started out as a one-person firm and mostly remained that way for many years,” he says. “I have recently partnered with my son, and it has been the best business collaboration of my career. We work together in my prime practice and have also started a development company based in Tucson."
A Specialized Practice
David's practice primarily centers on the design and building of private estates for individual clients. It is a very small market and takes close collaboration between the architect and a stable of nearly 30 contractors of all trades. “Budgets are very high compared with most projects,” he says. “I work for clients who are looking for a singular, unique, custom projects. It affords me a lot of freedom in my design work."
David counts among his influences architects Richard Neutra, Luis Barragan, Robert A.M. Stern, and landscape architects Roberto Burle Marx, Beatrix Farrands, and Thomas Church. He has had the good fortune to work on two of Church's estates. "I am also heavily influenced by the bungalow architecture from the ’30s and ’40s I remember from my childhood in Southern California. These are the homes that my grandfather built.
"I believe that success in landscape architecture is contingent upon being a lifelong student of design and designers,” he continues. “It’s important to deeply learn your craft and become a professional. There is no substitute for talent, but talent itself cannot be fully expressed without a strong foundation of knowledge, the understanding of history, and those that have paved the way before you."
David cites professional golfer Ben Crenshaw as an influence on this scholastic focus to the profession. “Crenshaw realized very early that his natural talent alone would not carry him very far, so he became a great student of the game. He also sought out the best teacher he could find, the great Harvey Penick. The knowledge he gained through the teachings of Penick and personal study elevated him to the highest levels of his field. And an approach that every professional should strive to emulate, in my opinion."
The Digital Age
"Atypical for me, I was rather late to adopting AutoCAD into my practice, not doing so until the late ’90s," David admits, "But since then I have made it a point to track and integrate computer-based design tools into my practice on a yearly basis. This is why I pulled the trigger so quickly on Land F/X.
"The biggest change in my practice through the years was moving from pencil to CAD, and the most profound change since the move to computer based design has been the addition of Land F/X. The integration of this program into my practice has been as big a leap as trading a lead holder for a mouse. I am still astonished on a daily basis at the speed with which I am able to work and the gain in productivity. A planting plan that used to take me 36 hours now takes 12, an irrigation plan that could take up to a week can now be finished in a couple of days.”
The real value of the software is a combination of “all the very small things it does,” he says. “The Slope tool is a good example. It is a small tool that tells you the degree of slope between different Spot Elevations (also a wonderful tool). In a grading and drainage plan, it’s incredibly useful to have that information instantly and not have to calculate each and every rise and fall. It may be a minor feature overall – but outstandingly useful. And it all plays into speed and time savings. The software is full of tools such as this.
“Just like in AutoCAD, I don’t use all of the power that Land F/X has,” he continues. “But the tasks that I use it for are vital to my particular practice and my ability to be efficient. If you’re running a landscape architecture office and you’re not using Land F/X, I have to wonder why. My projects are all negotiated set fees. If I can work faster, I make more money on an hourly basis. So it is imperative that I am as efficient as possible while still producing a great product for my clients. My preliminary designs are more graphic, the construction drawings are tighter, and since I can do all of this in less time, my profits are greater. That is why I use the software."
David Fox on Land F/X CEO Jeremiah Farmer
Jeremiah is an immensely talented person, and he is taking that talent and maximizing it. A lot of people have talent and don’t use it. He is a bright, inquisitive person who also has the drive that many creative people lack. It is a winning combination. I am also very fortunate to be able to count Jeremiah among my closest friends. His wit and insight are a constant source of delight for me, and I very much welcome every opportunity that we have to get together.
I am immensely impressed by his knowledge of programming. At times, I’ve requested features, and I would get them later that day in an email. He cares intently about interface design, the interoperability of all of the modules that make up Land F/X and ease of use. This makes the user experience as easy as CAD design can be. His attention to detail shows up every day for me in my process.
Most impressive to me is that he is willing to admit the stuff that he doesn’t know. For example, he is more gifted in programming than he is in business, but he seeks out great business people to talk to and learn from. He’s committed to gaining knowledge. His success has been a result of a great product and his ability to learn business on the fly and apply it to grow the company. As with any successful venture, there has also been a measure of good luck, but as my father told me many times, "Good luck is infatuated with the well prepared."
Land F/X CEO Jeremiah Farmer on David Fox
I was instantly impressed by David Fox at our first trade show appearance. He immediately saw the value of the software, and had several very intelligent questions. Never grilling or accusatory – it was clear that he was very impressed, and was just confirming that it could do some key tasks. He returned the second day of the trade show, saying that it was all he could think about. He had more questions at that point, but I beseeched him that his office was less than 30 minutes from my house, and that I’d just drive over and show him the software in depth.
One key memory I have from meeting him is that he brought his wife, a civil engineer, and that she was an active participant in the conversation. It was clear that he very much shared his profession with her, and that she was also heavily involved in going to tradeshows with him, helping him make decisions like large software purchases.
So I was instantly in admiration that in addition to being an intelligent, technologically savvy landscape architect, he was also a great human being and a good family man. His style of conversation is vibrant, full of insights, with an incredibly engaging conversational talent. I felt myself extremely lucky to be within driving distance of him, and we soon began having lunch together every few months. It has always been an incredible honor to hear how he talks about my software – much the same as he might talk about SketchUp, Photoshop, even Apple. Here he is talking in the same vein about this little piece of software created by just one person, and holding it on the same pedestal of some of the most revered software creations. And then it didn’t end there. He would invite me to his occasional get-togethers – for instance, his fifth wedding anniversary party. It was not until I also attended his father’s funeral when I learned the amazing source of his unending amiable nature — his dear father had a way of bringing others into the family and treating them as a family member. The sum of his business advice is worth vast sums of money. But of course there has also been personal advice, and even just a patient and understanding ear. I have an extremely short list of very near and dear friends, those I would take a bullet for … you name it. And David Fox is there at the top of the list.