Why Great Communication is about Connection Not Perfection with Saneia Norton

Updated: Aug 25, 2021

In Episode 8 of Think Big, I speak to Saneia Norton, landscape architect and host of Dig Beneath Design - a podcast where her along with her guests, share stories and insights about design communication. Saneia Norton believes that clear communication gives designers:


As a landscape architect, she has often seen great projects fall over before they reach completion because ideas weren't explained clearly or the audience didn't understand the idea.

She helps professionals to prepare for critical project meetings, presentations and reports that really have to hit the mark. Through her work, she hopes to empower designers with language skills to match their fluency in graphics. I thought this interview would be the perfect follow up to my chat with Steven Rubio.

In today's interview, I wanted to know a little more about her work and the importance of tieing visual representation to verbal communication. I wanted to dive deeper into understanding this more and how my clients who are non-native English speakers could think about how they might use some of the ideas to their advantage. Saneia's details

Website - https://sndc.com.au/

Dig Beneath Design Podcast - https://sndc.com.au/digbeneathdesign/

We discussed so many things:

✨Her work as a landscape architect ✨Why she started her Podcast - Dig Beneath Design and what she has learnt from the interviews ✨Key skills she teaches to professionals through her workshops ✨Jargon and making communication simpler and more accessible. ✨Resources to help with improving communication skills; and so much more!

Books & Resources

🎥 ArchiMarathon: Critical Thinking - What Why and How

📚 30 Second Architecture, Denison Edward

📚 The Elements of Style, Strunk and White

📚 The Little Black Book of Business Writing, Mark Treddinick and Geoff White

📚 On Writing Well, William Zinsser 📚 Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, Susan Cain

✨ Follow me on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/archienglishteacher

✨ Connect with me on LinkedIn Tara Cull

✨ Extended Show Notes and Full Transcript:


Recommended episodes:

Episode 3: How to use storytelling to connect to your clients - Fiona Dunin, FMD Architects


Episode 7: How to Communicate Your Ideas Better Visually and Verbally with Steven Rubio - Show it Better


Table of Contents Books and Resources


Transcript Images


public sector - projects that are in part controlled by the state/government public realm - the publicly-owned places that belong to and are accessible by everyone.

strategic projects - master plans or projects that consider long term development of public space

design and documentation projects - projects that go through concept design phase + construction documentation so they can be built

multidisciplinary teams - teams made up of several consultants - engineers, architects, landscape architects

power dynamics (at play) - actions that assert power are affecting the relationship between two or more people.

hone - refine or perfect something

paramount - essential

well-versed - skilled or knowledgeable

gain traction - to have or build success gradually


distilling your message - refining the message so it's clear and concise

hit the mark - to be successful or accurate in a guess.

make or break a design - the project could either be successful or unsuccessful

To cut someone down - to disagree with them or criticise their work without consideration

The drop of a hat - straight away or without any planning

take (something) as a given - to be sure about something

to be time-poor - to have no free time

keep you posted - update someone

something at play - many things happening at once


Quick Find Snippets - Take me straight to these sections

Saneia's experience 04:52

Starting Dig Beneath Design Podcast 10:29

Takeaway's from Dig Beneath Design 13:05

Explaining visuals 19:34

The key ingredients to her workshops 21:38

Preparing for presentations 27:07

What is jargon and alternatives 35:36

Resources to help you with being a clear and confident communicator 43:13


Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 00:00

You're listening to Think Big Episode eight

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 00:09

Hello Big Thinkers and welcome to episode eight of Think Big English for architects. I'm your host Tara Cull, landscape architect and English teacher. And I help people in the built design profession who speak English as a second language to build outstanding communication skills and feel more confident to speak up. You can learn more about my coaching programmes and upcoming courses at archienglish.com. I'm very excited to welcome this week's guest Saneia Norton landscape architect and host of Dig Beneath Design. Saneia, Norton believes that clear communication gives designers real power. As a landscape architect, she has often seen great projects fall over before they reach completion because ideas weren't explained clearly or the audience didn't necessarily understand the idea. I came across the nose work through the Australian Institute of landscape architects and Parlour's Instagram page. And I was instantly drawn to her quiet and insightful communication style. I immediately resonated thinking that not everyone needs to be loud and extroverted to be a successful communicator. So I wanted to get to know more about her and her work. And I knew that what she had to share would be so valuable for my clients and listeners, something that we spoke about during the interview was wanting to create content that was relevant and actionable. And this is exactly how I feel about what I'm trying to do with ArchiEnglish. Saneia is an experienced design professional so she knows the challenges that many designers face, but she's also in tune with the ways that we communicate. She loves language and really understands how language works, as well as the importance of forging your own unique style as a communicator. And this is really what I wanted to tap into. In our conversation. She helps professionals to prepare for critical project meetings, presentations and reports that really have to hit the mark. And through our work, she hopes to empower designers with language skills to match their fluency in graphics. I thought that this interview would be the perfect follow up to my chat with Steven Rubio. In the interview, I wanted to dive deeper into understanding design communication, and how my clients who are non-native English speakers could think about how they might use some of these ideas that she shares to their advantage. I absolutely loved this conversation and the valuable insights that she shared, and I was looking forward to chatting to her about jargon and why I think we use it too much. So you'll find all the notes the resources that she recommended, and of course, the transcript in the link for the show notes at archy english.com slash podcast. Now this episode is number two in my series about presentations and in episode nine the next one, I'm going to share some of my biggest takeaways from Stephens episode today's episode as well as what I've noticed in my work with my clients, and also my university students, and professional so let's find out more about Saneia Norton.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 03:33

Today, I'm talking to the lovely Saneia Norton, who is the host of Dig Beneath Design a podcast all about communicating your ideas in design. Saneia speaks to designers from all around Australia to understand more about their best and worst experiences when it comes to design. She's also a registered landscape architect in Australia with over 20 years of experience working on several public domain projects in New South Wales. We met because I started listening to a podcast with some of my clients. And I loved her approach, in particular, how she teaches and helps people within the industry to improve their communication skills and be more aware of their communication skills. So I'm very happy to have her here today to ask her lots of great questions about her experience, what she's learned from her conversations, communication skills, and my favourite topic and I think her favourite topic to jargon. So welcome Saneia. Thank you for accepting my invitation. I'm very excited to be having this conversation with you. So welcome.

Saneia Norton 04:44

Thanks, Tara. Great to be here.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 04:46

So before we begin, could you share with the listeners a little bit about who you are and what you do?

Saneia Norton 04:52

So I'm a landscape architect by training. And as you said, I've been in the industry quite a long time over 20 years for For most of that time in the public sector, working on strategic projects working on design and documentation projects in multidisciplinary teams, so with architects and engineers and heritage specialists on schools and parks and streets across the state of New South Wales, and I really enjoyed it, but about midway through my career, I started to feel like maybe I wanted to do something different for the rest of my career. So you know, midway through that 20 years in so and I started thinking, what could I offer to the industry? What were my strengths? What are my strengths, and what I love about my job in design, I love the design work, I love the project work. But I also really particularly loved presenting, I loved talking to people about design ideas, and seeing what they thought about it, and that my other love is language. So I'm big reader, I love writing. And so the language we use to describe our work was always a focus for me. So I turned that into my business, which is training designers. So what coaching designers to talk about their work more clearly, particularly to people without the same training.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 06:07

I love what you're talking about being a lover of language, because me too, I'm a lover of language, obviously. And I think, as we've spoken about before, communication skills are so important within the design industry, it can sometimes make or break a design. And I think one of the things I was thinking about too, as you were speaking is you've worked in multidisciplinary offices. What is that taught you about communication?

Saneia Norton 06:35

A lot. So a lot of my experiences in meeting rooms would be observing the dynamics between the different disciplines. For example, say an architect or leading a project, talking to an engineer, hydraulic engineer doing the drainage for their building. And that architects you know, here's an example that architect said to that engineer, Bill, you know, I just don't want to see any of your ugly downpipes anywhere near the front of my building. And you can just see the engineer just really upset, really shocked, like, this is my job. And it makes me proud to do this job well, to make sure your building drains efficiently. And to cut somebody down like that. I don't know. I just saw lots and lots of examples across disciplines where the different technical expertise wasn't valued. Or there was power dynamics at play, where someone was asserting their authority on the project, I want you to design my building. My way, it's so important, isn't it to understand somebody else's perspective, and what they have to offer. Everybody does all these years of professional, you know, training, years of training at university, years of work. They have a lot to offer. And I think it's more about collaboration. It's about being open to other people, other people's expertise, and how they can make a design stronger or better.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 08:04

So rather than seeing the downpipe as a negative thing, see it? How can we see this as an opportunity, maybe

Saneia Norton 08:07

See it as an opportunity and maybe even know enough about people. To know that maybe you'd approach that engineer with a bit of flattery and say something like, I know you're amazing at your job. Let's work together to make sure the drainage on this building is the best it can be. Do you have some ideas? I've got some ideas. Let's work something out together.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 08:32

So I'm really interested to know some of the examples of the projects you've worked on what what sort of public domain projects have you worked on before.

Saneia Norton 08:40

I worked on a park at Circular Quay in Sydney that was a big documentation project. Just before I left the government architect's office that was really complex. You know, a lot of our projects, a lot of design work in any arena, but especially public has a whole range of authorities and utilities that you need to manage and design around and design with. So this park had high voltage cables and a sewer pumping station and heritage, docks and wharves underneath it and 1000s of people that walked by it every day. So safety aspects. Yeah, that was in when we're all we were doing was making the park I guess giving it an update, making it clearer and, and safer. I've worked on heaps and heaps of schools and other kind of public institutions like hospitals and court houses and some of those are heritage, heritage buildings and things. And I didn't mention I'm actually still working as a landscape architect now. So I have a part time job two days a week with material studio, which is another public, public project public sector firm. Yeah, we've worked on a dog park out in West And Sydney, which was amazing. Like, it was a really, really big park. But we designed it almost like we were designing for people thinking how the dogs would be engaged and where they in their owners would walk. And yeah, so I love it

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 10:16

Sounds like you have a lot of varied work. And on top of that you also have your podcast dig beneath design, which is a great play on words, by the way. So I'd love to know, how did you come up with the name?

Saneia Norton 10:29

There was a list of hundreds, maybe, I don't know, maybe 50. I had a list of heaps and heaps of names. What I wanted to get across in the name is that idea of going beneath or going behind the glossy project images, but a lot of us present as part of our work. Here's our amazing latest project. I was really interested in what what went into that final product? And what were the conversations behind the scenes? And how did that designer convince the client or community to build it like that?

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 11:04

The name definitely brings that across, I think it really shows that it's more than just the design. It's there's so much more to it. So I've been watching Simon Sinek a lot recently. And he he says in his famous TED talk that you should start with why. So I'm curious to know why what what made you start the podcast,

Saneia Norton 11:23

I started it because I wanted to generate content to be recognised as a expert in this new field I was branching into so going from design to communication, melding the two then creating this new business idea. But what I was keen to do is create a body of information. I'm not an academic, I've done my degree, I haven't done any extra degrees. And I wanted to really draw on knowledge that was industry based practice base to find out what people are doing now what's working, I suspected there was a lot there, I suspected that there was lots of tips and tricks that people have been doing for years, and maybe just not talking to anyone about as well as those experiences that we all know, you know, you learn more from the bad experiences or the mistakes or the humiliating experiences that you have you learn so much from them. And I was hoping to find guests that would be prepared to share those with me,

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 12:24

I really wish that it was something that was available when I first started working as a landscape architect, because a lot of the things that you really reveal in the episodes, a lot of your guests talk about some of those things that I had questions about, you know, why do we use these words to explain certain things? Or, you know, why do we do things like this. And so I really feel like you, like the name says you dig beneath the design to understand more about the process. And so I guess that really leads me into my next question, which is looking at what are some of the takeaways that you had from the podcast because I've listened to all the episodes and this, I just would love to hear from you. What you found was some of the takeaways.

Saneia No