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What is Design-Build Construction?

Design-build construction used to be an alternative to traditional construction in the Bay area and beyond. However, more owners and construction experts have realized its immense benefits, and it has become popular over the past decade. But what is this building concept?

Design-build construction is a project delivery method where multiple construction experts work as one team under a single contract. This collaborative approach ensures a consistent workflow with unified accountability, which simplifies the legalities and overall management of the project.

The design-build construction approach mitigates the disputes that a project owner has to face between designers, contractors, subcontractors, and other professionals involved in the project. Read on to learn more about this construction method, how it differs from the traditional method, its benefits, and more.

What is Design-build Construction?

When you use the design-build construction for your project, you work with a design-builder who manages the entire job done by specialists like architects, contractors, subcontractors, and designers, among others. You won’t have to deal with several specialists bound by different contracts.

According to a study performed by the Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA), 76% of project owners reported an excellent experience with the design-build method. This study also predicted that 44% of construction spending would go to design-building beyond 2020.

The design-build method of construction is related to the master-builder approach, which was used to create architectural works of art like the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Parthenon. Like a design-builder, a master-builder was in charge of architectural design, structural engineering, and all aspects that led to the project’s successful completion.

Design-build differs from the traditional design-bid-build strategy in the following ways:


Design-build Traditional design-bid-build
The owner hires a design-builder under one contract that requires them to perform both designing and construction. The owner has two contracts: one for a designer and the other for a builder.
The design-builder will be held accountable for any problems that arise and will solve them with their subcontractors. The owner has to solve any disputes between the designer and builder and keep them accountable according to their respective contracts.

As you can see, the design-build strategy seems more efficient than the design-bid-build strategy, where you must oversee every aspect of a project. 

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How Design-Build Construction Works

Most design-building processes vary according to the size and type of job plus the particular state’s building rules. However, the DBIA outlines general practices of any design-build in a document on best design-build practices

The following are key phases of a design-build process:

  • Procurement
  • Project assessment and planning
  • Contracting
  • Construction
  • Post-construction


The procurement stage involves analyzing whether the project requires the design-building technique and choosing the organization that suits the job.

Here are some major steps to take when selecting a design-builder:

  • Determine whether your project needs this method: Assess the advantages and disadvantages of the design-build method, assess the nature of your project, and conclude the necessity of the technique.
  • Use experienced personnel you trust to advise you regarding the project budget and other aspects, especially if it’s a big project.
  • Evaluate several design-builders using a clear vetting process.

You can use a qualification-based picking method using the following tips:

  • Identify quantitative and qualitative criteria to evaluate potential design-builders.
  • Clearly define why the evaluation method is important to your project.
  • Direct your focus on the qualifications of the design-builder and other key team members.
  • Choose a team with a history of successful project delivery.

You can also use the best value selection method with these tips:

  • Establish an evaluation process by asking about pricing and technical details.
  • Ensure open communication, exchanging ideas for a fair deal.
  • Shortlist viable design-builders and schedule a meeting to determine a fit.

The procurement process ends when you narrow down the best design-builder for your project. This expert should be able to take you through the planning and execution of your project successfully. 

Project Assessment and Planning

This is where the design-builder seeks to know the results you want, your budget, and the purpose of the project. They’ll carry out assessments of the building or remodeling site and provide the answers needed to create a thorough plan:

  • Designers will help you define your construction goals while fitting them into a streamlined layout. 
  • Architects and engineers can look into structural possibilities to facilitate the design you want. 
  • Surveyors will assess your site and ensure that the plan follows all laws.

When all aspects of the plan are well-thought-out, the design-builder guides you through a budget estimate. After a few exchanges of ideas, you and the design-builder can conclude this step with a plan that best captures your construction dreams while considering other factors. 


When most aspects of the project are figured out, you have to draft a contract that’s a concise, fair, and detailed demonstration of the collaborative nature of the design-build model.

You should record everything you and the design-builder are supposed to do in the contract so that accountability can have grounds. You should also include the nature of each team member’s communication and address the unique aspects of the project.

DBIA has some design-build contracting tips you can use:

  • Anyone involved in the stipulated risks should collaboratively agree on how to handle them.
  • The contract should be written in an easy to understand language and encourage communications among stakeholders.
  • You need to include a price and timeline modification process.
  • You should include dispute resolution processes.
  • Any guarantees included should be measurable and reviewed at the stated timelines.
  • The contract should be clear about everyone’s role in the project, so you also know how much you can contribute.
  • You should state project timelines, milestones, and financial operations explicitly.


The project’s construction comes after the acquisition of the relevant permits and the conclusion of site assessments. Generally, a design-builder will brief you on how they plan to do their work so that you can comfortably cooperate with them.

Whether doing a remodel or full construction and your project is big or small, your design-builder will seamlessly walk you through the process so that you can live your life while they worry about every aspect of the project.


After every design and construction job has been accomplished, you still won’t just casually part ways with your design-builder. You have more steps to take before concluding your current attachments with the team.

Here are the main things to do in post-construction:

  • Inspection: You have to inspect the results of your entire project and ensure everything is accomplished according to the contract terms.
  • Maintenance training: Once everything is conformed to be okay, your design-build team can give you the necessary training on handling and maximizing the building’s life.
  • Closure: Before closing the project, you will review the project plus the contract. Then, it’s time to finalize the process. You have to ensure settlement of payments and all legalities.

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Advantages of Design-Build Construction

The design-build system is currently performing better than most other construction techniques because of the following reasons:

  • You can easily manage a guided team.
  • You benefit from effective teamwork.
  • You are guaranteed accountability.
  • Design-building saves time.
  • You have access to multifaceted expert insights.
  • The project’s style consistency is enhanced.
  • The design and construction process is streamlined.
  • Design-build construction is cost-effective.

You Can Easily Manage A Guided Team

Handling several professionals can be draining, especially when working on a big project. However, since the design-build model provides you with someone to do all the team-leading work, you have little managing to do.

If you have to communicate an issue to the team, you can use the leading design-builder even when you’re not on-site. They are your point of contact with other management responsibilities like coordinating all the workers, mitigating problems, and staying accountable for the project delivery.

You Benefit from Effective Teamwork

The design-build ideal’s main goal is to ensure that a team of specialists universally works toward your construction dream. Design-builders can comprise the team of in-house designers and contractors or outsourced professionals.

However, more often than not, design-builders work with people they have experience with. They understand their strengths and weaknesses and allocate duties appropriately to achieve the best results. This effective teamwork is better than striving to collaborate with different people for the first time.

You Are Guaranteed Accountability

When you hire a designer and contractor separately, they might both start blaming each other when things go wrong. Since the project duties overlap in certain aspects, being fair in such disputes is challenging. Sometimes it might get extremely expensive and time-consuming when you have to follow up on legal issues.

However, if you hire a design-builder, you can expect total accountability from them since they are the ones to take care of everything from cost and scheduling to project quality and dispute resolution. If something goes wrong, the design-builder will take responsibility and fix the problem.

Design-Building Saves Time

The latest research by the DBIA reveals that design-build projects complete 102% faster than those that follow the traditional design-bid-build plan.

Instead of trying to merge the designer and the contractor’s varying schedules, the design-build team matches hundreds of timelines to create a schedule with a quicker turnaround. Furthermore, when the plan needs modification, the entire team can collaborate and ensure everything is set in motion as soon as possible. 

You Have Access to Multifaceted Expert Insights

The way designers, architects, and contractors view each project is different. Their unique perspectives are important for your project’s success, and if you can access them all in a team without paying for individual consultation sessions, you’re better off.

If you hire a designer at the beginning of your planning, you might discover that their idea of removing a structural wall is not wise once you consult a contractor. However, the presence of multiple experts from the beginning to the end of your project provides you with a clear understanding of the plan instead of incomplete scopes.

The Project’s Style Consistency is Enhanced

Every client wants their construction dreams to be represented consistently from start to finish. However, hiring workers separately fails to accomplish that, especially on major projects. 

Since the design-build strategy involves timely collaboration and one entity the ensures consistency in every detail, things rarely get lost in translation. Therefore, your project results in the style and quality you want.

The Design and Construction Process is Streamlined

You probably have heard of construction project nightmares where things get messy as the plan gets out of control. While building and remodeling are generally stressful, professional guides plus expert workflow management streamline the experience.

A design-builder is not only prepared to come up with a thorough plan; they’re equipped with invaluable contingency plans whenever modifications are required. Furthermore, their experience gives them a competitive edge for taking care of physical and psychological issues when building projects.

Design-Build Construction is Cost-effective 

Although the cost of hiring a team of professionals might seem high beforehand, it’s more cost-effective in the long-run. Compared to traditional project delivery, the design-build method can save you 6% to 10% on your project.

Here are some ways that design-build construction saves money: 

  • The budget created at the beginning of the project is usually accurate and is maintained until the end of the project.
  • It involves no costly disputes.
  • It includes less waste.
  • The quick turnaround saves you money lost in delays.

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Disadvantages of Design-Build Construction

Although the design-build model has many advantages, it also has a couple of disadvantages you should be aware of to make the best building decision for your project.

Reduced Owner Involvement

During traditional design-bid-build construction, you, as the owner, are usually involved in several project aspects while trying to piece the designing and construction projects together. Often, you take part in every project execution process since you have to keep an eye on everything from schedule-adherence to quality.

However, since the design-builder is in charge of everything, you’ll have to sacrifice a lot of control or involvement since have you hired them to do it for you. This is a major shortcoming if you like having a personal touch by associating with every step of the process.

Decreased Access to Competitive Rates

When you are dealing with individual contractors and designers, it’s easy to negotiate prices. However, when dealing with a design-builder who will subcontract other professionals, you’ll mostly have to settle with average market prices.

Although the design-build methodology results in cost-effectiveness, you may prefer the solicitation of competitive bids. Depending on your project and preferences, this may be a major disadvantage to you.

When to Hire A Design-Builder

Not all projects require a design-build method, and not all people will appreciate the concept. So, if you are in doubt about using this model, here are some times when you might need to hire a design-builder:

  • You are on a tight schedule: If you don’t have the time to tolerate delays caused by designer-contractor misunderstandings, a design-build firm might be the best way to go. When each member of the team contributes to the project efficiently, it’ll have a speedier turnaround.
  • You like working with assured final budgets: Design-builders’ initial budget estimates rarely deviate much during construction. Also, the reduction of miscommunication, disputes, and waste minimizes additional costs. Furthermore, the consistency of a budget is the design-builders’ job. And they’re good at it.
  • You are looking to minimize risks: It’s pressure enough to invest in a construction project, and all the managing risks of traditional design-bid-build delivery might be too much to bear. If you don’t want such an emotional burden, a design-build firm could help you. Most risks lay on the design-builder since you hold them accountable to deliver a high-quality project.
  • You are overwhelmed by the construction process: Construction isn’t simple for everyone, and it’s normal to feel overwhelmed. However, you can hire a design-builder to reduce the pressure on yourself. You can learn from the experience and do the next project on your own.

Your Design-Build Construction Questions Answered

As this the design-build technique gains popularity, many questions and myths surround it. The following FAQs will help you understand the design-build project delivery in more detail so that you can decide whether you’ll apply it in your next project.

  1. Is a design-build project always led by an architect?
  2. A design-build project can be led by an architect, especially if you wanted to work with one for your unique site. However, the type of professional leading will depend on what the project demands. Each professional appointed to lead the team has a unique angle to approach your project with. However, what matters most is that they have the expertise required to be a design-build lead. 

Design-build projects can be led by:

  • An architect
  • An engineer
  • A designer
  • A developer
  • A contractor

When choosing a design-build firm for your project, you should look into the projects they normally deal with first. This way, you can know whether they’re the right fit for yours as well. 

  1. Does the owner lose all control and choice when using design-build?
  2. Depending on the agreement regarding project delivery, the project owner can be involved as much as they want to. Some can suggest their subcontractors and even propose fair pricing, design pieces, plus other aspects. 

Design-build construction is a highly collaborative approach with regular reviews of project progress so that the owner can give suggestions. The ways you wish to participate can be discussed in the contract.

  1. Is design-build good for small home renovation projects?
  2. Whether small or large, your remodeling project can be done by a design-builder. They are the best way to source all expertise in one package. As long as you’re comfortable with their services and pricing, a design-builder can handle any remodeling project, minor or major.


Design-build construction involves multiple experts for a particular project under one contract. Its process includes several phases to ensure everything is not only done right but fast. It has many benefits that outweigh its disadvantages. But it’s up to you to decide if you need design-build and determine whether it’s applicable for your project.

Contact us today for a free on-site consultation.

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