Design-Build Construction: Is Your Project a Good Fit?

Design-build is an increasingly popular approach to commercial construction projects. In fact, it’s estimated that nearly half of all construction projects are built using a design-build approach. 

But this project delivery method is not necessarily a good fit for everyone. To help you determine whether a design-build process is right for you, first, let’s clarify what qualifies as design-build construction and what sets it apart from traditional construction models.

What is Design-Build Construction?

Design-build construction is a single-source contract with a construction firm that handles all aspects of a project in-house, including: 

  • Consulting
  • Planning
  • Architectural design
  • Scoping
  • Estimating
  • Structural engineering
  • Materials procurement
  • Construction
  • Subcontractor contracts
  • Construction management

They’ll also handle smaller details, like casework, finishes, flooring, and facades, and some can even integrate furnishings

In other words, the design-build contractor takes on the responsibility for the entire project, unlike traditional construction models that have separate contracts for a designer, contractor, and other parties that work independently.

How can you know whether design-build construction makes sense for your situation? Determine how important the following criteria are to you.

Quick Turnaround

If your company or organization is feeling the pinch of constrained capacity or has a tight timeline, design-build construction probably makes sense. Having a single project team, a single contract, and a single point of contact creates inherent efficiencies in every construction phase compared to the traditional approach of working with multiple parties.


One of the reasons a design-build approach can get quicker results is because there is a more fluid communication process between all the parties. The designers, architects, construction team, and subcontractors all have established relationships and collaborate to get the best outcome. 

Having field staff and installers in the conversation can help the strategic process to achieve the same goal with a different approach. When someone picks up the phone, there’s a familiar voice on the other end of the line, and an understanding of the other party’s processes, schedules, and ways of doing things. 

Concerns About Supply Chain Disruption

Recent supply chain disruption has been a challenge for many construction projects. A good working relationship between a contractor and designer can help minimize the impact that volatile markets can have on a project and get better results. 

For example, a designer might not know that a material they’ve specified has a long lead time or has been having quality control issues. The contractor likely knows based on recent experiences with other projects. Because communication lines are open, they can work together to find alternative materials that fit the desired timeline and potentially save money.

“Shopping Local”

A growing organization that wants to work with a design-build construction company on a project typically seeks out a local or regional contractor in their state. That’s because the firm will be familiar with the area and has established relationships with vendors and subcontractors, and they’ll also be familiar with state and local codes and building regulations. This kind of knowledge gives them an advantage and allows them to be your strong advocate when meeting with local officials.

A Customized Approach

A design-build contract doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Perhaps you’ve established a relationship with an electrician, plumber, or HVAC company and want them to be involved in the project. The construction firm can coordinate the details and integrate your preferred subcontractors into their process. 

Some clients want a more hands-on approach to create more checks and balances, while others prefer to have the construction company handle all the details. Work with the construction company to establish how you want to proceed, understanding that the more parties and contracts that are involved, the longer it may take to complete the project.

Fewer Headaches

The culture of collaboration that is inherent in a design-build approach to construction is less contentious than other types of construction. If something needs to change or an obstacle arises, there could be blame games between a separately contracted designer and general contractor, leaving you to decide who’s right. If the issue is substantial enough, it could even lead to litigation and project delays. With design-build, you have a single entity who can be held accountable.

Potential Cost Savings

All of these factors typically combine to offer cost savings to project owners. Acquiring materials quicker and streamlining communications to find the most cost-effective ways to accomplish your goals is inherently beneficial. The transparency between the design-build team members also means there will be fewer change orders, which ultimately helps to minimize project scope creep

A design-build project is more flexible and agile, able to adapt with changing markets or needs. On the contrary, a design-bid-build contractor can’t change design specifications when submitting their proposal, even if a comparable alternative would save time and money.

Who Isn’t a Good Fit for Design-Build?

While it’s not unheard of, municipalities typically don’t use a design builder. Jails, courthouses, schools, and other government projects have a provision requiring a design-bid-build approach rather than design-build. The costs for most state and county government projects, as well as those for local municipalities, exceed certain thresholds and require a separate bid process for design and construction. Some communities require referendums which typically lend themselves to design-bid-build construction as well. 

Most privately funded projects are ideal for design-build construction. If you’re considering a building project in Wisconsin or Iowa and prefer a one-stop-shop solution, contact the design-build experts at The Samuels Group today. We’re happy to walk you through the process and help you explore the next steps.

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