What is Design-Build? Everything You Need to Know

What Is Design Build?

You envision your dream home. You can see the spacious kitchen, an inviting living room, and the placement of the bedrooms. You may not have all of the details figured out yet, but the picture is in your mind.

Or maybe you love your existing home, but it needs some work. Knocking down a wall, changing a bathroom, and adding square footage would turn it into the perfect space.

Now, where to start?

You may feel that you know what you want but have no idea how to get there. Fortunately, there are industry professionals, such as a design-build firm, that can guide you through the process.

What Is Design-Build Construction?

For many people, the idea of a major home construction project can be daunting. They have no experience from which they can draw. There are so many details to consider: from blueprints to electrical, to permits, to paint colors. 

When it comes to building, there are two different construction delivery systems: design-build and design-bid-build.

A design-build delivery wraps the entire construction into a single project. The architects, designers, contractors, and construction professionals are a cohesive team that collaborates throughout the process.

How Is Design-Build Different Than Design-Bid-Build?

In the design-bid-build model of construction delivery, the process is split between different, independent companies. You would work with an architect to create building plans and then separately find a contractor who would work from those plans.

The tricky part about design-bid-build is that the plans must be completed upfront in order for a contractor to make a bid. Yet, the architect may not have any idea of the cost involved. Once the contractor begins construction, changes based on cost considerations may result in additional fees from the architect for revisions.

An architect would have no ability to make suggestions to design changes in order to meet a particular budget. If you have a budget in mind, you will not know if it is achievable with the completed architect plans. You and the architect are making assumptions that the final plans will be within your budget at the time the contractor reviews them and provides a bid.

The architect and the contractor have no incentive to work together on the project. You may find yourself acting as a go-between. If something unexpected comes up, you may need to go back to the architect or find yourself stuck with decisions that are difficult to change.

Because the architect and contractor are not working together, there is no overall accountability for the project. Each of the parties will take responsibility only for their own work.

Steps of Design-Bid-Build

In a design-bid-build project, the steps to complete construction are usually the following:

  1. You will find and hire an architect and discuss your plans.
  2. You will enter into a contract with the architect to do the design.
  3. The architect will complete the blueprints for your construction project and deliver them to you.
  4. You will find a contractor (or contractors) to bid on the project, based on the architect’s plans.
  5. At this point, you may discover that the cost exceeds your budget, in which case you would go back to the architect for revisions.
  6. You will enter into a contract with the contractor.
  7. You will need to secure the necessary building permits required for the project.
  8. The contractor will begin work, hiring subcontractors as necessary.
  9. Any changes needed will require that you go back to the architect for revisions to the plans and likely require changes to the plans submitted with your building permit.

Steps of Design-Build

With a single team working together at a design-build firm, the process for the project is streamlined.

  1. You will discuss your project plans and the intended budget upfront.
  2. You will work with an architect and interior designer on the concept.
  3. The architect will work with the construction team on meeting the budget and discuss any possible changes needed, along with your options.
  4. You will enter into a contract with the design-build firm to complete the project once you have the proposal, cost, and timeline.
  5. The design-build firm will handle all of the logistics of the project and be able to provide you with regular updates.

Benefits of a Hiring a Design-Build Firm

Design-build firms used to be considered the more “alternative” of construction delivery systems. Now, nearly half of all construction projects are completed in this way, as consumers realize the benefits of having everyone involved under one roof.

A design-build firm is a more seamless approach. There will be more control over the process and fewer surprises with a design-build firm working as a team. All of these end up working in the client’s favor.

Here are a few of the benefits:

Control Over Budget

At the onset of your project, you will discuss the budget with a design-build firm. The designers and contractors are able to work with you in adhering to the budget. For example, suggestions on ways to save or make the most of your budget can be presented to you to make decisions.


A design-build firm will handle all of the logistics. With the entire team under one roof, planning everything from permits to different stages of the construction will occur in advance.

Because you would have separate contracts in design-bid-build with the architect and the contractor, you will also be managing both of those contracts to make sure they are completed to specifications. The client often ends up wearing the hat of “project manager.”

More Efficient

Contractors that are juggling multiple projects and multiple subcontracts may have scheduling issues. A contractor may know the construction aspect, but that doesn’t make the individual a good project manager. You will have more efficiency with a design-build firm.

Cost Savings

Design-build firms have fewer change orders on projects because everything is known upfront. Since delivery of the entire project is a “package,” the customer also benefits from cost savings. Total costs are typically 6% lower on design-build versus design-bid-build.

Completed on Schedule

With full control over the process, a design-build firm can ensure the completion of your project on time. Planning of all steps of the process occurs in advance.

Your project will also be completed more quickly with a design-build firm. On average, construction speed is 36% faster with a design-build firm versus design-bid-build.


Your agreement for the project is with the design-build firm as a whole. There is no finger-pointing between different people if an issue arises, which could happen when the contractor and architect are from different companies. Disputes could rise to the level of delays or even litigation.

Design-build firms often use technology and project management tools to provide their customers with ongoing updates regarding the schedule, ordering supplies, and required inspections. It is the goal of a design-build firm to satisfy you, the customer.

Avoiding Problems

Any construction project has a chance for something unexpected to come up. Because a design-build firm is responsible for every aspect of the project, mistakes and issues can be avoided. This saves both time and money.

If something did arise, a design-build firm would be swift and comfortable in communication with the client. The project manager would advise you of any issues that may cause delays.

Guidance Through the Process

Unless you have been through a major home improvement project before, you likely will need some guidance. Projects can be very complex and have a lot of moving parts.

While an architect can draw plans and a contractor can build, you may want some ideas regarding the aesthetic. At a design-build firm, you would work with an interior designer. An interior designer will help you balance your personal style and functional needs.


Above all, a design-build firm will work as a team. Rather than having disparate people involved, there is a high degree of collaboration from start-to-finish with each project.

All too often, an adversarial relationship develops between the architect and the contractor.

Starting Your Project

You will want your construction project to go as smoothly as possible. With the investment that you are making in your home, a design-build firm can ensure that the end result is a beautiful space that meets your needs.

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