By Jeff Eriks

Design-build approach is quickly making its mark as a viable alternative for many construction projects.

When it comes to building your project, there are many ways to approach design and construction management – as it is not a “one-size-fits-all.” Different contracting methods and techniques have their own set of pros and cons, but a relatively new one is quickly making its mark as a viable alternative for many projects: the design-build approach.

In the design-build process, the project owner contracts the entire project to one design-build firm that takes care of the project, from preconstruction to close-out. This approach can be used for just about any type of construction project, from small remodeling jobs to major new builds. It involves merging the services of an architect or designer with a contractor to cut down on project time, costs, and risks.

The design-build approach creates significant benefits to the overall project, including the ability to mitigate risk early and amplify opportunity for owner savings.. This article explores why so many companies are moving toward design-build practices and what exactly this construction method entails. Read on!

What is a Design-Build Contracting Method?

In simple terms, the design-build process is when one company handles both the design and construction of a project. The design-build project delivery method is often used in public sector projects — such as infrastructure construction, architectural renovations, and government building projects. These projects usually have strict timelines and require specialized technical expertise. However, the design-build approach is quite common in the construction industry for remodeling projects as well as residential and non-residential construction.

While in a traditional design-bid-build setting, you would find an architect to make the design, invite bids from contractors to do the basic drawings, and lastly a general contractor to handle the construction process. The design-build approach eliminates the risks that come with the hand-off of information between multiple stakeholders,   being that the  design-build contractor assumes the single point of responsibility for the project. The design-build contractor either rely on their in-house experts or hire subcontractors to take care of the design, building, and delivery of the project.

This approach eliminates the need for separate contracts compared to  traditional delivery methods, such as Construction Manager at Risk (CMAR) or Design-Bid-Build. This streamlined approach enables more control and buy-in from the owner given there is just a single contract and the project management happens through a single point of contact.

Key Advantages of Design-Build Process

There are significant benefits a project owner can assume  by using a design-build approach as compared to other traditional methods. These advantages are exactly why there is a significant uptick in the number of projects that are utilizing this approach. Faster Project Completion

The design-build process is more streamlined than most other contracting methods. It allows for faster project timelines, which can significantly impact your bottom line as well. With the design-build process, you don’t have to wait for a contractor to submit a bid, review it as a design professional, and then wait for them to select a subcontractor. Instead, the contractor is involved from day-one of the project  and can immediately begin work. Because the contractor is involved from the initial design phase, the process fosters  efficiency. You, the owner, can take advantage of the contractor’s knowledge, expertise, and insight to optimize your design and construction plan.

Usually, there is a significant amount of time lost between the time that a design is completed and the construction begins. This is due to back-and-forth planning and among  the designer and the construction firm. Given the design-build team is together right from the start creates innate schedule efficiencies. . This approach also allows for schedule stacking, where multiple activities can take place parallelly instead of sequentially. This helps fast-track the project work.

Enhanced Communication

 Teamwork and communication is the foundation of a successful design-build approach. The design-build process is all about streamlined collaboration, which helps to improve communication between teams. 

More Accountability

One of the key benefits of  the design-build delivery method is the amount of accountability assigned to the design-build contractor throughout the entirety of the project. The contractor assigned to the project  is responsible for all aspects of project success  and is contractually obligated to deliver the completed project on time under the given costs. To simply put it, the project risk shifts to the contractor, relieving risk from the project owner. Additionally, this streamlined approach benefits the design-build contractor as there are minimal hand-offs – mitigating the risk for missed items. The design-build contractor  greatly understands this unique role, resulting in  very little gray area during the construction process.

Increased Quality

The design-build process can also lead to better quality results. Being involved on day-one of the project allows the design-build contractor to identify potential quality issues early and solve them efficiently.  Additionally,procurement is typically managed from a single source, and under the responsibility of the design-build contractor, the materials procured will meet or exceed quality. . With streamlined project management, there is close control over construction operations and very little room for complacency in terms of quality

Lower Project Costs

One of the greatest benefits for all project stakeholders with the design-build approach is the opportunity of cost efficiencies. Having the entire project team aligned and engaged from the very beginning allows the design-build contractor to streamline accurate budgets, and commit to early procurement materials as needed. With today’s ever changing market, it is beneficial to procure materials at the right time to open opportunities for significant cost savings. The project plans get locked-in significantly earlier in the process than traditional approaches, keeping costs in check. With that said, the opportunity for change orders or scope expansion decreases in traditional approaches with minimal flexibility for changes in design without the high-risk of additional costs.  

Fast-track project completion also helps keep costs in check. Time savings can be a real deal changer as the number of hours you engage a construction team reduces. Since there is more clarity in the roles and responsibilities, there is little ambiguity in the process and hence the project owner can keep costs in check.

Important Tips to Keep in Mind

The design-build approach is a great way to get your project completed in less time and at a lower cost. However, there are certain aspects you have to be careful about when going about this. Here are some of them.

Choose the Design-Build Firm Carefully

One of the most important tips to keep in mind when considering the design-build process is to choose your contractor carefully. The design-build process requires the contractor to wear multiple hats and shoulder the responsibility of the entire project, so it’s important to select a contractor that is capable of handling both design and construction activities. You also need to ensure that the firm you choose has sufficient experience managing  design-build projects specific to the market and type of build you envision. 

Stay Engaged

Design-build projects are more collaborative than traditional contracting methods, and the owner greatly benefits being engaged during the design process.Your contractor should display transparency and streamlined communication to equip you in making informed decisions that will result in your desired budget, schedule, and overall quality. 

Be Realistic

Finally, be realistic about the number of design changes that are likely to occur throughout the process. A design-build process is a great approach, but it is not foolproof. You’re going to run into unforeseen challenges. Design-build projects still require a certain amount of structure, and it’s important to be realistic about how many changes will occur over the life of the project.


The design-build approach is a fantastic way to approach any construction project. Relying on just one organization to handle the entire construction process from preconstruction to close-out will benefit you in many ways. The advantages are plenty, and these can be a game-changer for you.

The success of a design-build project however depends on the partnerships. Choosing the right partner organization is key to getting the best out of the process. Cambridge Companies is a design-build company that has a stellar track record of projects across various regions and various industries. Our experts help you design and build the facilities you dream of with complete responsibility and a professional approach. Get in touch with us to know more about our design-build approach.