In this e-book, we’ll first outline the difference between Design-Build and Design-Bid-Build.

Design-Build vs Design-Bid-Build: What’s the Difference?

For anyone planning a construction project, the number of queries and various approaches to getting started can seem pretty overwhelming. For both residential and commercial projects, one of the first questions to answer is the working relationship with your architectural and construction team. Contractual agreements between clients, designers, and construction service providers commonly fall into two categories: Design-Build and Design-Bid-Build. But what exactly is the difference between these two approaches?

In this e-book, we’ll first outline the difference between Design-Build and Design-Bid-Build, before considering the benefits and risks of each approach and explore the Design-Build process here at Letter Four.

First things first, what is Design-Build?

Put simply: Design-Build is an approach that allows owners to hire a single entity (the Designer/Builder) to deliver their entire project under one contract.

Whilst aspects of the build may be performed by the company themselves or subcontracted to specialist teams, the Design-Build approach allows for high levels of collaboration between architectural design and construction services.

This means that a single entity bears the responsibility and risks for every aspect of a project. From initial estimations to architectural drawings, engineering, construction, and final touches — the Design-Builder will typically manage all contracts and ultimately deliver the finished build.

And, what is Design-Bid-Build?

Design-Bid-Build is a more traditional form of project delivery, where the owner will negotiate separate contracts with both designers and contractors.

The design firm will firstly produce complete design documents, which will then be used to seek quotations and bids from building contractors. This approach means that the designers and contractors bear no contractual obligations to each other, with all associated risks (including cost overruns, delays, or feasibility of plans) lying with the owner.

What are the benefits of a Design-Build process?

Design-Build is first and foremost a simpler approach to construction. It’s rapidly growing in popularity, now delivering almost half of America’s building projects.

Unlike Design-Bid-Build, this method brings both design and construction functions together as one team, working as a single entity with the owner. There are many benefits of the Design-Build process for both residential and construction. These include:

Efficiency and expertise

It almost goes without saying, but Design-Build firms are experts in just that — designing and construction. With everybody on the same team, the common goal is to arrive at a successful project that meets and exceeds expectations.

Greater accountability and communication between the design and construction aspects ensure that builds are more likely to finish on time and budget — a huge win-win!

Communication and collaboration

In our experience, we know that better communication leads to fewer problems. When problems arise on a build, instead of pointing the blame at other parties, a Design-Build firm will work on solutions together.

When designers and constructors work as one team, unified project recommendations are made. This culture of collaboration means that teams can successfully marry the demands of design, practicality, schedule, and budget from the offset — resulting in a smoother process.

Cost savings

Design-Build offers better solutions at a better price.

With multiple budget checks and a single point of responsibility throughout the project, owners are reassured that overspends aren’t going unnoticed.

With traditional Design-Bid-Build, owners can sometimes be left as arbiters between design and construction teams. With Design-Build, these risks are minimized. The entire team works together to produce a defined budget, sound designs, and excellent results.


Design-Build encourages collaboration, communication, and creativity. It allows clients to be part of the process from the very start — understanding and trusting each aspect of the project with advice from expert architects, engineers, surveyors, and builders. With greater communication, the best and most innovative solutions are found, leading to faster projects, lower costs, and beautiful buildings.

What are the risks of a Design-Bid-Build process?

It can be nerve-wracking for clients to delegate such a large amount of responsibility to a single company. Because of this, the Design-Bid-Build process usually appeals to owners with more time and expertise to oversee aspects of the project themselves.

Design-Bid-Build is also seen as a way to ensure competitiveness amongst construction bidders, with design plans being put out for fixed-price bids from construction firms.

Whilst there certainly are considerations to bear in mind, there are risks involved in the Design-Build process too. These can include:

Communication breakdown

Design-Bid-Build can result in a disconnect between architects, designers, construction teams, and homeowners. Construction teams can sometimes stray away from design documentation with cut corners to save costs, or a loss of design detail if timelines are running tight.

Fixing and communicating on these issues can often result in increased construction costs, schedule delays, and even litigation.

Increased client risks

Design-Bid-Build can encourage designers and constructors to work more as individual units, rather than two essential sides of one project.

For example, construction contractors will only bid on what is contained in design documentation. If key details have been left out or incorrectly communicated, this can result in financial disputes and costly changes to both designs and builds. And, unfortunately, these risks ultimately lie with the owner.

At Letter Four, as experts in Design-Build, we work tirelessly to ensure these issues don’t occur. With the Design-Build process, we close the gaps and make sure that projects are delivered exactly to design specifications, on time, and budget.

We are flexible to your needs

Design-Bid-Build is also possible with Letter Four. We can design the project (offering Architecture services only) before bidding on the construction aspects of the build alongside other providers. In this scenario, designs are produced first with full budgeting taking place at a later stage. Whilst this does not carry the additional benefits of cost savings, budget checks, and shorter timeframes it does allow flexibility for owners to design their construction project, their way.

How does the Letter Four Design-Build process work?

Letter Four is a full-service architectural design and construction firm. We offer Design-Build services with the seamless integration of licensed architectural and general contracting services, creating inspiring, original spaces.

To meet and exceed the goals of our clients, the Design-Build process works as follows:

1. Research and due diligence

We always start projects with an information-gathering phase. This is crucial to evaluating the goals, challenges, and opportunities involved in a project. We’ll look at timelines, the client’s budget and ambitions, city requirements, and much more.

2. Conceptual design

This creative phase involves the formation of floor plans, interior, and exterior features. It’s time that we build the big idea and create the overall character and vision for the project. As part of this stage, we will produce hand sketches and imagery for your comment and approval.

3. Pricing

With designs in place, we prepare preliminary pricing for the project. This includes pricing for each requested option and phasing where appropriate. Preliminary pricing is based on a range of historical data from our past and current projects, often based on a per square foot cost.

4. Schematic design

This stage builds on the conceptual design phase, presenting clients with 3D model views of the hand sketches. These will include floor plans, site plans, and exterior elevations to ensure that clients have a full and rounded understanding of the project. If required for budgeting, signing on consults such as structural engineering can also happen during this phase.

5. Design development

With designs endorsed and budgets understood, this is the more technical phase of the project. Documentation is produced to allow us to coordinate with engineers, submit plan checks to the Department of Building and Safety, and secure full client satisfaction and approval.

6. Construction documents

After the design drawings and documentation are created, we get to work again! In this phase, we develop construction drawings and project documentation needed for the build. This most often allows us to finalize our construction bid and includes details such as lighting and power plans.

7. Permitting and approvals

In this stage, we guarantee your project gets the stamp of approval. We liaise with agencies, planning departments, and design review boards to secure the required permits and approvals on your behalf. For retail and commercial clients, we also secure landlord and brand-level approvals before seeking building permits.

8. Interior design

At Letter Four, the interior design focuses on creating beautiful, functional, and inspiring spaces. Rather than just concentrating on furniture and paint colors, we focus on key features such as tiles, flooring, statement lighting, and plumbing fixtures. We’ll help budget and track client selections with every stage of the project accounted for — from purchase to delivery, through to final installation.

9. Construction admin

Letter Four provides a seamless experience from start to finish. With the build underway, we’ll be out in the field, interpreting drawings, assessing decisions, and ensuring that the project is staying on brief, budget, and schedule. If we are acting as architect-only, we will liaise with our client’s contractor, similarly reviewing changes and keeping the project on track.

Here at Letter Four, our expert Design-Build team is to guide you through every step of your construction project. Whether residential or commercial, large or small scale, we deliver inspirational and cost-effective design and construction solutions. Our mission is to design and build great spaces with great people so why not reach out today to talk about your project?

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