The terms, Design-Assist and Design-Build, are frequently used by the construction industry in recent years. While they sound similar, they could not mean more different things.
Under Design-Assist, the construction team, often including key subcontractors, is engaged by the owner to collaborate with the design professional during the design phase to improve constructability and reduced time/cost. This way, concerns about plans are addressed early on in the design process rather than at bid time, when it might be too late to address these problems efficiently.
This Design-Assist process should result in less RFIs and change orders. As there is a limited design role, participants should carefully set forth legal expectations in an effort to avoid unintended design liability for the construction team engaged in the Design-Assist process.
In contrast, Design-Build creates single source responsibility for both design and construction under the auspices of a single Design-Build contractor.
Under this project delivery system, much “finger pointing” about responsibility is avoided and the owner has the benefit of a single primary contact.
Under Design-Build, there is greater coordination between the design and construction roles.
This collaborative Design-Build approach should minimize the risk of unexpected costs at the end of the design process and streamline the project delivery timeline.
While there are many standard Design-Build contract forms on the market, there really was no Design-Assist contract document that was readily available until the publication of the Consensus Docs 541 Design-Assist Addendum in late 2018. Whether a trade association form or proprietary form is utilized for either approach, it is important that all participants set forth their respective roles in detail so that uncertainty and unfair risk allocation can be avoided.