What is a Design-Build firm? Explaining the benefits and methodology


If you’re in the market for a home remodel or build you’ve likely seen or heard the term “design-build firm” but what does that actually mean and how does it compare to other traditional options? In this blog, we’ll define this popular construction choice and delve into its myriad benefits.

What is design-build?

Design-build refers to the construction method whereby one company handles both the design and construction of a project. More traditional construction models involve an owner hiring a designer, who then opens bids for contractors; the chosen contractor then handles construction. The streamlined design-build method is growing increasingly popular as more homeowners have realized the benefits of having all design and construction services provided by the same entity.


Why is design-build so popular?

Design-build is growing in popularity for several key reasons: cost and time savings, the opportunity to collaborate closely with your design-build team throughout the entire process, and better, more effective communication. Having everyone involved under one umbrella, with the same employer and same clear, defined goal leads to an overall better result.

Design build vs. design build bid (DBB)

While design-build involves one firm handling all aspects of the build, the more old-school design-bid-build model requires the homeowner to hire separate contractors for the design/architecture phase and the construction/build phase. There are pros and cons to both options. The main pros that DBB has over design-build are that you miss out on the competitive bidding step of the process, and you might see potentially slightly less owner control in design. However, the advantages the design-build method has over the DBB route strongly outweigh these two elements.

Design build vs. construction manager at risk (CMAR)

You may be comparing design-build with the Construction Manager at Risk (CMAR) model. Here’s what to consider in deciding which route is the way to go for your project:

Construction Manager at Risk means the owner has contracts with the designer and the builder (as with all traditional methods), with the different added element that the construction manager commits to a project delivery with a Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP). The benefits of this option are with cost control, the owner can have clear budget expectations from the start. There’s less risk of surprise fees and going far over budget.

However, there are clear disadvantages as well. As is common with any traditional method that involves the owner working with multiple firms/companies, communication issues can come up, mainly discrepancies between desired design and construction realities. CMAR is better for very large-scale projects, so if you’re looking for a smaller build or remodel it won’t help you out in the long run. And in some cases, the owner can end up being liable for irregularities and errors in the contract documents, so ideally you would be fairly knowledgeable about construction, or hire a project management team, if you’re going with the CMAR option.

The problem of too many cooks in the kitchen with these more traditional methods is why more homeowners are gravitating to the design-build options. The less room for confusion and miscommunication, the better.

The main benefits of the design build approach

Collaboration and Communication

Design-build firms are a one stop shop. They employ teams of experts who have worked together on countless projects, with experience handling all kinds of scenarios, requirements, and curveballs. They know how to work together, communicate effectively, and have the same common goal: make the client happy. When all the parties involved are under one roof, there’s less room for finger pointing and cost disputes.

You also bypass the potentially contentious architect-builder relationship that can arise in traditional subcontracting such as when the contractors don’t agree with, or like, the architect’s designs. The project manager and designer know their employees and their strengths/weaknesses, which provides a better continuity in workflow—they can plan and schedule accordingly, assuring that each step is executed well. It’s proven that people who know and trust each other are more productive, creating a better final product.


Fewer change orders

A change order is when the original plans and blueprints have to be changed during construction. This can cost both time and money causing unnecessary confusion and chaos. Because the design and construction teams work closely throughout the entire design process, this can, luckily, be avoided altogether by the teams communicating closely and updating estimations more accurately.



The Design-build method saves both time and money. Design-build costs are lower across the board, with 2.4% less cost growth than CMR and 3.8% less than DBB, according to multiple studies comparing the two methods. The owner saves money by not having to pay almost twice as much for a separate designer’s estimate as well. More collaboration and communication mean efficiency, which saves time overall as well. Studies indicate that Design-Build projects are finished up to 33% more quickly than traditional construction projects.


Quality and expertise

Design-build firms employ a team of experts. They hire only the best: licensed, registered, certified designers, architects, builders, engineers, electricians, plumbers, project managers, etc. Firms also have established relationships with experienced subcontractors, with whom they have working relationships and good rapports. Everyone having the same long-term goal and being on the same team, as well as being the best of the best, provides top-quality results.

Ideally, a firm will have equally capable and experienced design and construction teams. This assures the best quality throughout the entire process.

Landis is ready to help

Landis is a design-build firm with fully staffed design and construction departments that serve the greater Washington, D.C. area. We’re a family-owned business, we know and love our community, and we are dedicated to, and passionate about, our craftsmanship.