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Designer vs Design & Build: Which is Better for Office Design?

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

Designing Your Office

Are you considering redesigning your office to help attract your staff back? Perhaps the lease on your current office is expiring, and you need a new space? Whatever your situation, you need to design & build an office space. However, you’re unsure if you should use a specialist interior designer or a design & build company. So which is the best?

As a design & build company, this is a question we get asked regularly. However, neither option is “the best”. It depends on your company situation and project brief as to which is the best option for you. In this article, we’ll first explain the differences between the two approaches. Then, we’ll explain the benefits and drawbacks of each approach. By the end, you’ll be able to decide whether to use an interior designer or a design & build company for your upcoming office fit out.

Designer vs Design & Build: What’s the Difference?

When using the interior designer model, you research potential designers, hold initial conversations with 2 or 3 and then appoint your preferred designer. They then help you to define your brief and develop an initial design concept based on that. Once you are happy with the concept, they develop a full design package. This includes drawings, visuals, and finishes specifications.

Once you have your design package, you will then reach out to several office fit out contractors. They will review the design package and then provide you with a quote to build your design. Once you’ve chosen your preferred contractor, they will deliver the project as per your design. They will report to you throughout the project. The designer has no involvement in the delivery of the design.

With design & build, you deal with one company throughout your project, from initial design to project completion. Once you’ve decided on a rough brief and budget, you reach out to several design & build companies. They work with you to define your exact brief, and then develop an initial design concept along with a budget quote. You then select 1-3 of these companies to develop a full design and cost package. This includes drawings, detailed quotes, and a programme of works.

Your next step is to select the best fit out company for your project. Once you’ve made your decision, your chosen contractor will finalise the package, and then you sign the contract. The same company that designed your project will now deliver it. This means that one company has both the Principal Designer (PD) and Principal Contractor (PC) roles.

Designer Advantages

The design specialist model has a couple of crucial advantages over design & build. The first is that you are working with only one designer. You don’t have to spend time going through the same process with multiple designers. This means you can spend plenty of time with them developing a design package that is perfect for you.

Another benefit of this model is the ease of comparison for project delivery. When you are choosing which company should deliver your project, they are all quoting on the same package. This means you can assess potential contractors on an “apples for apples” basis. This includes cost, expertise, track record, customer care, and other relevant criteria.

Designer Disadvantages

However, using an interior designer does have several weaknesses when compared to the design & build model. The first is that most designers charge an hourly rate. When you give your designer the go ahead, you don’t know how much it will cost or how good the final design will be.

As the designer will not be involved in the delivery of the project itself, they can sometimes suggest designs that are not practical or cost-effective to deliver. This is not noticed until the contractors are preparing your quote, by which time the designer has completed the project. They may even suggest a design with several compliance issues in areas such as disabled access or fire safety. This could force your project back to the drawing board, increasing your costs.

Design & Build Advantages

With design & build, you have a single point of contact, who takes on a lot of the communication workload. This is not the case when using a specialist designer. Then, you have to communicate with many stakeholders: the designer, the project manager, the main contractor, and any other specialist contractors. This can get overwhelming.

Another advantage of the design & build model is the combination of speed and flexibility that it offers. The design, precontracts, and project delivery phases can be overlapped. This means your project is finished quicker. It also means unforeseen issues in the precontract and construction phases can be more easily rectified, as the design and precontract teams are available to help.

Design & Build Disadvantages

Design & build isn’t right for every company. Different companies with different expertise will produce very different designs and costs. To decide which design & build company is the best for your project, you have to compare designs, costs, and companies at the same time. It can be very difficult to decide which is the best office design & build company for you.

If your project is very large (over 100,000 sq/ft), or if your project has very specialist requirements, a design & build company may not have the right skillset for your needs. If your project is very small (less than £50,000) a design & build company may be less cost-effective than using an interior designer.

How to Choose: Designer or Design & Build?

So what factors do you need to bear in mind when choosing whether to use a specialist design or a design & build company? There is not necessarily any cost difference between the two options. The lower costs of using a specialist designer will be offset by the higher cost of using individual contractors. The end quality of the workspace also is not affected by which design model you use - it depends on the quality of the designer.

The key difference to consider is time. A design & build company will be able to overlap the design & delivery phases, meaning your project will be completed quicker. Using a design & build company will also eliminate the need for tenders, which will further reduce your timeline. Using a specialist designer will take a lot more of your time to manage during the overall project. You will have to manage each contractor, rather than it all being taken care of by one company, which you only have to manage at a high level.

Designer vs Design & Build: Which is Right for You?

Choosing the right project management model is an important part of a successful project. If you make the wrong choice for your situation, then your project could take much longer, you could find it more difficult to choose appropriate partners, and the final workspace may not be as good. On the other hand, making the right choice will mean your project will take a lot less time and effort to manage. It will also be completed much sooner, and the final design will be the best possible quality.

If you have the resources (both skillset and time) within your company, using an interior designer will enable a clear comparison between delivery quotes. On the other hand, using a design & build company will mean you get more support and a much faster delivery time. You need to prioritise which is most important for you and decide accordingly.

Now that you’ve made your decision, the next step will be to shortlist several options and reach out to them. To do that, check out our lists of the best designers and design & build companies. You’ll also want to know how to choose the best office fit out company for you.

One of your major concerns about your upcoming office fit out is probably cost. An office fit out is a big investment, and you need to know that you’re getting value for money. To help do that, download our office fit out costs guide. It contains office fit out costs per sq/ft for different specifications, and will teach you all you need to know about project costs ahead of speaking to prospective designers. Download your office fit out cost guide here.



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