Are you influencing the design of your projects? Design collaboration, including design review and recommendations, helps to deliver projects on schedule and budget. Commissioning providers who provide design phase services are strategically positioned to minimize the costs and impacts of changes due to late design changes. That’s the reward – a win-win. But the risks of contributing to facility design lie in the contract relationship and the level of liability undertaken, knowingly or not.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has published a paper offering guidance on the differences between collaborative design strategies (informal involvement, design assist, and delegated design) in Associated General Contractors of America (AGC)-defined delivery methods: design-bid-build, construction manager at risk, design-build, and integrated project delivery.

The key points of distinction between these collaboration strategies are (1) whether the contractor/consultant is only providing input to influence a design, or is taking contractual responsibility for a portion of the design, (2) the nature and timing of contractor/consultant involvement, and (3) the degree of liability that flows from the contractor/consultant’s involvement.

These collaborative strategies range from informal discussions all the way to contractor/consultant acceptance of responsibility for elements of the project’s design.

1.       “Informal Involvement,” a low-risk relationship, is an informal exchange of information between a design professional and contractor/consultant in which there is typically no agreement, no compensation, and no expectation that the contractor/consultant will guarantee or be responsible for the accuracy of the information provided. Informal Involvement occurs when a design professional asks a contractor/consultant for information that may help inform the project’s design.

2.       “Design Assist” describes a form of collaboration where a contractor/consultant provides information to assist a design professional’s design, typically before pricing for the work has been agreed upon or before the work has been awarded. The contractor/consultant may incur contractual liability for the information it provides, but the design professional is responsible for incorporating the information into its design and maintains professional responsibility for the overall design. In Design Assist, contractor/consultants must be paid or otherwise compensated for their design input under a written agreement, yet Design Assist is not a delegation of design responsibility.

3.       “Delegated Design” describes collaboration between a design professional and contractor/consultant where the contractor/consultant assumes responsibility for an element or portion of the design. The ability to delegate professional design responsibility has limitations and, in many situations, professional design responsibility must remain with the design professional of record for the project.