Design and Build Contracts vs Traditional Contracts: What's the Difference?

A Design and Build (DB) Contract is a modern method in the construction industry that constitutes the entire building process - from designing to building, with just one team to undertake the project.
July 26, 2021

Take a look at any modern building, and you may find yourself wondering how these magnificent structures came to be. Buildings don’t just pop out of mid air, they are meticulously planned for months to years to make them the stunning structures they are.

Behind every building project, is a set of processes that lead up to the completion of the structure. While we usually see the building and construction process physically, we rarely get to witness the behind the scenes of planning, bidding, and contract signing.

What is a Design and Build Contract?

engineer and architect meeting

A Design and Build (DB) Contract is a modern method in the construction industry that constitutes the entire building process - from designing to building, with just one team to undertake the project. Unlike traditional contracts, clients no longer have to work with separate architectural design teams to sketch out blueprints of the building. 

The design and build contract was made to make communications for the project simpler for both the client and the building team. Working with only one team may result in a better communication flow than with separate entities, which is especially important since designing and building are often done simultaneously as the project moves along.

This method also simplifies the bidding process by deciding the entire project team before the project even starts. The project owner will also have one point of contact for all their design and construction needs, and can hold the sole contractor accountable for any flaws in the project.

What is a Traditional Contract?

pointing a sketch

How do Traditional Contracts compare to Design and Build Contracts? The first step in the traditional method is design: the client works with an architectural design firm to plan out the building design before any construction is done. Unlike a design and build contract, the designers are not involved in the construction process outside of those pertaining to the design.

A traditional contract separates the entities which handle the different parts of the project. After a design has been completed and approved by the project owner, they then go to the bidding stage. In this stage, several third-party contractors will submit proposals to the client based on the completed design. Proposals include all the project details, and specifically the construction costs, for the client’s approval. 

After the project owner chooses their building team, the separate designing and construction entities collaborate to bring the plans to life. The traditional method organizes the steps in a project by separating the teams responsible for each aspect of construction.

What are the Main Elements of a Design and Build Contract?

A Design and Build Contract would require three (3) essential documents for the project to start. The documents are the employer requirements, contractor proposals, and a sum analysis.

Employer Requirements

This element is where the project owner lays out all their requirements for the project. While the design will be handled by the team, the employer will still have to submit their expectations for reference as the contractor bases their proposal and quotation on what the client expects to see upon project completion.

The employer’s requirements may also include any documents pertaining to the soil investigation report, the area’s sewage system, legal property and land ownership, and others that may help the contractor gain a better understanding of the project. 

Contractor Proposal

Based on the employer requirements, the contractor will send a proposal to the project owner, detailing all the aspects of the project. The design-build team lays out the scope of design proposal, materials needed, construction completion time, site layout, and other contract-specific information that satisfy the requirements of the project owner.

Names, contact information, and relevant details for contact tracing are also included in the contractor’s proposal, submitted for the client’s approval. 

Contract Sum Analysis

The Contract Sum Analysis presents the expected cost of the overall project, sent to the client for checking. This document is a compilation of the predicted total cost of the project, consisting of a detailed breakdown of all elements and respective prices. 

At this stage, the client may make changes based on the contract sum analysis in reference to their budget. Upon approval, the project owner and the contractor’s team will negotiate on billing terms and interim payments.

What are the Benefits and Limitations of a Design and Build Contract?



The design and build contract incorporates the first three stages in a traditional contract into one, saving on time and manpower. Since the design will be done simultaneously as construction, the project owner saves on the total time it takes to complete the project from start to finish. 

This method is preferred for project owners who are chasing a deadline, or have a specific date of completion in mind. For instance, a project owner may want to complete the project before ghost month or may be eyeing a grand opening date for their building.


With one unified team overseeing the project from start to finish, collaboration is expected to have a better flow as the design-and-build team have consistently worked together in other projects before.

Saves Money

With lessened overhead costs in hiring only one team instead of separate entities, the project owner will be able to save on project costs, and legal responsibilities should a problem arise with the design or structural integrity of the building in the future.


Lack of Expertise in the Design Build Team

The Design and Build Contract is a new method that is not as commonly used in the construction industry as the Traditional Contract method. As such, options for contractors who accept design and build contracts may be a small pool, with many lacking the expertise to take on the project from start to finish. 

When choosing a contractor to design and construct your structure, do your research as the project owner to find the option that works best for you. A most cost effective contractor may save you money in the short-term, but an experienced contractor will save you repair and upkeep costs in the long run.

Expectations vs. Reality

Depending on the level of experience of the contractor, the delivered project may turn out different from the client’s expectations. This is especially true for when the design is made while the construction moves along, causing frequent changes in the project while ongoing.

Choose a contractor that will abide by your expectations as the client, and has a good workflow between departments, to ensure that the project progresses smoothly and up to standard.

What are the Main Elements of a Traditional Contract?

The traditional route works slightly differently, giving it the moniker “Design, Bid, Build.” In essence, the traditional procurement process in construction consists of the design, bidding, and the building of the structure.


The project owner works with an architectural design firm to layout the design of the building, detailing the client’s expectations, and how the overall structure should look like by the end of construction. The design step typically includes planning out the work schedules, budget, and implementation.


Independent contractors bid for rights to tackle the project, submitting proposals to the client, which will serve as the basis for the client’s decision on which company to go with. Contractors typically compete on a single-stage basis, so it is important for the company to lay out a complete list of all requirements, costs, deadlines, and other details.


Once a contractor has been decided, the construction moves onto the building stage. The building stage is the physical aspect of the construction process where the structure actually starts to materialize. 

During the building stage, elements and design may change, but the overall aspects have already been approved beforehand, so the project should flow continuously without detours.

What are the Benefits and Limitations of a Traditional Contract?



Because the design, budget, and project details were set beforehand, the project owner can have more certainty about the costs and completion of the project. Whereas the design-and-build method may make for unexpected changes midway through the project, the traditional method provides a set basis for all parties in the project to follow.

Organization of Separate Entities

By keeping separate entities for different aspects of the project, the client can be assured of the level of expertise per entity, as they focus on their specialization rather than being a jack of all trades. 



Flexibility post tender for the traditional method is more difficult to achieve compared to the design-and-build method. Since all aspects of the project have been discussed and approved beforehand, this makes it difficult to give way for changes once building and construction has started. If the client has any changes in mind, they will have to make it known during the planning stage.

Otherwise, the project owner may discuss with the parties involved for any changes midway, with legal documents showing 


In the traditional method, the separate entities may or may not have worked together before. Collaboration between the different parties may pose a challenge, especially on the chances that the parties are incompatible with beliefs and preferred procedures. 

The project owner should take it upon themselves to go with parties that have the highest chance of collaboration in accordance with how they work. 

Traditional vs. Design and Build Contract 

In comparing Traditional, and Design and Build Contracts, the main difference is the point of contact. As a project owner, you will have to decide between a singular point of contact in the design-and-build method, or separated points of contact per category in the traditional method. 

Whether you decide to go with the traditional route, or prefer the moden design-and-build method, we can help you bring your project into life.

Talk to us today for all your design, construction, or home renovation requirements.

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