The design development stage is an exciting time during the lifecycle of the construction management process. Though you still won’t break ground on your project for some time, it is during the design development phase that schematics are finalized, construction materials are selected, and when a final interior and exterior design for the project has been chosen.

The design development process is collaborative and involves the architect, engineer, owner, and project manager. Each of the team members work together during the design development stage to produce a design that reflects the desires of the owner, while also being structurally sound and engineered intelligently and sustainably.

There are many considerations that must be taken into account in order to successfully navigate the design development stage of a construction project. Each entity involved in this stage has a role to play, and understanding their responsibilities and how they work together is essential for both the owner and other team members. Gaining a better understanding of what design development is when it occurs in the life cycle of a construction project, and what role the owner plays can help illuminate this important period in a construction project.

The Phases of Design

It would be a mistake to assume that the design development phase is the sole period of time during which the design for a project takes shape. Though the design development stage is the period of time during which a design is finalized, there is work that the architectural team is involved in both before and after this stage to help bring your project to life.

You might be wondering why understanding the phases of design in the life cycle of a construction project is important. There are a couple of reasons that are worth diving into in a bit greater detail:


  • Project Timeline – The design stage is important for a number of reasons, one of which is its impact on the project timeline. Many people outside of the construction industry simply don’t understand how much work goes into getting a project ready for construction. Prior to any ground being broken, an enormous effort has already been made to create a design, ensure that design is engineered correctly, secure permitting, accept bids from contractors, and order all necessary equipment and materials for the project. One aspect of this is the period of time during which you secure the services of architectural and engineering teams to create a design for you. The design development stage falls within this period but does not constitute the entirety of it.
  • Project Budget – As a project owner or stakeholder you want to know exactly what it is that you are paying for. By gaining a more in-depth understanding of the design process you’ll have a full picture of services you are paying your architectural and engineering teams for. It is also important to understand that while many architects offer a full suite of services that cover the design process from idea to final building inspection, others will complete only a portion of the project. Deciding which route is right for your project will depend on your needs, budget, and the availability of other resources that can help you accomplish the same thing. All of these factors are important to consider in your project management services.
  • Realistic Expectations – Many people go into the design process without a firm understanding of what exactly it entails. Instead, they project their own expectations for what should occur. This can create a number of problems, including frustrating your design team and slowing down the process as a whole. While everyone might wish that the design process could happen near instantly, remember that the goal is to create a final design that you are happy with, and that reflects your original goals for the project.



Gaining a better understanding of the design development phase within the context of the project management process as a whole is helpful because it informs understandings of the project timeline, the project budget, and illuminates the scope of work that is completed on a project prior to breaking ground. Let’s take a look at what the phases of design are in a construction project, including the design development phase.

Schematic Design

The schematic stage represents the first portion of the design phase. This is usually the first part of a project where an architectural firm is brought on board. At this point in the project, the owner and project manager have already conducted a pre-design feasibility study of the project itself. This usually includes an analysis of the project site, zoning requirements, the scope of the project, goals for the project, and the creation of a preliminary schedule.

During the creation of schematic design, the architect and owner work together to flesh out the idea for the project. The owner will typically provide the architect with information such as the purpose for the project, what their vision for the finished product looks like, what types of spaces will be included in the building and any other requirements for the project that the owner might have.

During this phase, the goal is to produce a number of schematic design drawings. From these drawings, the architect and owner will establish which schematic design best represents the desired goal for the project.

Design Development Phase

The design development phase is a logical extension to the schematic design stage. During the schematic design stage, the architect produced a number of drawings representing different directions the project could take and one of these drawings was chosen. During the design development phase, this preliminary drawing is fleshed out and enhanced with the goal of creating a final design for the project.

You may have chosen a schematic design during the preceding phase, but wanted some changes made to the design. These changes will be implemented during the design development stage. An important component of the design development stage is the production of an accurate cost assessment. While there is typically a preliminary cost assessment produced during the schematic design process, this cost analysis will be updated to incorporate any changes made to the schematic as well as the finalized materials chosen for the project.

During the design development stage, the architect will consult with an engineer who will analyze the project to ensure that modern engineering principles are applied. While the schematic design provides a basic outline of the project, during this stage the details of the project will be developed. This includes any electrical, heating or air conditioning systems, and plumbing. The design development stage will include the selection of materials on both the interior and exterior of the building, as well as selection of the appliances and fixtures that will be present in the final product. Typically, the design development phase concludes with a three-dimensional rendering of the building design made through imaging technology that will allow you to visualize what the finished product will look like.

Construction Documents

The construction document phase is really where the details of a project’s design are finalized. During this portion of the project, the architect and engineers finish the design and engineering portion of the project and produce the documentation that will guide all of the stakeholders in the project moving forward. Put another way, the construction documents phase is where all of the information gathered during the schematic design and design development phase is put together and finalized.


You may choose to have the architect take part in the bidding process. Bidding is the process during which a contractor or contractors are selected to work on the project. While you may choose to simply work closely with your project management team to oversee the bidding process, incorporating the architect into bidding can be advantageous. The architect will have a better understanding than anyone of what the design will require from the contractor and may be able to make a recommendation for which contractors are ideal for carrying out the design.

Construction Administration

The construction administration phase may or may not be relevant for your project. This phase entails oversight of the physical construction processes by the architect who created the design. The idea behind this oversight is to ensure that the project is created according to the original design intent. Don’t confuse this with direct oversight of construction, as this is usually the responsibility of the general contractor. Most often, construction administration within a design context entails regular visits by the architect to the project site to ensure that the project is being completed according to the original plan.

The Importance of the Design Development Phase

The design development phase is an incredibly important time in the life cycle of the project. While all portions of the design process are, in their own way, important, it is during the design development stage that the owner can engage with the design in a unique way. It is during this development phase that the look and feel of the finished product are determined. The choices made during this time will ultimately impact how each person that utilizes the space you are creating experiences and remembers that space.

It is important to note that the design development stage is a collaborative process. While many other portions of a construction project involve the owner only tangentially, the design process requires the owner to directly engage with the architect to create a design that reflects their desired outcome for a project. This will involve many meetings where ideas are weighed, assessed, and incorporated into the project if they are found to add value.

Due to the collaborative nature of the design process as a whole, it is highly recommended to select a professional architectural team that you are comfortable working with and who communicate well. The flow of information between entities involved in the design process is incredibly important, not only to ensure that the project progresses quickly and smoothly through this stage, but also to ensure that the finished project matches your desired outcome.

The end goal of the design development phase is to produce a design that includes all the necessary information to move forward with the project. This includes a final understanding of the project’s size, the function of the building, the spaces within the building and how they interact, the equipment in the building, the materials that will be used in both the interior and exterior and the function of the building as a whole. This type of granular detail will allow the architectural team to produce a digital design that allows you to truly see the end-product, while also providing the specificity to produce an accurate cost analysis for the project.

Closing Thoughts

The design development stage is the time during which many of the prominent features of a design are decided. Through a collaborative process between the architect and owner, a large portion of the interior and exterior design are selected. During the design development phase, the choices in materials, systems, and appliances will largely be finalized in preparation for the construction documents phase.

The design development phase occurs after a schematic design has been chosen, but before finalized construction documents are produced. During the schematic design stage, the architect produces a number of drawings embodying different directions the project could take. From these drawings, one is chosen to move forward with. Once a final schematic design has been chosen, the design development stage begins. During this stage the schematic is fleshed out, materials and appliances are chosen, and the design is incorporated into three-dimensional imaging software technology. Following the design development stage is the construction document stage, where the architectural and engineering team finalize all construction documents for the project.

From the owner’s perspective, the schematic design and design development stages are typically where they are most engaged with the development process of the design on a day-to-day level. The architectural team, project manager, and owner will work closely together during this time period to combine their skills and create a design that reflects the owner’s desired outcome for the project. This makes it important to choose a professional design team that you work well with, and that communicates effectively throughout the process. This will help ensure that the design process as a whole progresses smoothly, and you end up with a finished project that accurately reflects your desired outcome.

To learn more about the design development phase and its importance in construction projects as a whole, please contact Gilliland Construction Management today.



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By Kirt Gilliland

Apr 30, 2019