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Design & Build vs. Design Build

When determining how you want to proceed with a sign program, you must first decide whether you want to go with a Design and Build or Design-Build approach. One approach is not superior to the other. Both have their own benefits and potential liabilities that vary based - not on favor - but on the design needs and time restraints of a project.

1. Design and Build

The Benefits: Design (and then) build requires the managing of two vendors who are both experts in their fields. This offers a great opportunity to focus on a signage program that presents a “fresh” design intent to meet or exceed your standards, while optimizing the fabrication budget with a separate professional competitive bid. Since the design firm has no personal affiliation with a fabrication shop, they are able to develop a premium signage package without compromise. The design contractor may also aid in recommending professional fabricators, assembling budgets, and overseeing or reviewing implementation. Hiring a build-only fabricator to work off the design consultant’s drawings will allow a continued professional implementation without hidden agendas or compromise.

Potential Liabilities: Time may be sacrificed, as this option requires the managing of two vendors. Typically, one cannot hire the sign fabricator until the designer has completed the design package. This can cause a delay, as the fabricator will then need some time to create an approved set of working shop drawings before actual fabrication can begin. Another potential pitfall occurs when the two different vendor relationships clash, causing the project manager to settle issues from material selection to design execution.

2. Design-Build

The Benefits: Design/build scenarios can offer a greater opportunity to collectively pool a firm’s resources to enable a cost-effective and time-cutting program that incorporates both design intent and shop drawings into one all inclusive package. This can save additional turn-around time and money in value engineering signs as they are designed. Additional time cost may be saved, as there is only one vendor to manage.

Potential Liabilites: Some fabricators are notorious for offering design services for reduced rates, only to charge more for the fabrication; or they design signage that uses materials that is in their best interest financially, regardless of whether or not it fits your particular application. Sacrificing professional creative design intent can sometimes lead to a poorly executed and poorly thought out sign program requiring additional cost for replacements and changes.


Not one approach can truly be recommended over the other. The approach should be selected based mostly on the design needs of the project and the time one has to complete it. If you are on a tight construction schedule, it is often the best decision to go design-build. When you have the time to allow the designer to get the approved concept drawings to a complete and accurate bid set, it might be best to use Design and Build. Which ever approach is taken, one should make sure to read the Scope of Work sections for each scenario as well as become familiarized with the Signs and Graphics Standards and Guidelines, so that a more informed decision can be made.

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