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What Are The Different Phases of a Design Project?

No two design projects are alike, but the phases of any design project remain relatively consistent. Depending on the size or scale of the project and the scope of services a client may require, a project can range from a simple four-phase project to a five or even six-phase project. Phases may also be tied to the level of service needed from a design firm. For example, smaller projects tend to have fewer phases or may combine phases to streamline and/or speed up the process. Whereas larger projects may require a broad and more comprehensive level of service. Design firms can also help their clients navigate what level of services may be required, as well as what project phases are appropriate for their particular needs. The primary phases one should expect are Schematic Design, Design Development, Construction Documents, and Construction Administration. But most design firms also provide pre-design services, which have corresponding phases of work associated with them. These include Master Planning (usually reserved for larger-scale projects with multiple buildings), Programming, and Conceptual Design.

The sequence in which the phases take place, as well as their respective definitions, are as follows:

* Master Planning Generalized layout of how individual buildings are situated on a particular site, along with associated site amenities, such as sidewalks, parking, and identification of vehicular and pedestrian circulation paths, etc.

* Conceptual Design Development of an overall design concept for the project. It can sometimes be appropriate to combine with either master panning (if present) or schematic design.

* Programming/Planning This phase identifies primary goals, required spaces and associated sizes, and critical adjacencies. Essentially, during this phase, you are determining the scope of work to be designed. No actual designs are being generated during this phase. Instead, you are mainly asking the client questions to better understand their problems, goals, and needs. This is also where research and some decision-making happen.

Example Block Plan

Schematic Design – The Schematic Design Phase is where you start to develop the basic design of the space. This phase may include the refinement of the design concept, layout, general construction type/materials, and preliminary building code analysis for the building. You will most likely be engaged in a lot of back and forth with the client to nail down the basic design form.

Example Schematic Design Elevation

Design Development – This is the phase where you really dig into the details. You have a basic design identified and now you can being to refine it. During this phase you can expect some Owner-approved design direction, finalizing the building configuration/layout, identifying specific products, and selection of specific exterior & interior finishes. If it’s a design-build project, then you would likely include the construction company at this point. They can provide preliminary cost estimates and advise to refine the design.

Construction Documents – During CDs, you will provide two complete sets of drawings. The Permit Set is the set sent to the appropriate authority in the building permit application. The other is the Construction Set, which can be done after the Permit Set is completed and submitted. The Construction Documents phase includes a lot of refinement, detailing, coordination of the Owner-approved design development package, and preparation of the drawings and specifications, by which the project is bid and/or constructed. The construction documents will fill in all the details and include every element of the design. The higher the quality and completeness of your documents, the more accurate bids you will get – this is important during the bidding phase.

Example Construction Documents Furniture Set

Construction Administration – Review of shop drawings (from product vendors), site visits for the purposes of construction observation, review of progress, pay applications, final punchlist review, and project closeout, up to and including Owner occupation and 11-month warranty walk-through with the Owner.

* Pre-Design Services -


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