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August 12, 2016

What Does “Design-Assist” Mean?


When I woke this morning, I heard a ‘70s tune, and it’s stuck with me the rest of the day:  “I Can See Clearly Now,” by Johnny Nash. I didn’t much feel like it was a clear sky, as it must have been too long a weekend, or my brain hasn’t cleared out the cobwebs from what was a pretty quiet weekend:  no parties, and no carry-over from anything nearly that exciting.  But there it was, waiting in my inbox, the email from the customer asking if we knew that the budget numbers we gave them a couple of weeks ago were supposed to be for a design-assist project?

And so, the phone call back to the customer to clarify just what definition of “design-assist” is being used this time. It was explained that they want the price for a GMax number based on the 100-percent Design Development (DD) drawings.  Well, that’s the first question, isn’t it? If they’re DD drawings, aren’t they incomplete by definition? So how do we put a price together for a wall that is to be built, if the drawings are incomplete?

Which then led to the next question: so how do they plan to make the drawings complete, and get to a construction set of documents – by review and markup of our detailing?  Isn’t that what shop drawings are meant to do?  Now I’m really confused, then the light comes on: is design-assist really design-by-shop drawings? Whenever drawings are submitted, they’re going to mark them up, and I’m told, “that’s how they’ll actually want the wall to look.” Okay, so we have that straight.  Again, and I know I’m repeating myself, isn’t that what shop drawings normally do through anything but a design-assist process? So just how is design-assist different? I’m obviously not catching on.

As the design-assist (read shop drawing approval) process moves forward, what happens when the cost impact is above and beyond what we covered in that budget estimate based off the 100-percent DDs?  The customer said they expect that you’ll cover typical installation. That’s fine, and agreeable. That if anything “radical” or “extraordinary” were to change what was originally estimated, then a cost discussion would ensue.  Now there’s two legal terms I’m sure occur in every contract, radical and extraordinary, because I’m curious who gets to define what is or is not radical and extraordinary?  The subcontractor? Our suppliers? Or the architect and owner?  I got a dollar that says I know who, and it’s not the guys on the low end. The Golden Rule, right?  They that have the gold make the rules.

For example, if our typical waterproofing perimeter details, especially at the sill, does NOT require the use of a flashing, but some architects and or their consultants require the sill to be flashed.  We didn’t include the flashing in the budget, we haven’t used one on the last 10 jobs we did using this system, why would we think we should have one now? And what if those who have the final say claim we should have had the flashing in the price? How does that difference get resolved? More importantly, is writing a detailed scope listing the materials included or excluded grounds for getting future CO’s approved?

I’m not sure what the benefits of this process may be, that you come out with construction documents more representative of what’s actually going to be built, and what that design will cost?  I’m hesitant to play Mikey from the Life Cereal commercial, “try it, Mikey, you’ll like it” bit, learning as we go. But it might be the only way to get the job.  If we don’t first price ourselves out of contention trying to figure how to predict how the detailing might go.

So while I’m not seeing this issue clearly, it would be interesting to learn how others deal with it. The second line to the Johnny Nash song isn’t quite right in this situation: “I can see all obstacles in my way.” It still seems a bit of a risky proposition.

Source: Field Notes, Chuck Knickerbocker