Last edited 18 Jun 2019

Design information

Design information is any information produced by building consultants (mainly architects, structural and services engineers, acousticians and other specialists) with the purpose of communicating the design to allow construction to take place.

In this context, the term ‘design’ does not only refer to aesthetics and what the building looks like from various viewpoints. While this is part of the design, other elements of design include the input of other consultants who are instrumental in defining the structural, environmental and construction aspects of the project.

Architects will typically be responsible for producing design information showing the arrangement and overall aesthetics of the building to allow their idea or concept to be understood by the design team and to be communicated so it can ultimately be built. Structural engineers will produce a structural design that comprises a general structural arrangement showing foundations, column and beam sizes, column to beam connections etc. Services engineers will produce layouts that show duct runs and sizes, boiler locations, extract ducts which are part of the heating and cooling strategy of the building. Specialist sub-contractors may produce cladding details that are technologically too specialist and cannot be produced by the architect.

This information is termed ‘design information’ and it will be generated at different points in the life of the project. Under the RIBA 2013 Plan of Work, the architect prepares drawings during the concept design phase. While these drawings may not have enough detail to allow construction, they may still be used to communicate to the client, contactor and other consultants what the overall look and feel of the building will be.

However, the main design information will be produced during the ‘developed design’ or ‘design development’ phase. It is during this stage that the architectural design is firmed up and some working drawings developed that will give the contractor and the other consultants information to update their design proposals and possibly provide feedback to the architect. The design information produced by the architect during design development may be used throughout the project although it may need to be updated at certain points due to factors such as specification changes, cost overruns, delays, material supply problems and a host of other snags that can hit a construction project.

The subsequent technical design stage can be thought of as being part of the detailed design stage: design information continues to be produced but it is more of a technical nature. This is when architect, structural and other engineers prepare working drawings that allow the contractor and sub-contractors to construct the building. The information produced during this phase can include architect’s details that concern wall construction, roof build-up, doors and windows, floor construction etc. The structural engineer may produce structural frame arrangements with dimensions of the various members, junction details, fixing details and calculations.

Aspects of the design that are the realm of specialists, such as curtain walling or lift machinery may require drawings to be produced by the respective subcontractors. Their technical design drawings will inform the overall design and the other consultants of the design team who may need to make changes to their information as a result.

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Traditionally, paper has been used to convey design information, whether drawings or specifications. The advent of IT now means that it is possible for design information to be conveyed almost entirely by digital means, such as CAD files and building information modelling (BIM). With BIM, it is possible to amend, update or delete design information in real time and across all platforms. This gives other stakeholders who can consult the model an instant update without the usual hassle of circulating drawings to all parties and then having to repeat the process whenever updates were needed. However, despite the advent of IT, drawings remain the preferred mode of conveying information on-site.

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