Coherent and well-communicated design information


Research by GIRI found that missing, wrong, irrelevant or poorly-communicated design information was a major cause of error, compounded by the wide range of sources that are used in the industry today. Simple errors such as a hidden drawing layer, a mis-typed number in a spreadsheet or an ambiguous instruction in a hastily-written email can have a disproportionate impact later down the line.

Therefore, good quality design information together with the clear communication of this information between the project team is an integral part of any successful project.

Why is it important?

No construction project can be completed without reliable and timely access to accurate design information; effective communication of this information between all parties is an essential contributor to the success of a project .

Drawings and models may be the standard method of communicating design intent or documenting a design for other project team members, but the many other ways in which information is conveyed are just as important. The compilation and distribution of reports, specifications, notes, emails, text messages and software for managing programmes must all be executed and controlled with similar rigour.

Where the size and complexity of a project merits, the client should consider mandating the use of a digital environment because of the benefits it offers in terms of collaboration and coordination – as long as every party involved in the design process is appointed on this basis. Not only should all parties be involved, but the digital environment and process should meet relevant industry standards.

Ensuring all design information is correct and clear is a challenge not to be underestimated. Design information must be appropriate for different audiences with different needs.

As a design evolves, multiple updates or revisions will be issued. The planning, production and checking of such information does not always receive the careful attention it deserves, and a more rigorous and methodical approach is recommended. This approach should be agreed at the outset of the project for each stage of planning the design work.

What are the desired outcomes and how can you achieve them?

Make a plan at the outset

A four-step plan – agree, communicate, produce and check – should be introduced at the outset. This will ensure that all design outputs have a strong user focus and will maximise the opportunity to spot design errors in the office or on site before they become construction errors, Designers should seek feedback from clients and construction teams about what works well and adapt their plans and guidelines accordingly.

Agree what information is necessary and when it is required

To establish what information is necessary, identify the audience for that information, confirm why they need it, when it is needed and when it will be issued, as well as where and how the audience will view and interpret the information – in an office or on site, for example.

Establish a protocol for sharing design information

Design information will be shared for different purposes at different stages in the design process and it is important that this is understood by the project team, to ensure that relevant information is produced.

For example, it must be clear whether information is issued for client feedback, procurement, coordination to assess buildability, or for contractors to build from. If information is not correct, or is misused, it has the potential to be a cause of error.

Update design information at key stages

Information must be updated as the design develops and should always be coordinated and correct, both at the end of each stage and at other agreed milestones. A record should be made of any outstanding design issues. Any amendments should be undertaken cautiously to ensure that all related information is reviewed and corresponding amendments carried out.

Communicate the correct information clearly

Design information should be clearly communicated in a way that is easy to understand, easy to check and hard to misinterpret. Feedback should be sought from those receiving design information to check its clarity. The project team will find it helpful to refer to ‘benchmark’ drawings, for example those produced by BSRIA (Building Services Research & Information Association) or previous projects to ensure there is a consensus about what is the ‘right’ level of information at each stage of the design process. This can aid discussions about how to ensure clarity.

Produce the outputs while spotting potential errors/refining the design

Production is an opportunity to spot errors: the process of producing design outputs offers a chance to refine the design and spot potential errors.

When designers produce their own drawings, there is likely to be a deeper understanding of the design intent. Therefore, when technicians perform this role, it is important that they are part of the team rather than a resource shared between projects. Technicians should be briefed carefully and should have the ability to spot potential errors through training, site visits or their experience.

Sufficient fee must be budgeted for designers to undertake full checks covering coordination, interfaces, annotation and so on.

Check that the outputs are coherent with the first two steps

All design team members should agree a checking process as part of the project plan. They should ensure that the information produced matches what was agreed, and has been communicated effectively. Key deliverables at the end of stages or at agreed milestones should be subject to rigorous in-house checking: this may comprise both internal reviews by those part of or removed from the project and external peer-reviews by members of another organisation. (See contractor input and design gateways).

The implementation of digital engineering should make it easier to detect some potential errors, although it is unlikely to be effective at the early stages when the design is not as well-resolved. Finally, the team should agree a definition of ‘complete’ and ensure everyone understands it.

Key goal

To establish and implement a rigorous process for the production and communication of design information.

Table of practical steps

Practical stepPurposeFurther information
Agree the correct information (what, who, why, where, when).To ensure that the right information is issued to the right people at the right time.
Establish a protocol for issuing information and checking that the recipient understands it.So that information is communicated clearly and without the risk of misinterpretation.
Review outputs before they are sent and check that they follow the processes agreed for creating and communicating information.To create an opportunity for picking up potential errors and/or to refine the design.