An Engineer’s Experience with Design-Assist

NASCC: The Virtual Steel Conference Recap

The Harman Group President and Managing Principal, Kirk Harman, participated in a panel discussion at this year’s AISC North American Steel Construction Conference. The conference was originally scheduled to take place in Atlanta from April 22-24, but due to the COVID- 19 pandemic was transformed into a virtual event; and with AISC and the efforts of all the speakers, it became just as engaging and successful online.

Kirk participated in the session titled “The State of Design-Assist: Ground-Breaking Collaborative Project Delivery Method or Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?” which looked at how the understanding of the design-assist concept can vary from contract to contract. Panelists discussed how findings from various court cases and state regulations have defined the term. Together the panelists discussed what the industry is doing to develop a common definition. The panel of speakers included:

  • Ed Seglias – Cohen Seglias Pallas Greenhall & Furman PC
  • Jason Copley – Cohen Seglias Pallas Greenhall & Furman PC
  • Matt Skaroff – Cohen Seglias Pallas Greenhall & Furman PC
  • David Ratterman – Stites & Harbison, PLLC
  • Kirk Harman – The Harman Group
  • David Zalesne – Owen Steel Company

Key Takeaways from the session were as follows:

  • The AISC Committee on the Code of Standard Practice (of which Kirk is a member), is working proactively with collaborators at the American Institute of Architects (AIA) to develop a standardized, consensus definition of the term, design-assist.
  • Design-assist is a method by which one or more subcontractors are retained, prior to the completion of design, to assist the architect, engineer, or construction manager in the development of the design and construction documents. It is common that a design-assist contract involves a structural steel fabricator and a steel erector to collaborate and provide input on the constructability of the design.
  • Design-assist could be used on any project, regardless of size or complexity. Most construction projects use some form of design-assist, whether it is a formal or informal process:
    • Informal design-assist is when a construction team brings in a steel fabricator and erector to advise and then puts a bid out for the project.
      • This can create design pitfalls because fabricators and erectors have different strategies and ideas.
  • Formal design-assist is typically when construction managers have a contract with the fabricators and erectors and at the end of the process, they are pre-selected to build the project.
    • Kirk believes that the formal design-assist process is best, as it leads to fewer change orders, fewer delays, and less conflict.
  • There are many benefits to design-assist, including:
    • Improvements in design efficiency, constructability, and cost management.
    • Connections can be customized to the fabricator or erector’s specific preferences.
    • For delegated connection design, loads can be verified against connection details in advance of connection design.
  • If all parties work together and the design-assist process is a success, the end result is the owner, designer and subtractors all working collaboratively throughout the construction process, resulting in a savings in cost and schedule.

Recommendations on how to make your virtual event a success:

  • With over 9,000 virtual attendees for this 2020 North American Steel Conference, AISC’s previous experience with virtual events helped make this seamless and successful. Specific recommendations include:
    • Increase technical capacity if needed
    • Shorten the program to maintain attendees’ engagement
    • Place all slides from the different panelists into one presentation
    • Rehearse prior to the event
    • Host a technology rehearsal to review all aspects of the software
  • Kirk utilized the following tips to keep the virtual audience members engaged:
    • Include more photos to tell the story.
    • Keep the amount of text per slide to a minimum.
    • Engage your audience and keep it conversational.
  • To view Kirk and his team’s presentation please click here

Following the session, the AISC Committee on the Code of Standard Practice came to the decision that the Code of Standard Practice for Steel Buildings and Bridges (ANSI/AISC 303, the “CoSP”; www.aisc. org/code) is applicable to design-assist projects.

For more information, or to get in touch with Kirk about design-assist, email Kirk at