Performance-Based Design to 'Tip The Avalanche' of Industry Innovation

BSB Design assesses its design success with four key metrics, offering a 15% to 18% increase in client profitability when achieved.
Modern home exterior render by BSB Design

Three components are extremely important to BSB Design’s mission: Designing to precision which leads to speed and understanding that design is intentional. Photo courtesy BSB Design

BSB Design is a national Architectural/design firm with a unique perspective on the role of architecture as a key driver of project performance. President and CEO Dan Swift, AIA, believes a focus on precision, speed, and data can effectively deliver record-setting performance regardless of project type.

This mindset has led the firm to create a distinctive approach for delivering precision by working with clients to customize the design process in order to meet their needs in an efficient and timely manner. One of the main components of Swift’s vision is to prove to the industry that speed is possible. 

During his 35+ years working in the industry, Swift has noticed that many times companies set goals but don’t necessarily follow through. BSB Design believes that 100% effort can produce 100% results. This means the firm is not in the business of missing goals or, as Swift puts it, “winging it.”

The Basis for Performance-Based Design

Swift understands that this is an industry where builders and developers must project a lot and make assumptions for projects. However, he also believes in “making assumptions that have to come true.” Every goal for every project must be met, and there is no “coming up short.” Swift explains that “The brain has to be aimed,” meaning that if speed is a priority, it can be accomplished if we aim at that target.

Three components are extremely important to Swift and BSB Design’s mission: Designing to precision which leads to speed and understanding that design is intentional. If these ideas are understood and executed, Swift sees a world in which BSB Design meets the needs of their clients every time. 

When it comes to delivering that speed, Swift encourages his team to understand that there is no speed without precision. The only way any process can be quick is if it is done right. This is where BSB Design deploys their team to walk alongside clients in finding the perfect way to deliver what they need efficiently.

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Swift explains that “Every house is not the same,” so it is important for his teams to ask themselves and their clients two crucial questions: “How fast do we want it to sell?” and “How fast can we build it?”

The Benefits of Performance-Based Design

One of the main benefits for Performance-Based Design—coined by BSB Design—is that the cost of architecture is about 30% less than average. Swift says that while BSB Design is reducing costs for clients, they are simultaneously providing better outcomes because of the focus and precision that they implement in their work. This leads to additional benefits of higher performing product and teams that are more nimble. 

The benefits of Performance-Based Design can be measured by assessing success in four key metrics:

  • Designing for Higher Absorption

The first step in increasing absorption is a better understanding of what consumers want. Satisfying consumer preferences is extremely important to BSB Design, but it is not the only way they deliver performance. What the consumer wants is always a top priority, but Swift explains that higher absorption works along with the other three metrics to create true, measurable benefits for clients.

  • Designing to Direct Costs

Agreeing on a direct cost price for each plan and sticking to that price throughout the process is essential to BSB Design delivering the true benefit of Performance-Based Design. No matter what comes up along the way, it’s important to work toward that goal and not allow anything to change that mindset. When the process is executed successfully, the target direct price is hit every time, or we design it until it does.

  • Designing to Reduce Cycle Time

Swift points to Henry Ford’s mindset when working with the Dodge Brothers to dramatically cut cycle time. When building the Model-T, Ford reduced cycle time from 12 hours ($850) to 96 minutes ($400). BSB Design studied Ford’s approach to reducing cycle time, which inspired the firm to implement ways to expedite design services and buildings that are designed to be “built for speed” by prioritizing precision, repetition and making the complicated simple.

  • Designing to Zero Variances

Like reducing cycle time, designing to zero variances is important because it emphasizes precision. When BSB Design creates a process to effectively design homes quickly and for less cost, it’s important to implement similar methods with every project. Effectively eliminating variances requires commitment and follow-through, and precise repetition helps make that happen.

When these four metrics are successfully targeted and achieved, client profitability increased anywhere from 15% to 18% annually. But Swift explains that although precision and repetition are important for delivering measurable success in these four key metrics, they are also essential elements in BSB Design’s continued innovation. Swift talks about measuring clock speed, which is the rate of innovation in any given industry. Clock speed in housing is measured in decades, so Swift knows the opportunity for innovation is huge. At BSB Design’s Innovation Lab, this opportunity is described as “tipping the avalanche”, the change that will push the pent-up innovation over the edge and effect real change in the industry.

Instruction Set of Drawings Manufacturing Mindset

BSB Design is working on another advancement by creating instruction drawings. The idea is to give people an opportunity to assemble a home by following directions. Much like putting together a piece of furniture from IKEA, instruction drawings are meant to provide an efficient way to assemble a home. Instead of building, Swift describes the process as simply putting the home together.

This concept would impact the metrics above and is another example of how BSB Design strives to create performing assets for their clients. This is a totally different mindset than many builders and developers have experienced. Swift said BSB Design is “playing a different game than everybody else” because while other firms prioritize architecture as the deliverable, BSB Design’s priority is to deliver performing assets that build at a shorter cycle time. This manufacturing mindset is what BSB Design sees as the opportunity to offer more benefits than the competition.

Product Development

Reducing cycle time must also be applied has the potential to product development. For example, a single family detached home developed with the traditional approach to architecture can take about six or seven months from start to Construction Documents (CD’s). Swift explained that Performance-Based Design offers a completely different approach and result.

“From the start of schematic design to finished CDs, we’re 45 days,” says Swift. “For real, 45 days. Not three months, not five, not six months, or seven. 45 days.” This claim is really self-explanatory, and Swift is confident in his belief that no other firm is going to be able to touch that.

With such an advanced turnaround for product development, builders and developers are able to work through their communities much faster. BSB Design is effectively maximizing their clients’ land assets because they aren’t carrying land for an extra six or seven months, and they are putting product on land way ahead of schedule. Swift talked about that because they are completing projects with such precision and speed, they are better able to manage their overall waterfall schedule, meaning they are “building an uncatchable lead in an industry that is in dire need of speed.”

Innovation Lab

BSB Design’s Innovation Lab is exploring and implementing concepts in augmented and virtual reality. As you may know, this is not necessarily new in the industry, but Swift mentioned a specific software called 'The Wild' that has BSB Design very excited.

Swift talked about using Oculus Quest 2 (which BSB Design will send to clients) in order to virtually walk a full model home from anywhere in the world. Using a headset or tablet with 'The Wild', the team as avatars can edit on the fly to turn off all the drywall and just see the framing members, or turn off the framing members and see only the wiring, etc. The entire design team has full access to manage and specifically see what can be useful at any point in the project development process.

RELATED: Architecture Firm Uses VR to Design Homes


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About The Author

Malcolm Crumbley, Associate Editor, headshot

Malcolm Crumbley

Malcolm Crumbley is a graduate of the University of Missouri with a Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies, with an emphasis in both English and Communications. He went on to receive his Masters of Arts in Journalism from DePaul University. He serves as Digital Editor for Building Design+Construction and Utopia.