How common is outsourcing design development in architecture practices? We think it happens all the time, for big brand-names and small studios alike. It may not always be formal outsourcing, but it carries the same core principles. One way of basic outsourcing is using interns and graduates that work in temporary roles but handling much of the design development work and less of the more demanding creative and conceptual design work. One more sophisticated and organized form of outsourcing is hiring an outside firm, either local or international. Such a firm effectively becomes a design partner, seamlessly integrating in the company’s architectural design team.
An company abroad, for instance, would handle all the drawing/modeling tasks but is not usually in direct contact with the client, nor is it present in meetings and basically works hard to deliver on the lead architect’s requirements. That’s why using “outsourcing” as a term to describe working with interns and graduates is warranted, but as we’ll see, it may often not be the best approach.
Almost all companies fit in one of the two categories above as a natural market adaptation to reduce costs with tasks that, by their nature, are fairly easy to delegate. This is a common practice nowadays and it is a perfectly fine approach, especially when there are proper communication channels in place between the low level and high level staff. Managing an office and/or a suite of projects is a task in and of itself, leaving little room for the drafting or modeling work.
So the question now becomes which one of these work forms is the most optimal? The short answer would be that each company has specific needs and a specific culture, but if we look closely we can easily determine a general trend. Whilst the use of interns and graduates may solve a problem in the short term, the need to constantly re-hire and retain them can be a major distraction. Instead, using outsourcing firms for the architectural design development phase means that you are partnering up with highly skilled professionals, with zero overhead costs. Such firms are often specialized in specific domains where they’ve honed in-house systems that allow them to work extremely fast, relying heavily on advanced BIM solutions. Outsourcing firms can also guarantee on schedule delivery since they typically have buffer resources and larger numbers of employees.
When looking at outsourcing firms, there is little to no distinction between the interaction workflow you will have with local versus international companies. The problem can arise when you limit yourself to a small market, the local one, and you end up constantly swapping providers of outsourcing services and thus rely on new firms to pick up where the previous ones left. The solution is to tap into the international market and chose a quality, reliable partner for long term collaboration. Looking broader as opposed to narrower has the added advantage that you will likely find providers with lower production/management costs that will translate in a much better pricing and therefore a more competive offering.
In today’s hyper-connected global economy, communication is a non-issue and offshore collaborations become opportunities instead of challenges, allowing design leads to focus on the core aspects of their businesses.