The Importance of Principal Designers


Any construction project often comes with many complex elements and managing all of those aspects together is the key to a successful end result. That management comes from a team of people collaboratively working towards the end goal, and a principal designer is an imperative part of that success.

What is a Principal Designer?

A Principal Designer, or PD, is a key part of the project team for any project in architecture and construction. A PD can be a single person, or for a bigger project, it can be an organisation too. This person can be from a diverse background, such as a contractor or builder, a tradesperson, or even commercial client, but their job in this instance is to take on the role of managing and directing the design elements of the process. The principal designer guides and instructs the phase prior to construction to oversee the designs with a goal to minimising the risks to health and safety – something that’s vital to the overarching success of any project.

What are the roles and responsibility of a Principal Designer?

We’ve already mentioned how a principal designer is the health and safety guardian angel and person who ensures the smooth running of the project for the duration, but what does that actually entail?

  • Planning and Monitoring – The success of any project is determined by the plans, and the PD identifies and controls or eliminates any issues in the plans, the build process and the functionality of the space when it’s complete.
  • Managing – The PD is a manager for the team, they’re the liaison between all the different simultaneous elements and the cohesive cooperation consistent understanding between parties, including the client.
  • Coordinating Health & Safety – Without a doubt, the first priority on any build or design is safety, and it’s the PD contributes to the health and safety file and keeps every step of the process in line with regulations and as safe as possible. 

The key value of a PD comes specifically from their invaluable knowledge and experience in complying with regulations, ensuring that all designers comply with their duties in regulation 9 and specifically that the project meets CDM 2015 and the associated legislative requirements.

Why you need a Principal Designer?

A principal designer does many things, as stated, but the most impactful and valuable part of their skillset is in the regulation compliance. Due to changes in the CDM Regulations in 2015, the responsibility of project management and the associated weight falls on the client. It is obligatory to appoint a PD in writing for any project with more than one contractor, and if this isn’t done, the responsibility falls utterly to the client.

Realistically, most clients don’t have the necessary knowledge or skillset to do the job of PD, and if breaches to the regulations occur, the client then faces the consequences and possible HSE prosecution. There’s a heavy financial burden that comes with such mistakes, in the form of fines, compensation, resource costs, legal costs, as well as the impact of losing business.

Ultimately, a PD will avoid the heavy burden you could potentially come to bear, as well as give you the security and relief that come from knowing the process will meet regulations and not result in any ramifications, on top of providing effective and experienced project management.

How to choose a Principal Designer

This is a difficult question – how are you meant to decide who will bear such important responsibility, particularly given that the flow and functional success of the project is essentially dependent on this person?

The best idea is definitely to go for a professional, firstly. We’ve established how important a principal designer is, and in light of that, it’s equally important not to cut corners here too. Somebody with good credentials, experience and qualifications is ideal, and the right kind of person in terms of personality for you to work with is also important to the emotional experience of the project.

Ultimately, the best thing to do is to find a property and construction consultancy who offer this Principle Designer Services such as Henry Riley and work with them to find the right person for the project.

Overall, a principal designer is a vital part of project management and a really key element in assuring the smooth and successful running of the process. More than anything, their wealth of knowledge and experience is invaluable in removing the stress, because by delegating, the responsibility for adhering to health and safety and building regulations falls to a professional. 


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BDC 309 : Oct 2023