04 March 2017

With the rise of BIM, much has been made – rightly – of the technological transformation of the design process. But the fundamentals remain the same. The designer continues to create a design vision in response to the needs of the client. This creative vision is expressed in, and maintained by, detailed construction information.

In the best cases, this design vision is fully realised. Increasingly, this is achieved through collaborative working throughout the project timeline. This collaboration involves close working with many parties, including the client, contractors and construction product manufacturers. Effective collaboration requires shared understanding. In turn, shared understanding relies on a clear, unambiguous description of the shared goal: that which is to be built.

Specifications are integral here. They alone provide the level of information required to fully express design intent.

Not only that, the specification provides a reference point for construction and maintenance decisions made throughout the project. It also serves as a legal document to protect the designer from the all-too-frequent disputes that arise within the construction process. A timely produced and well-written specification can save significant work, expense and worry later on in a project. It can also protect professional reputations.

The results of our survey show that specifications remain integral. They can, of course, take various forms (such as performance-based, or more traditional specifications), and often evolve throughout a project’s life.

The specification process is not without difficulties though. Too often, it is rushed and only started in the developed and technical design stages. Six out of ten respondents tell us that they feel they ‘rush’ specification writing. Errors can be made through reuse of specifications without detailed checking. Design intent can be eroded through product substitution and value engineering. Project information can be held in various places and in various formats, most notably in a BIM and in a specification. This information needs to be consistent; conflicting drawings and specifications causes real problems on the ground.

The results of our survey show that specifications remain integral.

At NBS, we have been helping specification writers for over 40 years. We produce a range of tools to bring rich, up-to-date and standardised information to the specification writer. Guidance helps make sure the specification is well-written and robust. Office masters embed practice knowledge and help standardise specifications. Standards are fully referenced and kept up to date. NBS Plus brings a wealth of detailed construction product information to the specification writer just when it’s needed.

However, at NBS we are also aware of, and leading on, the radical changes that we are seeing within construction information. NBS Create is the world’s first BIM-ready specification writing environment.

The NBS BIM toolkit is a free-to-use tool that allows the designer to set out who is responsible for what and when within a project, and to describe the level of detail and level of information that’s needed at each stage of the RIBA Plan of Work. Through our ‘plug-ins’ to all leading BIM creation tools, you can rapidly check for inconsistencies between a model and a specification. The NBS National BIM Library allows you to drop generic and propriety BIM objects into the BIM, knowing that those models conform to the NBS BIM Object Standard.

What’s significant here is not just the available range of tools, but their interoperability. Through the NBS design information ecosystem, we have enabled the designer to ensure consistency and accuracy across a range of information sources. This is needed to provide the framework for effective collaboration.

Great buildings start with great design. Realising that design requires effective information management. Specifications are at the heart of that, and well-written specifications that integrate with the information ecosystem will bring efficiencies to the design, build and maintain process. This in turn means better delivery on client requirements, more likely realisation of design intent, reduced risk for the designer, and, potentially, cost savings and greater profitability for the design community.

We hope this report helps understanding of current specification practice, and shows the direction of specification in our increasingly information-rich industry.


This article is taken from the NBS Specification Report 2017. Find out more and download the full free report including comprehensive analysis of our survey results.