How to achieve the design and specification competency

Given that all successful construction projects rely on proper design and specification, how can APC candidates in building surveying show they have attained this competency?


  • Jen Lemen FRICS

02 April 2024

Three young people standing in front of a presentation board

Design and specification are two essential areas of technical competence that all building surveyors need to demonstrate.

The RICS pathway guide for building surveying states that: 'Building surveyors are usually involved in refurbishment of property, and in some cases new-build projects. Knowledge of the stages of design and specification from inception to completion is an essential building surveying skill.'

The requirements for this competency by level are, briefly, as follows.

  • At Level 1, you should demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of the design process and the scope and content of related documentation, including different types of specification.
  • At Level 2, you should provide evidence of preparing designs and specifications, at both outline and detail levels.
  • At Level 3, you should provide evidence of giving reasoned advice and preparing the full design and specification for a variety of projects.

Level 1 requires understanding of how design works

Key areas of knowledge at level 1 you should be aware of include:

  • the design process and the stages within it
  • how design fits into the RIBA Plan of Work
  • the functional requirements and performance of building materials and components
  • key health and safety legislation and regulations, such as the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015, including their implications for design
  • the effect of technical standards and statutory regulations, such as the Building Regulations and various British Standards, on the design process and on planning
  • the structural implications of design for the load-bearing components of building fabric
  • your ability to interpret a client's brief to satisfy their requirements
  • the general issues relating to design sustainability, such as materials and their sources as well as transportation and energy efficiency
  • modern methods of construction
  • preambles to contract documentation.

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Higher levels attested by project preparation and management

Typical examples of level 2 experience that you might include in your case study or summary of experience include:

  • preparing sketch designs based on a client's brief and adhering to any statutory requirements
  • detailing the installation and performance of components on a project
  • preparing a design risk assessment
  • developing an initial proposal to a detailed stage, and obtaining statutory consents.

Meanwhile, typical examples of advice that prove you have achieved level 3 include:

  • preparing and advising on the design and specification of a project
  • advising on sustainability issues
  • managing the design process, including incorporating design work by other professionals in a specification for the project.

Answer should clarify practical design process

You should be familiar with the building surveyor's role and responsibilities relating to design and specification for a variety of projects. Your summary of experience will need to convey this, with two or three practical examples at both levels 2 and 3. These need to be written in the first person and past tense.

Elements of this competency can also be included in your case study, and you can cover relevant knowledge acquisition in your CPD record as well.

You will then need to be ready to address questions on your examples and knowledge in your final assessment interview. You should always answer the assessors' questions according to your own practical experience, ensuring that you explain the advice you gave at level 3 or what you did at level 2. Talk through the rationale for the advice you provided, and think logically about the actions you took.

Although it may sound like a long time, the 60-minute interview is actually very short, so your answers should be concise and considered. Avoid the temptation to tell the panel everything you know about a specific example or the competency as a whole.

A sample answer at level 3 is given below, although you should think about how you could be asked a similar question in relation to your own experience. For example, where in your submission did you give advice, and what was it based on? If you were asked by an assessor what advice you gave, what would you say?

Ensure you can articulate your answers clearly and succinctly, and provide background knowledge and justification if you are asked.

Q: Explain the advice you gave during the development of the design process, from the initial outline proposals through to tendering for the works.

A: I worked closely with the client to develop and advise on the initial brief for a ground-floor extension. Following my development of outline proposals, I advised the client on its statutory obligations relating to planning and party wall matters.

Given the siting of the property and proximity to other buildings, I advised seeking pre-application advice from the local authority, and then amended the design accordingly.

To control and manage the risks associated with the client's requirements, the final design and building aesthetics, I recommended specialist input from a glazing contractor. I also coordinated input from the project engineer to help in the production of the structural and waterproofing packages.

Once the design was frozen and signed off by the client, I prepared a tender package, consisting of a National Building Specification – in addition to a schedule of works referencing the quality and products or materials to be used – pre-construction health and safety phase plan and the tender form itself.

I also advised my client of its obligations under The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015.

'You should be familiar with the building surveyor's role and responsibilities relating to design and specification for a variety of projects'


Jen Lemen FRICS is a co-founder and partner at Property Elite
Contact Jen: Email

Related competencies include: Design and specification, Legal/regulatory compliance, Sustainability

RICS Building Surveying Conference

07 May | 9:30-17:00 GMT | 133 Houndsditch, London, EC3A 7BX

The conference provides an opportunity to keep abreast of sector updates, the latest regulations, and emerging trends in the building surveying industry.

Expert speakers will provide comprehensive insights into how these changes will affect professionals in the industry by delivering case studies and essential updates from a range of specialisms including building and fire safety, dilapidations, party walls, building conservation, rights of light, retrofitting and sustainability.

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