Basis of Design Specification

When writing guide specifications for building products, my clients sometimes ask me for a "Basis of Design" specification. Their assumption is that, if their product is identified as Basis of Design, any substitution would have to match theirs.

A recent discussion on the CSI Forum explains the problem with this type of specification:
The term “Basis of Design” is frequently used as a shortcut to avoid a more detailed specification. There is no definition in the AIA or EJCDC documents nor is there one in the old CSI Manual of Practice or the current Project Resource Manual. The term is frequently used to fool ourselves into thinking we have a good spec or something (mostly something!).

Below is from the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR)

"11.104 Use of brand name or equal purchase descriptions. 

"(a) While the use of performance specifications is preferred to encourage offerors to propose innovative solutions, the use of brand name or equal purchase descriptions may be advantageous under certain circumstances. 

"(b) Brand name or equal purchase descriptions must include, in addition to the brand name, a general description of those salient physical, functional, or performance characteristics of the brand name item that an “equal” item must meet to be acceptable for award. Use brand name or equal descriptions when the salient characteristics are firm requirements." 

These are good words to live by when specifying products, whether in the public or private sector.

Unless the “salient” characteristics of the “Basis of Design” product are listed, you have an incomplete specification.

In the private sector, unless the words “No Substitution Permitted” are included, I should think that the Contractor is free to make an offer with maybe a commensurate “credit.” We can't use these words in the public sector without a LOT of good reasons.

If the product named as the “basis of design” doesn't meet the design criteria, then there is an “impossibility of performance” and he is still allowed to make an offer, usually with a commensurate increase in cost. It's now time to negotiate!!!

Additionally, if the product named as the “Basis of Design” doesn't meet the design criteria, then somebody on the design team dropped the ball. (Been there, done that!) Comment by Mr. Jon V. Harpool, CSI, CDT
The phrase "Basis of Design" is just another way to say, "our product, Or Equal." Unless the specifier makes it clear what is considered an essential criteria, the Contractor has wide discretion to offer substitutions.

Whenever practical, a good guide specification should help the specifier identify those features that are really important to a project.

For more information on guide specifications, click here.