Members of a working men's club were incensed when a newly designed snooker hall didn't come up to scratch. It wouldn't have happened with DQIs

One of the most difficult things to quantify in the construction process is the design. It is not just a question of dreaming up a structure that is aesthetically pleasing but one that satisfies the requirements of a variety of stakeholders. In addition, designers will be working within statutory constraints such as CDM and the Building Regulations. On top of that, they are expected to comply with planning permission and to keep within a budget.

Rising to this challenge the Construction Industry Council has worked with designers to produce a way of measuring design that does not inhibit creativity but should enhance client and user satisfaction. This is done by the use of design quality indicators - DQIs. They allow the needs of the project to be assessed on the basis of a range of criteria, from ease of maintenance to access.

This is usually done by a meeting of all stakeholders including the professional team, planning supervisor and facilities manager. Someone who has trained as a DQI facilitator (contact for a list) leads the group in completing a questionnaire dealing with all the things that matter to the stakeholders. These are then weighted and displayed on a spider diagram, which shows the important criteria at a glance. It provides all stakeholders with a picture of their combined wishes and criteria for a building.

If this exercise is undertaken early enough in the design process it can be a useful tool in clarifying the client's brief. It is combined with a structured dialogue at key stages in the briefing, detailed development and final realisation of the project.

The use of DQIs received a boost last December when it was made a mandatory for all secondary schools procured as part of the Building Schools for the Future initiative. A tailored version, called "DQI for Schools", has been developed by the Department for Education and Skills and the CIC. The Strategic Forum's target is that by the end of next year 20% of all projects worth more than £1m will use DQIs, and 60% of all publicly funded or PFI projects in excess of £1m.

The design quality indicator reduces risk because if the exercise is carried out at an early stage designers have a more clearly defined brief

So what does this mean for designers? Does it increase their liability or reduce it? The answer is that it does both. It increases liability because as a result of this process the brief should be better defined. This means that if the designer fails to meet the priorities identified there are less uncertainties for them to hide behind.

At the same time the DQI also reduces risk, because if the exercise is carried out at an early stage in the design process, designers will have a more clearly defined brief. An important stakeholder, such as a facilities manager, also has a better chance of influencing the design. This in turn should lead ultimately to more client satisfaction during the life of the building and therefore less chance of being sued for failing to meet the brief.

The case of Stormont Working Men's Club vs J Roscoe Milne some years ago was a warning to designers that it is crucial to obtain clarity on the brief. The project was for the alteration and extension of a club's premises and the architect was told that space should be provided for three full-size snooker tables. The plans were displayed at the club and the exact purpose of the snooker hall was decided at a meeting of members, attended by the architect. Ultimately the judge held that the designer had not been required to design the hall so that competition matches could be played, which requires rather exacting standards, but this was only after the case had gone to court, with all the resource implications and stress that that involves.

If a DQI had been used, the differing expectations of the club members could have been identified, and any ambiguities eliminated. Those who have used DQIs speak enthusiastically of them, with clearer briefs and a reduced risk of design changes. This could be a useful tool in improving client satisfaction with design, and avoiding the kind of problems that occurred in the Stormont case.