Design chains are concerned with the flow of design information between the organisations collaborating on a project. It differs from a supply chain in not having information flowing in one direction and material in the other. In a design chain, information flows both ways. However, the ICD design chain distinguishes between two types of information: problems (which frame requirements) and solutions (which provide a solution to a previously defined problem). For example, a performance specification may be compiled to frame the design problem for a list installation. The specification defines the problem and the resulting lift design from the manufacturer is a solution to that problem. By understanding the relation of design problems to design solutions, individuals can define themselves as either a provider or a receiver (or both) of design information for a particular level (tier) in the design chain.
As with the supply chain, where standard products are converted into bespoke facilities, solutions in the design chain become increasing specialised and complex. Standard solutions (such as standard design details) are combined to provide more comprehensive and bespoke design solutions.