The guidelines are quite conservative, leading to costly 'over-design'

I'm trying to express that these guidelines are 'on the safe side'. I saw someone use the word conservative in this context, but I'm not sure whether this is correct, because I receive a lot of frowns when using it among my Dutch colleagues. In Dutch, this word is used only for 'old-fashioned' or 'traditional'. However, I can't find a suitable alternative. Hence the question.

Edit: The guidelines are design guidelines for wind turbines. They are used to estimate wind loads. If the loads are too high, the turbine might break. So if the guidelines are 'on the safe side', the estimated loads will probably be higher than the actual loads. Naturally, you want to be on the safe side, but if the estimated loads are much higher than the actual loads, you're wasting money.

  • It is certainly possible. In English, conservative is not limited to "old-fashioned" or "traditional". But we need more details. It's actually difficult to determine if it works at the moment. Regardless, try using a dictionary to see if the meaning fits the context that you have not disclosed.
    – Em.
    Aug 26, 2016 at 8:18
  • I added some extra context, hope that clarifies the question. I did consult a dictionary, but I still wasn't sure. I guess cautious more or less conveys the message, but does that fit in this sentence? A person can be cautious, be can guidelines also be cautious?
    – Peter9192
    Aug 26, 2016 at 8:47
  • You could also say the design is over-engineered. That term is used (in American English at least) to refer to designs which greatly exceed a specified threshold of failure. The layman's term is "built to last". :)
    – TimR
    Aug 26, 2016 at 12:45
  • Maybe narrow?
    – shawnt00
    Aug 27, 2016 at 2:28

2 Answers 2


The use of "conservative" in your sentence is correct and does have the meaning of "erring on the safe side" especially in safety regulations. These types of guidelines, more often than not, add to the cost of a project since many different scenarios need to be taken into account.

Similar words you might use are

The guidelines are quite strict, leading to costly 'over-design'
The guidelines are very prescribed, leading to costly 'over-design'

although both words do not have the implies meaning of "erring on the safe side", they do describe how a regulating body would define their requirements.

From your edit, you could use

The guidelines leave lots of room for error, leading to costly 'over-design'
The guidelines are over specified, leading to costly 'over-design'

both sentences have the meaning that the specified loadings are much more than necessary.


To me, that sentence without any context seems a little strange. I am not sure what the relationship between costly over-design and conservative is, but conservative would be the opposite of over-design in my mind. The OED defines it as:

(of an estimate) purposely low for the sake of caution.

Since estimates and guidelines are a little different it may not be a suitable word. I would not expect caution (being careful) to result in over-design anyway as it doesn't seem logically sound.

I think it may depend on the context of what the guidelines are. Conservative may be the correct word, or perhaps Cautious. But I am not sure why being on the safe side leads to over-design.


With your updated question it makes more sense now. Conservative is fine in this instance.

  • Thanks for the reply, I'll give a bit more context in the question
    – Peter9192
    Aug 26, 2016 at 8:37

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