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Architects & Designers: What’s the Difference?

Architects & Designers are responsible for the design and vision of your space, house, renovation, structure, etc. (Many ‘Trades’ also help bring a design to life by using their craft to elevate something basic into something artistic and beautiful).

Architects & Designers are essential when you have a sense of the style you want in a renovation, or the feel, but aren’t sure how to achieve it. More specifically, Architects work in all commercial construction projects from banks to hospitals, from strip-malls to warehouses. Most, if not all, cities and communities require drawings of buildings to have a professional Architect's stamp of approval on them. Generally house designs under a certain square footage (like 2,500sf.) do not require an architect to stamp the drawing and can be drawn by a designer or General Contractor. These will still require a Building Permit from the local community, however. Permits are needed to track construction and ensure safe buildings (and sometimes a specific style of building) are being added to the community.

The difference between a designer and an Architect is the professional licensure that an architect must hold. An Architect is a profession and requires many years of study and the successful completion of exams to become a “licensed architect”. Some jobs (usually larger & commercial) require a licensed architect to create drawings for the safety of the occupants. Designers can work independently or with architects and are usually involved in freelance/ independent design work and on smaller projects. More detailed info on Architects and Designers below the slideshow! carry on...

What does this look like?

The examples below are projects I have worked on as a Designer (you'll see a "D" in the description) or as part of an architecture office, where I worked under/helped a licensed Architect (you'll see an "A" in the description).

Architects:

Architects usually receive both an undergraduate and graduate degree. Generally they attend either an undergraduate study in architecture, architecture-related field or something completely different. (Sometimes this is OK to have a background in other disciplines, as this brings new viewpoints to influence designs). Most states require the architect to have attended an accredited professional architecture program. This usually means a 4 year university with a Master of Architecture program. These graduate level programs last 2 - 3.5 years depending on previous architecture education and the program.

After graduating from an accredited Professional degree program architects enroll in a regulated internship program through NCARB (National Council of Architectural Registration Boards) called AXP (Architectural Experience Program). This program tracks an architect’s progress through various types of work a professional Architect is required to perform, such as Schematic Design, Fire/Life Safety, Contract Negotiation, Construction Supervision, etc. The program generally takes between 3-5 years to complete. Upon completion, the architect takes a series of exams that test knowledge in those same work areas.

When these exams are completed and passed (which takes about 1 year) the person is given the status of Professional Architect and can create buildings on their own and are issued a “stamp”. Most Architects, however, work at larger firms where they are not using their personal “stamp” to approve drawings. (much of this has to with liability - and not really need to to in this blog!)

Designers:

Unlike Architects, designers represent a much broader area of expertise. This can range from interior decor specialization to 3D modeling and photo-real renderings. Many graphic designers and website/media designers often shorten their discipline to “designer”. For this blog, I’ll talk about the designers who work primarily on house designs, interiors, or related renovation needs.

Designers who are involved in house renovation projects or house additions are generally trained in some form of a related industry. Technically speaking, since Architects must undergo the long process of getting licensed, anyone who has NOT gone through the NCARB program and passed exams, is a “DESIGNER”. Your Architecture Friend, yours truly, is a DESIGNER, since I have not taken my exams for my professional Architecture license. However, I have still received an accredited professional Master of Architecture and worked at firms within the AXP program.

Beyond designers with architecture backgrounds, many have backgrounds in construction and interior architecture. Some have experience and are trained in interior decor. I’ll go into more detail in a different post about the difference between Interior Architecture and Interior Decorating.

Designers, as a group, are more diverse in skills than Architects as a group. However, most designers are highly specialized in one area, 3D modeling, landscapes, interiors, decor, etc.

The relationship between Architects to designers is similar to the earlier post about General Contractors to “handymen”. And like this analogy, Architects will be more consistent in knowledge and methods of design, generally very professional. Designers, while more affordable than architects (and more specialized in some cases) might need more vetting to ensure a good fit for your design.

LOCATION: Greater Milwaukee

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