Architect vs. Architectural Designer

There are different professionals to turn to in every profession. In law, you’ve got attorneys and paralegals. In medicine, there are nurse practitioners, doctors, and assistants. Likewise, when it comes to designing a building, there are designers, architects, and draftsmen.

The difference between an architect and an architectural designer is one of the most common confusions for people. Each of the two can do similar things, but the way they do them and the skills they possess to finish a specific task are profoundly different.

In this article, you will learn about the differences between an architect and an architectural designer.

What is an Architect?

An architect is a registered professional who has gone through extensive training, education and licensing. They are legally responsible for every task they perform and they are also the only ones who can call themselves ‘registered architects’ in the United States. It’s illegal even to use the term unless you’ve gone through a very rigorous registration exam. National Council of Architectural Registration Board (NCARB) administers the seven-part exam and passing it is obligatory if you want to be called a licensed or registered architect. For a person to learn to be an architect, they need to put in time and effort.

The following requirements are mandatory in the U.S. for a professional to call themselves an architect:

  • Attending an accredited university and earning an architectural degree (five to six years of learning)
  • Passing Architectural Registration Exams (at least seven of them)
  • The equivalent of 2 years’ work on-the-job experience
  • Continuing education by taking new courses each year to keep your license

Architects typically learn design and problem-solving strategies during school. They also attend many crash courses where they learn about various building processes. Through the extensive on-the-job experience architectural schools provide, new architects work in firms on reak projects and learn what to do to make magnificent buildings happen. They are educated professionals with significant liability. Architects are responsible for public safety and they are fully aware of it. Every time a licensed architect submits their drawings to the local jurisdiction, they promise to build a safe structure.

What is an Architectural Designer?

When it comes to expertise, an architectural designer is at least one level below a licensed architect. As already stated, an architect is a highly educated, certified professional. However, an architectural designer doesn’t have a license. Moreover, an architect is called an architectural designer before they pass all the exams and get licensed. There is no requirement for a designer, as far as training and education go. Most of the time, designers work alongside architects in firms. They work on documenting design projects and assist the architects with various tasks. It’s how a future architect receives their on-the-job experience that’s necessary for getting a license.

Architectural Design: The Career Path

There are several reasons why a person may choose a designer’s career path instead of getting licensed. Some of the most usual scenarios in the United States include the following:

  • The designer has indeed followed the same education path as architects but hasn’t passed the AREs yet for some reason. They may be working as an architectural designer and simultaneously studying to take the exams but haven’t passed all of them yet. Quite often, they have a degree in architecture but have just started their profession and are on their way to getting licensed.
  • Some designers decide not to get licensed after graduating and experiencing hands-on work in design firms. They choose to continue their professional path as architectural designers instead because they don’t want the liability and responsibility of being a licensed architect.
  • Many designers have taken an alternative path to learn design and become a designer. They go to interior or industrial design schools and find their way into architectural design.
  • Self-taught designers are learning about the theory and practice of architectural design all by themselves. They school themselves and learn to read and draw various architectural drawings.

As you may assume, the skill levels of designers can vary quite a bit. Moreover, the skill, education, and training levels vary drastically from one architectural designer to another.

Architect VS. Architectural Designer

The main difference between architects and architectural designers is the fact architects are licensed and, as such, always held legally responsible for everything they do. On the other hand, architectural designers don’t have legal responsibility for their actions.

Also, a registered architect can provide all necessary documents often required by jurisdictions to approve a building permit. The term ‘registered architect’ is very strictly defined in the U.S. One cannot call themselves an architect unless they have a license. Moreover, you need to register with the licensing board in every state you want to practice architecture. Even if you’re licensed in, say, California, you still can’t call yourself a registered architect in Kansas unless you get registered in Kansas too. This way, one person can be an architect in one state and an architectural designer in another.



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