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Designer or architect, what’s the difference?

People use the words “designer” and “architect” interchangeably. But there is are important differences.

Many people contribute to the design of a home. The client may have ideas or suggestions, an architect may do a design sketch and an interior designer may help the client realize their vision for finishing the space. A draftsperson may draw up the plans and a contractor may do the physical building. These are very different professions that require different licenses and education, especially when it comes to architects and designers.

What is a registered architect?

A registered architect is a licensed professional. To be a registered architect one needs to graduate from an accredited university with a degree or master’s degree in architecture. One must also have about two years of on-the-job training under a licensed architect. A registered architect has passed a rigorous course of exams- seven in all. A registered architect must also maintain a license and take continuing education classes. Much like lawyers, architects are licensed by each state. Architects can design homes, hospitals, hotels, apartment buildings, churches, schools- any building. Many registered architects are members of the AIA, American Institute of Architects. If someone does not meet the required educational, exam and licensing criteria, they are not a registered architect and cannot call themselves an architect.

What is a designer?

Anyone who works designing interiors or interior spaces can call themselves a designer. A designer does not typically design homes or other buildings but focuses on interior space or re-envisioning space, color and texture. Designers typically do not deal with structural elements, such as removing walls or building a home from scratch. Some design professionals use the term “architectural designer.”  This is not an architect, but a person who has studied architecture but has not yet taken or passed the course of Architectural Registration Exams (AREs).

What a draftsperson does

To be a draftsperson requires no formal education, training or license. This person typically takes a blueprint or design drawing and uses specialized computer software to “draw up the plans.” These working plans or construction documents will be more detailed and specific than the broader design plans, and are usually necessary for a structure to be built. It is possible to obtain a drafting degree, certificate or license, but it is not usually required.

Knowing the requirements and correct professional titles helps everyone involved in the construction process understand the level of expertise and specialized knowledge each professional is able to provide.