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architects vs. designers - what's the difference?

Updated: Feb 20, 2023

This blog was originally published for Trio Design Inc before the company merged with Raw Design to create Uncommon Architects.

Whether you are redesigning an existing space or building a new one from the ground up, finding the right professional to help you with a design project can be a daunting task.
After all, this kind of project is a financial investment. It will add value to your home or business, and it’s important for the job to be done well! But with so many choices out there, who do you hire for expert help? An architect, a designer, or both? And what’s the difference between the two, anyway?

Although these professions overlap in many areas like room layout and space planning, there are some key differences between them. Knowing these differences can help you decide who will be the best fit for the scope of your project.

licensing and qualifications

The biggest difference you will find between architects and designers is in their certifications and levels of training.


The title “architect” is firmly regulated on a national level, which means not anyone can call themselves one. A licensed architect must have earned either a Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree in architecture (5-6 years). On top of that degree, they are required to gain enough experience working at an architectural firm (3-5 years) to pass the Architect Registration Exam (ARE). Once that has been passed, they can then receive a formal registration number.
Because this process is so strict, you can be certain that when you hire an architect, they are both highly qualified and experienced enough to design any building: a residential home, an office building, a grocery store, a tumbling gym…you name it, an architect can create it. The end product will be functional, aesthetically pleasing, and strong. It is an architect’s responsibility to meet the local and national building codes, protecting the health, safety, and welfare of those who live or work in the completed building. Being well-versed in sustainable and energy-efficient building practices, an architect will also work to reducing the environmental impact of your project.


In contrast, the term “designer” is not nationally regulated, meaning qualifications vary greatly, and small changes in title can indicate very different things. While just about anyone could start a business as a designer, to be licensed as an interior designer here in Utah, the individual must meet a few requirements set by the CIDQ (Council for Interior Design Qualification).

This does not mean that a designer is unqualified for a project. It only means that there is a wider variance in level of training and experience among them. If you need to spruce up an existing space through the use of color, lighting, and furniture, hiring a designer can be a great option. After all, Fixer Upper star Joanna Gaines didn’t receive any formal design training, but she had a natural talent that has turned into a very successful career.

project management

Another thing to consider when deciding between hiring an architect or hiring a designer is the scope of your project (are you renovating one room, or completely transforming your home?) and how involved in the project you want to be.

An architect is trained and highly skilled at project management. They can coordinate the entire project, from conception to the very last detail, even hiring contractors and obtaining appropriate building permits for you if needed.

Architects visit the construction site multiple times throughout the course of the project to ensure that the building being built matches the one they designed for you. Hiring an architect means you have someone to represent you, handling the nitty gritty details of a project, whereas with a designer, you may end up being a little more involved in those things.

All of this said, please keep in mind that both designers and architects are human, and humans are not all alike.

Some designers have more educational qualifications than others, and some architects have a better eye for aesthetic design than others. A detail-oriented architect with a strong eye for design can give you the best of both worlds.

No matter which type of professional you decide to work with, you should always look at their portfolio and schedule an interview before hiring them. This ensures the person or team you hire is a good fit for you and your unique project.
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