171221 – Not all those who you may think, or are told, are architects are actually architects.

So what’s the REAL difference between an architect, ‘architectural’ designer, and a technician/technologist – and who should you work with?

In many professions, you have options when it comes to choosing the right professional to work with. In medicine, there are physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners, and doctors. In law, there are legal aids, paralegals, and attorneys. In finance, there are CPAs, non-licensed accountants, and bookkeepers.

And when it comes to designing your home, there are architects, designers, and draftspeople. Each can all perform that role, but they each have different skills and will perform the task differently. So what’s the difference between them?


A Registered Architect

A registered architect is a licensed design professional with extensive education, training, and licensing and is legally responsible for all work they perform.

For an architect to legally use the title “registered architect” in the UK, they usually (with few exceptions) must meet the following minimum education, training, and licensing requirements:

  • graduate from an accredited university with an Undergraduate and a Masters architecture degree (usually 5-6 years of study)
  • complete a minimum amount of on-the-job experience (usually the equivalent of 2 years’ work)
  • pass RIBA Part 3 exams – Architectural registration exams administered by ARB
  • take a certain number of continuing education courses each year to maintain registration


Typically an architect learns about design and problem-solving in University, where they also get crash courses in the various building systems and processes. During the extensive on-the-job experience is where they learn how buildings are put together and who to work with to make it happen.

As a highly educated and trained professional, more is legally expected of her, which increases her risk and exposure to liability. An architect is responsible for protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public. By stamping architectural drawings upon submission to the local jurisdiction, she is, in essence, making this pledge.

The fact that an architect is a licensed design professional (and is held legally responsible for their actions) is the main difference between them and other design professionals.

Side note: The use of the term “registered architect” is well-governed in the UK. You cannot call yourself an architect unless you’re registered as one. And it actually goes further than that.


An Architectural Designer

Whereas an architect is a licensed design professional, an architectural designer is not. An architectural designer is several steps below an architect when it comes to expertise. Before an architect passes the RIBA Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 exams and gets registered, they are just an architectural designer.

As far as education, training, and licensure for a designer, there is no requirement. Usually, designers work hand in hand with architects in design firms creating and documenting design projects. It’s how they receive their on-the-job ‘experience’.

In the UK, a designer’s career path could have taken many forms. Here’s a few scenarios:

  1. There are designers who follow the same career path as architects, graduating from an accredited college and getting on-the-job training, but who for one reason or another, have not passed the exams.
    • This designer could be currently taking the exams and just hasn’t passed them all yet.
  2. There are designers who, after graduating and working in a design firm, decide they don’t want to get licensed (not wanting the added responsibility and liability) and choose to continue their design career as an architectural designer.
    • They may be a seasoned designer, having been in the architecture profession for many, many years and know a lot more than others about designing and building buildings OR they may have very well just come into the profession and have a degree in architecture.
  3. There are also designers who could have even taken an alternate path to becoming a designer, going to school for interior design, industrial design, ‘architectural’ technology (most definitely NOT architecture) or another design concentration. There are those who are even self-taught – schooling themselves in the theory and practice of design and learning to read and draw architectural drawings.

So as you can imagine, the skill level of a designer can vary significantly across the board. The education, training, and skill level of an architectural designer varies drastically across the board from one designer to the next.

As we mentioned before the term “registered architect” is highly governed. So, a designer cannot call himself an “architect”, “student architect” or even “intern architect” without risking getting reprimanded by the Government (getting fined or putting their future registration in jeopardy).

We’re not saying that architectural designers aren’t capable of doing a great job on a project, some can – and do it as well as an architect – but they just can’t call themselves “architects”.

Side note: Now, think about all the people in other professions calling themselves software architects, IT architects, systems architects, even sandwich architect. They cannot use the word ‘architect’ either, but they do. We’ll save that rant for another day…


A Technician / Technologist

Like an architectural designer, there is no education, training, or licensing requirement for a technician or technologist unless Chartered (which requires a dregree or equivalent).

A Chartered Technologist can perform some of the tasks that an architect does, but not all. And a technician / technologist doesn’t have any design education in architecture or experience, but they may have a design education and be proficient in using computer aided design & drafting software (CAD or BIM) to create architectural drawings for construction.

Some other technicians or technologists have a formal education, some don’t. They may have obtained certificates, diplomas, or degrees in construction, but they don’t have any architectural design training. Their exposure to design is usually by way of converting design drawings to construction documents on the computer.


Now that we’ve covered the basics of what each design person is, what are the differences in their abilities?

An architect has the most education and experience in design and implementation. Their skills and expertise revolve around maximising design opportunities, understanding building systems, navigating the complicated approvals process, and coordinating the efforts of various other professionals to ensure your house will be designed and built successfully.

A designer may have similar design education and experiences or they may not. It’s hit or miss with a designer. If a designer was schooled in interior design, he or she may actually know more about colour theory, furnishings, and decor than an architect would.

A Chartered Technologist is a specialist in construction, documentation and delivery. They are proficient at some of the technical aspects and turning them  into technical drawings for construction.

Both designers and technicians know how to draw and understand the construction of buildings enough to document them in drawing form but the extent of their knowledge of all the working parts of a building can vary. They can design to varying degrees, however, not to the same level as an architect.

The exams that distinguish an architect from other design professionals do not just measure design abilities. It tests on architectural principles and processes as well as technical knowledge related to health, safety, and welfare.

So, what does this mean for you?

You need to decide which type of design professional is best for your specific situation. You have to evaluate how complex your project is, how important the design is to you, how complicated the approval process is, and your own knowledge and capabilities. At the same time, you have to think about the benefits and value each professional can provide and the related fees associated with using them.

Your design means everything.

It’s your choice who you decide to work with. But we suggest making the decision based on design capabilities of the professional. Whether you choose an architect, designer, or Chartered Technologist, make sure you select someone who can turn your ideas into a home.

As architects, we know the importance of good design. We know it has the ability to transform people’s lives helping them live happier, healthier and fuller. We know that good design also improves the bottom line, creating opportunities to reduce construction costs and long-term maintenance and operating costs – not to mention increase ROI.

Design has the power to make or break a project. If done well, it will turn a place where you live happily ever after. If done poorly, can become a big money pit and lead to much dissatisfaction.

The point of choosing between the various design professionals is to decide who can provide the most value and get you the end result that you need (which may differ from what you wanted). Working with a design professional is an investment (big or small) so you have to decide who can provide the most value for the cost. A good investment will always be worth more than the cost. But it’s up to you to decide who to work with and how much you want them to do.

As with everything here at KR.eativ: Architects, we’re not going to tell you who you should work with. That choice is ultimately yours. We’re just here to provide information and let you make that decision for yourself.

As you embark on your design project, just make sure you thoroughly research each design professional before choosing and investing in someone. Understand what that professional will bring to your project in terms of expertise, design skills, abilities, knowledge, and value. And understand their related design fees. It’s up to you to be informed. Remember that training and experience alone don’t necessarily make you great at your profession so choose an individual that you think will do the best job at the right price.