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Architect or Designer? Which is Right for You and Your Project?

May 1, 2023

You’ve made that big decision to build a custom home or take on a major remodel or addition. You can’t do it alone, but how do you select the team that’s best for you? You’ve been fantasizing about your new home for a long time, but actually embarking on the process can be stressful if you don’t find the right people to support you. In this post, we’ll consider the differences and similarities between designers and licensed architects in order to empower you with a bit more knowledge you can apply to building your dream team so your dream home can become a reality.


Working with an Architect

Working with a licensed architect comes with peace of mind and assurance that you’re working with a highly trained professional. It’s a rigorous process to attain a license, starting with an accredited degree in architecture – typically a master’s degree. This is followed by an apprenticeship process that usually takes 3-4 years and, finally, a set of board exams. In addition, there are requirements for annual continuing education. An architect’s license is not easy to attain, so most architects are committed individuals with specific training in design, composition, structural and civil design, and construction technology. Architects are bound to a high standard of care, as they take an oath as part of the licensing process that encompasses a commitment to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public as it relates to the built environment.


Working with a Building Designer

Many designers do the same or similar work as licensed architects – both over the course of their careers and more minutely on a day-to-day level. Designers may have similar experience and talent to what you’d find an architect to possess, and the design process will likely feel similar to what you would experience working with an architect. Because it requires a number of years and significant financial resources to become licensed, licensing is not a good fit for everyone. It’s not uncommon to find designers who started their career doing something different and didn’t have the time or weren’t in a financial position to be able to go through the licensing process. Many designers start their careers in related areas, perhaps in construction, and later find their way into a design role. These individuals often come with diverse experiences and innovative ways of solving problems that put them at an advantage.


Which is Right for You?

In some circumstances you simply may not have a choice and may be required to utilize a licensed architect. For instance, the state of Washington requires a licensed architect for certain types of projects and projects above a certain size. There is a caveat to this, though; designers can work on any size/scale of project if they are working under the instruction and supervision of a licensed architect.

If you do have the luxury of choosing between an architect and a designer, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. You might decide the additional education, apprenticeships, exams, and continuing education give you the confidence you need to feel good about your project and that you really want an architect for that reason. Alternatively, you may find a designer who has other life or career experience that adds value and appeals to you. Ultimately, you may decide to leave yourself open to both options and select the right person based on personality fit with you and the other members of your project team.

In some circumstances, you may not have to choose. Here at Highline, we have an architect and a designer on our team. Though one may be the lead on your project, they work together closely, sharing ideas and identifying solutions. Though this may not be available in all areas, it’s something we take pride in, as we know the different perspectives, training, and experience our team members have allow us to offer our clients a more thoughtful approach to designing their projects.

You may be a person who decides any one individual on the team is less important than the team as a whole. In that case, you may prioritize working with a design-build firm above all else, regardless to architectural licensure. Working with a design-build firm ensures the architect and/or designer stays involved throughout the process and is readily available to answer questions. This adds continuity, decreases risk and stress levels, and typically makes for a smoother process without gaps or delays in communication.


When reflecting on working with Highline, one of our past clients said, “This was a dream house for us and didn't become the nightmare; it stayed the dream." Though this particular client was one we worked with on the construction end only and not for the design process, we like to think we deliver on this for all of our clients, especially those who come to us for full-package, design-build services. We select our projects carefully to choose those that we think will be a good fit for our team. We encourage you to be equally thoughtful when selecting your project team. With the right professionals on board, your project will run smoothly and will be able to handle whatever problem solving ends up being required along the way.

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“Highline exceeded our expectations.

“Communication was constant, honest and clear. Trevor and his crew were all friendly and professional.  They listened to our requests and delivered.

“We are thrilled with the quality of work! The project was on time and on budget. We will definitely be recommending Highline to our friends and family.”

– Matt Whitten, Bellingham, WA

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