Architect, Designer, or Draftsman: Which do you need?

Choose the right expert for your next project

Depending on your project, an architect, designer, or draftsman might be the best choice for capturing your ideas and rendering them in drawings that can be used by builders. The following table describes the basic skill set of each discipline and when it may be best used.

Who What they do Experience & Scope of Responsibility Best use
Architect Responsible for making sure the building doesn´t fall down. Licensed professional, often with an advanced degree, who has undergone an internship and rigorous testing to meet strict licensing standards.

Legally responsible for all work.

Depending on specialty, may have experience in a variety of areas from historical preservation to structural engineering.

Continuing education is required by many states to maintain licensing.
Hire an architect for all work that requires building permits and inspections. Often, city and county building codes require an architect´s approval. Check with your building department to verify.

Some homeowner´s associations may require that additions and remodeling projects be signed off by a registered architect. The homeowner´s association architectural committee can provide specific guidelines for working within association covenants.
Designer Captures your vision and renders your design. Able to visualize concepts and render usable working documents.

Proficient in various design techniques such as CAD drafting, including plans, details, sections, layouts with background in working with architects and project managers.

Depending on education and background may have additional construction experience as well as materials and standards research.

Education may include formal CAD training and design coursework, but is not necessarily required. Licensing is not required.
An architectural designer is trained to take your concept and create a workable vision. They can coordinate materials and color to best effect, as well as define space usage.

They can create elevations and floor plans that embody functional and aesthetic goals.
Draftsman Provides working technical drawings for craftsmen and contractors. Proficient at architectural drawings of buildings and details using CAD applications. May specialize by type of structure and material used.

Knowledgeable of materials and design standards.

May have formal training or coursework. Licensing is not required.
A draftsman can create the kinds of technical drawings required by a custom cabinet maker, for example.

For small or medium projects, where drawings are needed that provide technical detail, but don´t require a lot of design or engineering, a draftsman can provide contractors with a clear set of working instructions.

Why hire one instead of another?

If you have a small project that requires clear drawings for a contractor, a draftsman can render a plan that works well and communicates effectively for a relatively modest investment. If you are planning a bathroom remodel, you might hire either a draftsman to draw up your ideas for your contractor or hire an architectural designer to help you define what you want. The information can be given to the contractor as working drawings. As long as the contractor is licensed and permits are not required, the draftsman could easily be a good choice.

If you are at a conceptual stage and want someone to create a rendering of your ideas, an architectural designer is an excellent resource. They can take your desire for a Norman fortress and create a drawing that incorporates your ideas into a cohesive design. A designer is equipped to make recommendations about materials, finishes, and color.

For any project that requires building permits and inspections, it´s usually wise to get the advice of a licensed architect. While many agencies require an architect´s approval, not all do and there are many gray areas that exist. By hiring an architect, you ensure that your project will be built to current codes and problems will be avoided. When you hire an architect, you hire a committed professional. While the cost is certainly higher than a designer or draftsman, you are guaranteed that the end product will be structurally sound. An architect is capable of doing the design work or taking the work of a designer, and then creating all the working drawings as well as overseeing the entire project in conjunction with your builder.


Regardless of your project and the scope of work, ask each candidate for the project to provide references and proof of all required licensing and insurance. Ask to see a portfolio of work and examine the work carefully. Depending on the discipline, a contract may be used. If so, make sure that the scope of work is clearly defined, with all payment terms and warranties stipulated.

Find a design professional who is best for you project.

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