Home / Career Guides / Architectural Designer

Architectural Designer Career Guide

What is an architectural designer?

An architectural designer is a professional skilled in the technical and aesthetic aspects of building design. They work within the field of architecture to develop and design solutions for buildings, landscapes, and urban spaces – striving to create functional yet pleasing spatial environments that meet client needs and comply with local laws and safety regulations.

Utilizing their comprehensive understanding of art, science, and engineering, these highly skilled professionals incorporate unique architectural elements to elevate the aesthetic appeal of a structure without compromising its function or safety. In summary, they play a significant role in shaping our built environment, influencing the look and feel of the places where we live, work, and play.

Duties and responsibilities

An architectural designer is responsible for conceptualizing and creating preliminary design sketches and models based on client requirements and site specifics. They engage in research to understand the site context, history, and any pertinent environmental factors. Using a combination of hand sketches and software tools, they produce visual representations of their design concepts.

They work collaboratively with architects, engineers, and other professionals to refine their designs and integrate structural, mechanical, and other systems. Feedback from clients, peers, and regulatory bodies is taken into account to iterate and hone their designs, ensuring alignment with practical and regulatory considerations.

Work environment

Architectural designers operate within architectural firms, design studios, or multidisciplinary design consultancies. Their environment is a blend of office-based work, where they draft designs and engage in research, and fieldwork, where they visit sites for assessments. They utilize a range of tools, from traditional drawing instruments to sophisticated design software.

Typical work hours

Most architectural designers adhere to standard business hours, but the project-centric nature of the field means that longer hours can be expected, especially when approaching deadlines. Site visits require travel and can occur outside of regular hours, depending on the project’s requirements and site availability.

How to become an architectural designer

This career guide section outlines how to become an architectural designer. The steps include an educational program, gaining practical experience through internships, passing necessary licensure examinations, and maintaining a portfolio of individual design projects.

Step 1: Earn a bachelor’s degree

The initial step in becoming an architectural designer is to earn a bachelor’s degree in architecture. These programs often provide comprehensive coursework, including architectural history, design principles, structural systems, and building materials. It typically takes five years to complete the degree, with courses aimed at developing technical knowledge, design skills, and understanding of architectural theories.

Step 2: Complete an internship

After finishing an undergraduate program, candidates should seek internships that introduce them to the professional world of architecture. Internships provide hands-on experience, exposure to different design perspectives, and a chance to apply the knowledge gained in the classroom. Many firms offer internships that can last from a few months to over a year, depending on the specific requirements and openings available.

Step 3: Earn a master’s degree (optional)

Some designers pursue a master’s in architecture for greater career opportunities and in-depth knowledge. This postgraduate program provides a further understanding of architectural design, research, and professional practice. Specializations exist in various areas, such as sustainable design, urban planning, and historic preservation.

Step 4: Pass the Architectural Registration Exam (ARE)

Aspiring architectural designers must pass the Architectural Registration Exam (ARE) after completing their educational qualifications. This standardized licensure examination is required in all U.S. states and is organized by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). The exam covers key areas like project management, programming, planning, construction evaluation, and more.

Step 5: Secure employment

Once you have passed the exam, the next step is to find employment. Designers usually start off working in an architecture firm but may also find opportunities in government agencies or construction companies. Early-career professionals typically assist with designing part of a project and preparing architectural documents or plans and may have opportunities to work on larger projects as they gain more experience.

How much do architectural designers make?

Architectural designer salaries vary by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. Compensation is also tied to the diversity of design projects and their proficiency in essential design software.

Highest paying states

  • Massachusetts – $95,760
  • California – $92,350
  • New York – $90,450
  • Alaska – $89,790
  • Connecticut – $88,590

Browse architectural designer salary data by market

Types of architectural designers

Below, we highlight the various career types and areas of specialization for architectural designers – each with a unique focus and required skills.

Residential designer

As the title implies, this role is focused on designing private residences. These professionals excel in creating functional and aesthetically pleasing environments for homeowners. Their typical tasks include preparing blueprints, developing design plans, and meeting local zoning regulations.

Commercial designer

If shaping and enhancing spaces for businesses sounds intriguing, commercial design may be an ideal path. Professionals in this niche generate comfortable and efficient workspace environments, which can span from small boutiques to expansive corporate offices and require a firm understanding of building codes, legal considerations, and environmental impact.

Landscape designer

Those with a passion for the outdoors and environmental considerations may find their calling as a landscape designer. This specialization involves designing public parks, gardens, campuses, and other outdoor spaces, integrating natural elements with built structures.

Interior designer

Architectural designers with a knack for creating inviting and functional interior spaces may choose to specialize as interior designers. The balance of color, texture, light, and space is critical in this role, as it heavily influences how occupants interact and feel within a room. This work includes residential, commercial, and institutional interiors.

Urban designer

Designing on a much larger scale, urban designers have the exciting responsibility of shaping entire districts, cities, and even regions. These professionals consider the complex interrelationships between physical layout, socioeconomic conditions, and policy decisions affecting the built environment.

Top skills for architectural designers

This section outlines the primary skills and traits needed for career success as an architectural designer. A combination of technical and interpersonal strengths is required to excel in this role.

Understanding of design principles

A comprehensive understanding of design principles is imperative. It entails aesthetics and functionality, allowing for the creation of spaces that are both attractive and practical.

Technical skills

Possessing a variety of technical skills is a must, including proficiency in design software such as AutoCAD and 3D modeling programs. The ability to read and create blueprints is also essential.

Knowledge of building codes and regulations

Extensive familiarity with building codes and regulations is necessary, as designs must comply with these rules. This knowledge ensures safety and avoids potential legal complications.

Communication skills

Being an effective communicator is valuable in this profession, as there are frequent interactions with clients, contractors, and colleagues. The ability to articulate design ideas clearly and persuasively can lead to more successful projects.

Problem-solving abilities

Problem-solving abilities are key to addressing the challenges and obstacles that arise during a project. Individuals need to be able to think laterally and find efficient solutions.

Time management

Last but not least, effective time management is vital for meeting project deadlines and fulfilling clients’ needs – including managing numerous tasks simultaneously and coordinating effectively with all relevant parties.

Architectural designer career path options

As an architectural designer, your career advancement can go down diverse and exciting paths guided by your interests and skills. Your experience can open up opportunities to specialize in certain types of architecture, advance into a project management role, or even open a firm of your own.

One potential career path is to focus on a specific type of architecture. For instance, if you’re passionate about sustainable and green design, you could become an environmental design architect. Alternatively, you might specialize in certain kinds of buildings, such as hospitals, schools, or residential homes, becoming a healthcare, educational, or residential architect.

A project management role can also be an appealing progression. As a PM, you would oversee the whole architectural project, from coordinating with clients and contractors to managing the project’s timeline and budget. This route requires strong communication skills, an eye for detail, and an understanding of construction processes to complement your design skills.

After gaining ample experience and building a strong network, you could branch out and start your own architectural firm. As an owner, you would be free to choose the projects you take on, make your own rules, and establish your style. This path requires a combination of business acumen, networking abilities, and architectural knowledge to be successful.

The field of architectural design is continually evolving with advancements in technology and changing aesthetics. One significant trend is the increasing focus on sustainability and eco-friendly design principles. Designing with regard to the environment is no longer simply a market niche but an essential aspect of modern architectural practice. This trend greatly influences designers to integrate natural elements, energy-efficient systems, and sustainable materials into their designs.

Another noteworthy trend in this field is the rise of digital design tools. Tools such as Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software are becoming industry standards, making it imperative for architectural designers to have proficiency in these software systems. These tools allow for higher precision in conceptualization and blueprint creation, making design processes more streamlined and efficient. The rise of virtual and augmented reality technologies opens the door for designers to create more immersive presentations and visualizations, providing clients with a more comprehensive grasp of what the final product would look like.

Employment projections for architectural designers

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for architectural designers is projected to grow 3% through 2031 – a growth rate that is slower than the average for all occupations. Factors such as population growth and an increasing emphasis on sustainable design will sustain demand for architectural services. However, improved BIM and other design software can boost productivity, reducing the need for additional architects and architectural designers. The BLS also notes that competition for jobs will likely remain strong as more students graduate with architecture degrees than job openings.

Architectural designer career tips

Understand the tools

Proficiency in tools like AutoCAD, Revit, and 3D modeling software is necessary for these professionals. Many job descriptions specify these requirements, but more than just the basics is needed to stand out among your peers. If you want to become more familiar with these tools or are at an intermediate level, consider self-study options or formal training to upgrade your skills. Staying updated with tech developments in the industry is also beneficial.

Build a professional network

Building a broad and deep professional network can provide invaluable opportunities for mentorship and career advancement.

  • American Institute of Architects (AIA)
  • Association of Licensed Architects (ALA)
  • Society of Architectural Historians (SAH)
  • National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB)

Continue learning

Learning never ends – there are always new materials, technologies, and techniques being developed. Continuous learning can also help you stay ahead of the competition and make you a valuable asset to any company.

  • Participate in specialized workshops focused on the latest architectural software
  • Attend webinars led by industry professionals discussing current trends in the design process
  • Enroll in online education platforms that offer architectural design courses

Consider earning a certification

Beyond the necessary degrees, getting a specialized certification could distinguish you as a professional in architectural design. These give you more credibility and demonstrate your commitment to the profession. Two key certifications are LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for green building design and PMP (Project Management Professional) for designing and managing large-scale projects.

Where the architectural designer jobs are

Top employers

  • Gensler
  • Perkins and Will
  • HOK
  • Stantec

Top states

  • California
  • New York
  • Texas
  • Florida
  • Illinois

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • Archinect Jobs
  • LinkedIn
  • AIA Career Center


What is the primary technical skill of an architectural designer?

Architectural designers must excel in CAD software. This technology is utilized to create technical blueprints and 3D models of structures, making it an integral part of their toolkit. Additional technical skills, such as proficiency in Adobe Creative Suite or other design software, can also be beneficial.

What artistic skills are important for an architectural designer?

An important artistic skill is an understanding of visual arts principles such as proportion, color theory, and composition. These principles help architectural designers to create aesthetically pleasing and functional designs. Visualizing a final product and communicating this vision through sketches, models, and digital presentations is also an important skill.

How important is knowledge of building codes for an architectural designer?

An in-depth understanding of local and national building codes, regulations, and standards is vital. These generally cover safety, accessibility, sustainability, and functionality aspects. They must ensure that all designs comply with these standards. Failure to comply can result in costly redesigns, legal issues, and endangerment of public safety.

What traits are valuable for an architectural designer?

This role requires a refined sense of design alongside characteristics like attention to detail, problem-solving capabilities, and good communication skills. Being able to work under time pressure and managing several projects simultaneously are also important traits. Creativity, combined with a realistic understanding of functional and financial constraints, leads to successful architectural designs.

Are architectural designers involved in the construction process?

The extent to which an architectural designer is involved in the construction phase can vary. Some oversee aspects of the construction process to ensure that builders accurately follow their designs. Job responsibilities may include reviewing and responding to contractor questions, checking material samples, or visiting the construction site. However, it largely depends on the organization’s structure and the specific project.

How does sustainability factor into the work of an architectural designer?

Sustainability is increasingly significant within the architectural field. Architectural designers must understand techniques for designing energy-efficient buildings and incorporate sustainable materials and technologies into their plans. Sustainable design principles can affect everything from the overall layout of a building to the selection of specific materials and systems included in the design.

What kind of projects does an architectural designer work on?

Architectural designers can work on a wide variety of projects, and this will often depend on their place of employment. Many work within firms that specialize in certain types of buildings, such as residential homes, commercial buildings, healthcare facilities, or public structures. Others might work on a variety of project types. The work can range from constructing new buildings, renovating existing ones, developing landscape designs, or even urban planning.

Are there specific degrees required for a career as an architectural designer?

Generally, a bachelor’s degree in architecture is the minimum requirement for this role. However, some employers may prefer a master’s degree. Studying architecture at the university level typically involves learning about building design, architectural history, structural engineering, building materials, and project management. Some schools offer specific courses in architectural design that can be an added advantage.