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Architectural Designer Career Guide

What is an architectural designer?

An architectural designer plans and designs buildings, parks, and city spaces. They make sure these places not only look good but also work well for the people who use them. They follow rules to ensure that everything is safe and fits well with the surroundings.

Duties and responsibilities

Architectural designers start by sketching out ideas and making models of new buildings or spaces. They think about what the building will be used for and what the area around it is like. They use both hand drawings and computer programs to show what their designs will look like.

They work with other experts, such as architects and engineers, to improve their designs and fit everything together properly. They also listen to feedback from people who will use the building and from other experts to make sure that their designs are as good as possible.

Work environment

Architectural designers work at architecture firms or design studios. They spend some of their time in the office working on their computers or drawing; sometimes, they go out to building sites to see where their designs will be built.

Typical work hours

Most of the time, architectural designers work regular office hours, but sometimes, they have to work longer, especially if they have a big deadline coming up. They also travel to different sites to check on their projects, which might be at different times and places.

How to become an architectural designer

Here’s a simple step-by-step if you’re interested in becoming an architectural designer:

Step 1: Get a bachelor’s degree

Start by going to college for a degree in architecture. You’ll spend about five years studying different things like building designs, how buildings stand up, and the materials used to make them. You’ll also learn how to draw and design buildings.

Step 2: Do an internship

After college, it’s a good idea to work as an intern at an architecture firm. Internships let you see what architects do every day and give you a chance to use what you learned in school on real projects. These can last a few months to a year and are a great way to get started.

Step 3: Consider a master’s degree (this is optional)

If you want to go even further, you can study for a master’s degree in architecture. This helps you learn even more about designing buildings and might focus on special areas like green buildings or designing city spaces.

Step 4: Pass the Architectural Registration Exam (ARE)

To officially work as an architectural designer, you need to pass a big test called the ARE. This test checks that you know all the important parts about being an architect, like managing a building project and making sure buildings are safe.

Step 5: Find a job

Finally, with your degree and passing test score, you can look for a job at an architecture firm or maybe even at a government agency or a company that builds things. At first, you might work on small parts of projects and do a lot of drawing and planning. As you get better, you’ll work on bigger and cooler projects!

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

  • Residential designer: These designers focus on creating homes. They make sure that the house looks good and functions well, paying attention to everything from the big picture to the details like where windows should go. 
  • Commercial designer: If you like the idea of designing spaces where people shop, work, or eat, this could be for you. Commercial designers work on places like stores, offices, and restaurants, making sure these spaces are both nice to look at and good to work in. 
  • Landscape designer: Love the outdoors? Landscape designers create beautiful and practical outdoor areas like parks, gardens, and school campuses. 
  • Interior designer: This type of designer makes indoor spaces beautiful and functional. Whether it’s a house, a store, or a school, they decide on colors, furniture, and lighting to make the space welcoming and useful.
  • Urban designer: Urban designers think big—really big. They plan out whole parts of cities to make sure that the area’s roads, buildings, and parks work well together. 

Top skills for architectural designers

  • Understanding design principles: Architectural designers must know how to make spaces look good and work well. This means balancing beauty with practicality, making sure everything from the layout to the materials used is just right.
  • Technical skills: These designers use special computer programs like AutoCAD and 3D modeling tools to create detailed drawings and models of their designs. They also need to know how to read and make blueprints.
  • Knowledge of building codes: It’s super important for designs to be safe and follow the law. They must know the rules about building structures, like how tall or how strong they have to be.
  • Communication skills: Designers often work with lots of different people, including clients who want buildings designed and contractors who build them. Explaining ideas clearly and working well with others is a big part of the job.
  • Problem-solving abilities: Things don’t always go as planned. They need to be good at figuring out solutions when they face challenges, like adjusting a design if something isn’t working or solving issues that come up during construction.
  • Time management: Being organized and able to manage time well is important because designers often have lots of tasks to juggle at once. They need to keep projects moving and meet deadlines without letting anything slip through the cracks.

Architectural designer career path options

Specialize in a type of architecture 

As an architectural designer, you can choose to focus on designing specific types of buildings or spaces. For example:

  • Environmental design architect: If you care about the environment, you could focus on sustainable and green buildings.
  • Healthcare architect: Interested in health? Design hospitals and clinics.
  • Educational architect: If you like schools, specialize in designing educational spaces like schools and universities.
  • Residential architect: Love homes? Focus on designing houses and apartments.

Become a project manager 

If you’re good at organizing and leading, you might want to become a project manager. You’d be in charge of the entire building project, making sure everything from planning to construction goes smoothly. You’d work with clients, builders, and many others, keeping track of time and money to ensure the project finishes successfully.

Start your own firm 

If you’ve got lots of experience and know plenty of people in the industry, you might think about starting your own architectural firm. You could choose what projects you work on and lead your own team. Running your own firm requires not just architectural skills but also business skills, as you’ll need to manage money, market your services, and build relationships with clients.

  • Going green: One of the biggest changes in building design is the focus on being eco-friendly. Nowadays, it’s not just about making buildings look good; they must also be good for our planet. 
  • Tech in design: Designers are also using more cool technology. Tools like BIM and CAD software help them create detailed and accurate plans on their computers, and virtual and augmented reality lets clients see what a building will look like before it’s even built. 

Employment projections

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for architectural designers are expected to grow by 3% through 2031. This is a bit slower than other jobs, but as more people focus on building eco-friendly and well-designed spaces, there will still be a need for skilled designers. However, because there are a lot of people studying architecture, finding a job might be competitive.

Architectural designer career tips

Master the tools

Knowing how to use design software like AutoCAD, Revit, and 3D modeling programs is super important. If you want to stand out, you should know the basics and keep learning about new tools and technologies. You can improve your skills by teaching yourself, taking courses, or even getting formal training.

Build your network

Connecting with other people in architecture can open up lots of opportunities. Here are a few groups where you can meet other architects and learn from them:

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

Keep learning

Architecture is always changing because new materials and technologies keep coming up. Staying curious and continuing to learn will help you stay ahead. Try things like:

  • Attending workshops on new architectural software
  • Joining webinars to learn about the latest trends
  • Taking online courses in architectural design

Consider getting certified

Besides having a degree, earning extra certifications can really help you shine. For example, a LEED certification shows you know how to design buildings that are good for the environment, and a PMP certification shows you can manage big 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?

They 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.