Frequently Asked Questions - Architects vs. Designers

I've had a few questions recently asking about architects and designers. Here are a few of the ones I get the most.


What is the difference between an Architect and a designer?

An Architect is licensed. A designer is not. Anyone, regardless of their level of education or experience, can call themselves a designer. Architects, on the other hand, can only refer and market themselves as such after they have successfully passed all of the licensing exams. At the time I’m writing this, the Oregon Board of Architect Examiners states this as follows:

Oregon law prohibits the practice of architecture or use of the architect title by unlicensed individuals. To ensure the protection of the public, those seeking to become registered to practice architecture in Oregon must meet established education, experience, training, and examination requirements. Those who do not meet these requirements or fail to register with OBAE may not use the architect title, or provide architectural services, or even offer to provide architectural services in Oregon.
Oregon law requires that all building projects exceeding 4,000 square feet or 20 feet in height be designed by a registered architect.  The only structures exempt from this requirement are:
  • Single Family Residences
  • Farm or Agricultural Buildings
  • Buildings that have had no structural modifications or changes to occupancy or code related classifications.
Architects registered in Oregon are governed by Oregon Revised Statutes Chapter 671 and Oregon Administrative Rules Chapter 806 Divisions 1-10 and 20.  There are a wide variety of provisions and prohibitions contained in the rules and statutes. Please refer to Laws and Rules for more information.

There are four main steps to becoming an architect:  education, internship, examination, and licensure.  You can find out more about each one at the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards.


What about AIA, AIBD, & IIDA?

Those are acronyms for some of the various professional organizations within the building industry. They are not licensing bodies. Here is a quick rundown some of the more notable national and regional organizations. Click on any one of them to learn more:

  • AIA, American Institute of Architects
  • AIBD, American Institute of Building Design
  • COBA, Central Oregon Builders Association
  • COICC, Central Oregon chapter of the International Code Council
  • HDDC, High Desert Design Council
  • IIDA, International Interior Design Association
  • LEED, Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design
  • NAHB, National Association of Home Builders
  • OHBA, Oregon Home Builders Association

The use of professional association acronyms in titles and on websites, business cards, letterheads, etc. should not be confused with licensure. For example, not all AIA members are licensed architects. The AIA has different levels of membership and some of its members are students, some are interns, and others are non-licensed associate members. Conversely, not all architects are AIA members. Though I purchase and use documents created by the AIA, I am not actually a card-carrying member at this time (though I am considering joining).

I am a member of NCARB (National Council of Architectural Registration Boards). NCARB is a national organization that oversees the individual State Boards.  The various components of the Architectural Registration Exam are developed under the supervision of NCARB. The exam is administered at State level and each State has its own rules and statues governing the practice of architecture as well as the use of the architect title. NCARB certification can often expedite reciprocity - the process through which one can offer his or her professional services in different jurisdictions (i.e. States) after earning an initial license. I believe the equivalent organization for interior designers is NCIDQ (National Council for Interior Design Qualification).


What about NCBDC?

The NCBDC is a testing program developed by the American Institute of Building Design (AIBD) for its members. It is a certification program. It is not a license to practice architecture.


What about LEED?

The LEED program is also a certification program and not a license. It certifies buildings for different levels of sustainable building practices as well as industry professionals for their knowledge of those practices.