Becoming an Architectural Designer: Job Description & Salary

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What are the pros and cons of an architectural design career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming an architectural designer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming an Architectural Designer

Architectural designers plan and design buildings and other structures under the supervision of a licensed architect. Find out the pros and cons of a career in architectural design and decide if it's right for you.

Pros of Becoming an Architectural Designer
Fast as average job growth (7% between 2014 and 2024 for architects)*
Variety of daily tasks keeps work interesting (researching laws and codes, designing structures, meeting clients, traveling to job sites, etc.)*
Possibility of advancement to an architect position with licensing*
Less legal and contractual liability than a licensed architect**

Cons of Becoming an Architectural Designer
Long work hours to meet deadlines (may work 50+ hours weekly)*
Strong competition in the field (high number of graduates with a degree in architecture)*
Must work under the direct supervision of a licensed architect**
The law limits the range of structures you can design without a license**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Cuesta College.

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

As an architectural designer, you'll perform many of the same tasks as an architect but at a pre-professional status. The main difference between an architectural designer and an architect is that an architectural designer doesn't complete an apprenticeship or become licensed.

You might design homes, offices, university buildings and healthcare centers. Job duties include marketing, consulting with clients for new and existing projects, estimating project costs, designing structures and preparing scaled drawings. You might also direct other workers, visit worksites and manage contracts.

Currently, the trend in the field is turning toward sustainable/green design services. As a green architectural designer, you would use sustainably derived building materials and incorporate design features that conserve energy and water as well as reduce waste generation.

Career Prospects and Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job openings for architects are expected to grow by 7% between 2014 and 2024 (with about 7,800 new jobs being added) because of the need for renovations and updates to old buildings, as well as population growth across the entire southern United States. Sustainable/green architectural jobs are also expected to be in-demand, due to increased efforts to protect the environment and reduce resource consumption.

The majority of architectural designers earned an annual salary between roughly $38,000 and $69,000 in January 2016, according to PayScale.com. The salary varies widely depending on your location and the amount of experience you have. For example, the median income of an individual with 0-5 years of experience is about $46,000, while those with 20 or more years of experience earned a median wage of around $66,000.

What Are the Requirements?

Education Requirements

There are no specific degree requirements for architectural designers, but most complete a Bachelor of Architecture (BArch) professional degree program. You could also earn a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or Bachelor of Science (B.S.) pre-professional degree in architectural studies. If you think you may want to become a full-fledged professional architect one day, having a BArch or Master of Architecture (MArch) will be necessary.

According to the BLS, the most direct route to earning a BArch is a 5-year program. You'll learn about architectural history and design, computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) skills and construction methods. Math and physical science concepts as well as professionalism are also important to the curriculum.

Professional Skills and Qualifications

As reported by the BLS, it's essential to possess good visualization, organization and problem-solving skills. Having a creative mind is essential, since you'll be combining aesthetics with function and the mechanics of buildings. You need to understand where electrical, plumbing, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems fit in with the building concept. Being able to clearly express your architectural plans to clients and fellow professionals though conversation, writing, drawings and presentations is important.

In addition to having thorough knowledge of CADD software, you should also understand BIM (building information modeling) technology. Knowing zoning laws, fire regulations and building codes is essential to doing the job, per the BLS.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Most employers look for candidates with a bachelor's degree and experience. Most architectural design jobs list specific requirements for the position, since project types vary depending on a company's field of specialization. Here are a few job postings that were open in April 2012:

  • A Texas plant engineering services company looked for an architectural designer to prepare designs, layouts and drawings in addition to other duties under general supervision. Job requirements included at least a 2-year technical degree, 10 years or more of civil/structural design experience in the petrochemical industry and proficiency with 3D CADD systems and AutoCAD.
  • A Pennsylvania architecture firm looked for an architectural designer with a bachelor's degree and 2-6 years of experience to work on home and other building design projects. Some qualifications included experience in concept design, AutoCAD software proficiency, ability to work well with a team and knowledge of building codes.
  • A design firm in California advertised for an architectural designer with a bachelor's degree and 5-7 years of experience to work on educational projects across the country. Candidates should have strong verbal, writing, presentation and architecture skills. They should also be passionate about making a positive contribution to education through design.

How to Stand Out

Many architectural design jobs require candidates to have experience, and an internship can help you gain some knowledge and experience in the field, as reported by the BLS. Some architecture firms offer paid or unpaid internships, and some colleges offer internship placement.

As noted in an online job posting, developing skills using various types of software can give you an edge over the competition. Some programs you might consider learning are 3D Max, Sketch-Up, Revit and VIZ. Studying green design could also be advantageous, since this is an in-demand specialty, per the BLS.

Alternative Career Paths

Architect

If you want to work in the field of architecture with more freedom and responsibility, consider becoming a licensed architect. In addition to a BArch or MArch degree, you'll need to complete a professional training program or internship (which usually takes 3 years) and become licensed through your state. According to the BLS, the median annual salary of an architect was $73,000 as of 2011. Projected employment growth between 2010 and 2020 was 24%, which is a faster-than-average rate.

Civil Engineer

If you want to design and oversee larger projects, such as roads, airports, tunnels and dams, consider becoming a civil engineer. Most jobs require at least a bachelor's degree and state licensing, and management positions call for a master's degree. Subject areas you'll need to be competent in include statistics, fluid dynamics and engineering mechanics. Very strong problem-solving and decision-making skills are necessary, since you would be responsible for determining the plans for grand infrastructural projects. The median annual wage for civil engineers was $78,000 as of 2011, and the number of jobs was expected to grow at an average rate of 19% between 2010 and 2020, according to the BLS.

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