Architects, Draftsperson & Building Designer – What’s the difference?

Type “architect Vs draftsperson” or “architect Vs building designer” or even “building designer Vs draftsperson” into Google and you will get a world of websites outlining the merits of one over the other. And some very nasty online arguments!! They can cost different amounts, and homeowners have different experiences in using either of them, so what is the REAL difference?

As with any profession, there are those that are great at what they do and those that aren’t. So I’m not about to tell you who you should use – because ultimately that choice is up to you. As with everything at Undercover Architect, my mission is to provide the information – and then what you do with it is your decision.

To answer the question simply, though in the world of individual residential homes, both an architect, a draftsperson and a building designer can all perform the same role.

Australia is quite unusual globally in this way. You are not legally required to use ANYONE to design your home here, whereas elsewhere in the world, you have to use a designer with specific qualifications.

Perhaps that says something about the standard of design in Australian housing; you look around where you live and be the judge.

Architect Vs draftsperson Vs building designer; what’s the difference?

In Australia, there are three main professions associated with the design and drawing of homes: architects, building designers and draftspeople. (This is excluding the myriad of additional consultants you may or may not need, such as structural engineers, private certifiers, town planners, etc).

So what’s the difference? Let’s firstly look at what it involves performing each of these roles.

An architect

For an architect to legally use that title in Australia, they must be “board registered”. This means they’ve completed a recognised university degree (usually 5 – 6 years of study)

  • completed a required level of on-job experience (minimum 2 years)
  • then sat a written exam and passed
  • followed by an interview exam and passed
  • and then annually (as part of re-registration) declare that they are fit to practice, and are continuing their professional development with a required number of hours of study and learning

A draftsperson

Many in this role study at TAFE to learn the skills required to draw (document) buildings. However, I’ve also worked with draftspeople who purely learnt their drawing skills on the job and honed them over time.

A building designer

It depends on the state of Australia whether a building designer has to be formally licensed to use this title, and the license they have will impact the scale of development they can work on – be it individual homes, apartment buildings, or public facilities such as childcare centres, etc. There are specific TAFE courses, and one Qld-based university degree (distance learning) that can qualify you to be a building designer. Sometimes, however, building designers are draftspeople who’ve gone through the licensing process.

So what does this all mean for you?

Depending on the state you live in, you may or may not be required to use, at a minimum, a licensed building designer. For example, “in Queensland, any person carrying out building design and/or preparing plans for consumers or builders must be licensed as a Building Designer by the Building Services Authority ( or be registered as an architect, engineer or surveyor.” (taken from

It is worth checking the rules in your state as to what is required

What difference is there between what architects and building designers and draftspeople actually do?

In my opinion, an architect is really a specialist in design. Of course, they draw and deliver buildings very well too (as in, they’ll be your representative on site during construction). However, their main area of skill and expertise is in maximising design opportunities for your home, your site and your budget.

A building designer and a draftsperson are specialists in documentation and delivery. In larger practices they will generally work alongside the architect, preparing the drawings for the design work being done by the architect.

Building designers and draftspeople are largely taught how to draw, and understand the construction of buildings so they can represent them accurately in their documentation. Of course, as part of drawing, they are often designing as well (and if they’ve studied at TAFE, they have usually done some design study also as part of this).

However, they will not have been taught design to the same level as an architect – it’s just not possible for the type and length of study they do.

I spent over 5 years in my architectural degree at uni, and I can sum that time up as “learning how to design and problem solve”. It was my on-job experience, during uni and post-graduation, where I learnt more about how buildings got put together. Having watched the better architectural students for the last decade or so (as members of teams I managed, and employees), this is what they’re learning at uni too. Having spoken with building designers and draftspeople I know and have worked with closely, I don’t think the same can be said for their time at TAFE.

Why is an architect more expensive than a draftsperson?

Well, they’re not always. There are some very good building designers I know who will charge similar amounts (or more) than certain architects.

Education does play a part. However, a big difference is that there is also the element of a risk adding to the price tag.
It stands to reason that if you are more highly trained in a profession, required to sit additional exams and regular ongoing training (as with a registered architect), that more is legally expected of you. And the more that is legally expected of you, the more risk that is present.

In most industries this price correlation will occur.

An orthopedic surgeon is more expensive than a general practitioner. A solicitor is more expensive than a legal secretary. A chartered accountant is more expensive than a non-chartered accountant. A licensed builder is more expensive than a handyman.

More education, more training, more licensing = higher expectations = higher risk = higher insurance. All of these things can add up to higher cost for service. On an hourly rate comparison, the prior professional will be more expensive than the latter professional.

However, (generally speaking), an architect can also be more expensive because they’ll work with you differently to a draftsperson – and this difference can take longer. In a time = money equation, this will also mean extra cost.

1. They’ll spend longer in the design phase

Their speciality is designing, so there is significantly more exploration at this point. Our education is built on this iterative, testing and exploratory process as a means to achieve great outcomes. This involves challenging you and your brief, and what you think you want – to make sure your design maximises every opportunity and investment you’re making in it.

2. They’ll do more drawings

Because they’re so passionate about the design, and drawings are the way they communicate this design to get it built, there’s usually more drawings. There are exceptions to this rule. I know a building designer who prepares incredibly comprehensive documentation packages.

You can build a house from 5 drawings, as equally as from 50 drawings. Which of those do you think will control the outcome more effectively, and which will require the builder to make assumptions and decisions of their own as they build?
In a future post I’ll share more information on how you choose – and to be honest, sometimes a draftsperson or building designer is the best choice for your project, depending on what you’re planning.

However, let me just say this; my recommendation on how you choose has very little to do with the budget.

Whatever your choice, make sure your focus is on design

I cannot say this more clearly …

Your design is where everything starts – and ends.

It’s where your home (or part of it) is made or broken; where it will be the place that will make your life better, or bring about constant compromise and frustration (or somewhere in between those two extremes).

How those lines are drawn on the page, the expertise of who draws them, and the decisions that are made to position them and create them – make no mistake. That’s the point at which you determine how you get to live in your home, how expensive your home is to build and maintain, and how it helps you live your life.

The whole merit of design is that it will take whatever budget you have, big or small, and make it work harder. So you make the most of what you’ve got. An investment in doing this well will always be worth far more than the cost.

Added 12th February 2016

A building designer colleague suggested there was one thing missing from this blog. He pointed out to me that, not only is there a difference in the study profession undertakes, there is a difference in the entry requirements to access that study.

For example, last year, the ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) for a Bachelor of Architecture was 95.00. That means graduating high school students had to beat 95% of their colleagues to access the degree.

Most courses in Building Design are Advanced Diplomas or TAFE Degrees, so it’s hard to make a direct comparison. However, there is a Bachelor of Building Design available at Central Queensland University, and the ATAR last year was 56.55.

My colleague’s point was that there was a different academic requirements to actually study both avenues in the profession – before you’ve qualified. I thought it was an interesting one worth sharing – because it hadn’t occurred to me at the time of writing this post. And it’s not a point that often enters the discussion about the difference between these careers or professionals.