This is a trickier question than you may think! The term designer is often used in different contexts with different meanings without much thought. Most commonly you hear the terms designer and decorator used interchangeably. The two professions have some overlap, but there are also some distinct differences. Then there are architectural designers, which gets confusing because this term seems to blanket the entire architectural world from architects to technologists and drafters. And to confuse the matter even more, the label that the Ontario Building Code gives to anyone certified to submit drawings for permit is… you got it, a designer. No wonder this gets confusing! Let’s clear things up a bit.
A designer of buildings, both technically and artistically, architects use the principles of design and knowledge of structural materials to create buildings that are functional, structurally sound, and beautiful. To be licensed as an architect, an individual must meet the education requirement (4-year bachelor degree), gain a minimum of two years practical experience, pass extensive examinations, and complete the OAA (Ontario Association of Architects) admission course.
Architectural Technician / Technologist:
Architectural technicians/technologists work closely with architects and other building professionals, focusing on the technical aspects of building technology and construction. They have extensive knowledge of building materials, systems and construction techniques, but typically plays a supportive role when it comes to the overall design vision. A technician requires two years education, a technologist requires three years. A technologist may be licenced through the OAA to practice architecture under specific requirements and limitations.
A designer as defined by the Building Code Act of Ontario is an individual who has passed applicable examinations on the Ontario Building Code to be registered with a BCIN (building code identification number) and permitted to apply for building permits in applicable categories. There is no educational requirement or design experience needed – anyone can apply to write the exams. Though a strong familiarity with the building code would be needed to pass. The building code contains minimum construction requirements to ensure public safety, which by no means takes aesthetic or functional design into consideration. An individual with BCIN certification does not necessarily have education and experience in design.
An interior decorator works with an existing space cosmetically, using finishes, furnishings and fixtures, to enhance the function and aesthetics. This is done by applying finishes to existing surfaces, replacing existing fixtures, and providing direction on built-in items like fireplaces or cabinetry. They typically do not provide technical construction drawings, but will work with other professionals if needed. Interior decorators may have education of up to two years, but are not required to be licensed.
An interior designer creates the entire space, by working with all the integrated structures, systems, and finishings, including structural assemblies, electrical and lighting, HVAC systems, millwork, furniture and finishes. An interior designer works alongside other professionals as needed, such as architects, engineers, and contractors, to ensure all of these components work together to achieve the overall vision of the space with special consideration for accessibility, life safety and sustainability. To be licensed as an Interior Designer, an individual must meet the education requirement (4-year bachelor degree), gain a minimum of two years practical experience, pass a 3 part examination, and be registered with ARIDO (Association of Registered Interior Designers of Ontario)