Road from "designer" to Designer


I know this is sort of obvious, but when you start looking at jobs at larger offices or offices with a wider range of practice (either nationally or internationally) the term designer begins to take on different meanings. Right out of school many of us are led to believe that as "designers" we will be "helping to shape the future of the built environment" and in reality, spend 3 months working on stairwells. To some extent, this is the norm; try as you might to swear that you'll never be a CAD-Monkey, it happens to almost everybody I've talked to. I'm interested to hear whether people were able to pull themselves out of this or just got buried by it. I think the time elapsed between dramatic or gradual changes is important too. 

Personally, I was super fortunate to have the opportunity to work on construction administration almost right off the bat. Lots of revit and communication on the daily. I recently gave a new hire presentation with some rendering and student work I was proud of (as I am a recent grad. BS Arch). Last week I was approached by my studio leader and a principal who asked if I would present again, but to a different group of designers and visualization people. I am unsure if it will directly lead to anything closer to Design (as opposed to "design"). I have been trying to get mentoring and marketing myself as someone interested in design positions, but I'm trying to get some outside perspective. 

This is coming from a new hire, almost 6 months into the profession at a firm in Chicago with work across the states and sparse international work.

Interested to hear opinions, experiences, or other commentary, 


Nov 2, 22 3:27 pm

Regardless of how talented you are  you're not going to be designing all the time and you don't want to.  Let me explain.

My career path was a bit reversed.  I was hired to design.  I primarily did conceptual and schematic design.  I did assist with CD's and CA but they were not by primary focus.  This lasted for nearly nine years. 

This came back to bite me in 2010 when the economy tanked.  I wasn't a well rounded designer.  I took a new position at a firm where I was used primarily as production / detailing.  I was given a lot of latitude to make decisions on the assemblies and detailing.  I learned a lot. This made me a better designer.  This continued for a few years until I had 'proven' myself to be well rounded.  Now I'm back to doing design work most of the time. 

 If you have the talent then you'll get to design.  

It sounds like your firm likes what you've presented to them and want to make others in your firm aware of your capabilities.  I'd keep letting your management know you want to do more design work and what your professional goals are.  

Good luck!  

Nov 2, 22 3:43 pm  · 
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That's a really interesting experience! I understand where you're coming from and I appreciate the response to my (first) post!

Nov 2, 22 4:04 pm  · 
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No problem. It can be a weird process to find and move into what you like in this profession.

Nov 2, 22 4:07 pm  · 
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I think Chad’s point about not missing out on a technical education is valuable. You may ultimately want to focus on one thing, but to get too far into the profession being pigeonholed, even if it’s doing what you ant to do, will ultimately be counterproductive.

That doesn’t mean being a cad monkey is good. Learning to draft, sure, learning technical stuff, absolutely, doing CA, for sure. These are not all synonymous with "cad monkey" though. 

The other way isn’t good either. You have to be an advocate for yourself, if you can’t get a firm to give you the experience you want/need… plan your exit.

Nov 7, 22 4:30 pm  · 

I haven't met a cad monkey out in the wild in years, Bimpanzees a plenty tho

Mar 1, 23 1:40 pm  · 

Based on some of your verbiage and words used, I likely know where you work. Larger offices often allow you some squishy space to develop IF you are vocal and can hold your own with things such as software, aptitude for Design, speed, etc. These are all rewarded at big corporate offices.

The truth is there is a lot of work that needs to be done in the trenches and getting dirty on details, code, coordination but the way I look at it is this. You are either a good Designer or a bad Designer. It is hard to teach someone to have a keen eye for "good" design. That is something that will never leave you. However, you CAN learn how to put a building together and get into the weeds and learn to get yourself through to the other side.

Shoot me an email....curious to hear where you are at.

Chad as much as I used to not like him - is pretty good with advice ;)


Nov 2, 22 5:12 pm  · 
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Thanks for the complement, I think?

I'm only good with advice because I have experience. I have experience because I've messed up, a lot.

Nov 2, 22 5:32 pm  · 
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The tradition of being a CAD monkey (which stems from traditional drafting days.) Historically, the title Architect was largely reserved for the person who owns and runs the architecture business. Before licensing laws existed and continued a bit since. Before some of the laws and context of architectural license and legal responsibility, the business owner(s), hence the employer of staff to assist, were the legally responsible parties to the architectural services. Yes, those who were architects often had some sort of training leading them to being an architect. Often learning to draw and draft (spending time as a draftsman or sometimes stylized as a draughtsman). 

A firm will often have just ONE architect. Sometimes, there was more than one. The title Architect was kind of dually synonymous with the owner or co-owner of an architectural firm.... so being synonymous with "Principal", today. Those who assist an architect are called draftsmen or draughtsmen. In those days, the architect may develop a design vision and sketch them out. Many could do drafting but frequently, with the volume of projects, they hire someone to draft. A draftsman becomes an architect when they either become a co-owner of the firm or they start their own architectural office/firm. 

When licensing laws were established, the title architect is associated with the license. However, firms still lingered on with a structure that had long been established. Employees were hired to be assistants not the ones in charge. Over time, there had been a transition where there were employees with an architect license and then after some timeframe, laws made the architect responsible even as an employee. 

Before licensing laws and in the early days of architectural licensing, employees would be exempt from liability if they perform their duties according to the direction of their employer... thus the employer being responsible. Now, there are many people with licenses but don't stamp drawings and the firm's practices require that each architect of records (architect of responsible charge) for any project is a partner/co-owner of the firm. This way, the liability exposure of an employee with no equity in the firm, often... just recently licensed, is mitigated. 

In terms of operational practices, there is often only one "Architect" responsible for the designing of a building. Whereas, the "Architect" is the person responsible for the design. However, most employment at a firm is going to be assistant roles. Therefore, your role in drafting or BIM modeling. For every one ARCHITECT in charge of architectural projects of the firm, there is often a team of multiple assistants. This is a typical fundamental of professional services establishment. There is still the legacy of tradition despite the licensing laws. 

Nov 2, 22 5:33 pm  · 
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This is not to say that such traditions shall remain. It is more or less a general explanation of the history and partial explanation of where some of the practices traces back to. It's not a statement of judging practices of the profession.

Nov 2, 22 5:36 pm  · 
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This is so cute and adorable and innocent I couldn't help but comment. Oh to be young and impressionable again, lol! Oh, SCB.

Nov 7, 22 4:09 pm  · 


Nov 8, 22 12:53 am  · 
Wood Guy

Swiss Cheese Brain?

Mar 1, 23 11:32 am  · 

I'm a Designer -QOTSA

Nov 7, 22 6:26 pm  · 
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oooh this hits different

Nov 8, 22 1:05 am  · 

I have a project with 18 (existing) stairs to be modified. I drew the first set in about 4 hours. The second in 2 hours. By the 5th one I could whip it out (plans, sections, elevations) in 1/2 an hour. I think stairs are fun and it’s still design. It’s all design. 

Nov 8, 22 8:49 am  · 
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Can you come detail my stairs for me? In return, I'll gladly do your window and door scheduling. I hate stairs lol.

Mar 1, 23 1:25 pm  · 

Jovan, YES! And you must know somehow that I loathe door and window and schedules, you can have them all!

Mar 2, 23 9:49 am  · 
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Oh I just assumed it was a law or nature. Everyone who loves designing stairs hates door and window schedules and vice versa

Mar 2, 23 11:47 am  · 

What? I did not know this.

Mar 2, 23 9:28 pm  · 

Yeah just like everyone (me) who loves window detailing but those people (still me) also hate parapet flashing detailing.

Mar 3, 23 6:17 am  · 

Oh wow I hate window detailing and love parapet detailing. Keep going, what else you got?

Mar 3, 23 9:31 am  · 


Recently was requested by name to be on a design competition team. Also working on a research initiative. It feels a little unreal and a little scary as my current deadline approaches. I've worked closely with the same 3-4 people for about half a year, which seems short, but relative to my time out of school it feels extensive. Now I'm going to have to build up rapport with new co-workers. 

Any advice appreciated. 

Mar 1, 23 10:40 am  · 
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I wouldn't worry about it. 

 People in your office should know your strengths and weaknesses. They want you on these teams because they view your skills as valuable. Trust in the confidence others have in you. Sure you'll have to make new friends but you'll do fine. 

On a side note: I think it's a good sign to be apprehensive of your own abelites. It shows that you're aware of your own skill gaps and that you can keep your ego in check.

Good luck, you got this!

Mar 1, 23 1:53 pm  · 
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Rejoice. It looks like your talent is being noticed. The new co-workers are an opportunity to expand your network. As a young person, you need to meet as many people as possible.

Mar 1, 23 1:56 pm  · 
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Thanks for the support, I'll try to look at it as a new opportunity to network a bit.

Mar 1, 23 2:20 pm  · 
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You got this! Go be big fancy Designer. Just wearing a cape and beret for the first few years.  ;)

I'm only joking.  Wear the cape and beret from the get go.  

Mar 2, 23 10:06 am  · 
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Plot twist, I literally got let go 2 hours ago. LMAO, I'm actually weirdly okay with it.

Mar 3, 23 5:17 pm  · 

Were you laid off?

Mar 3, 23 5:57 pm  · 

Yes, due to budget cuts I was told. I left in good standing and they said if the situation changed they would let me know. It's a bummer, but I'm going to be okay.

Mar 3, 23 6:52 pm  · 

Sorry to hear this. Same thing happened to me back in 2010. I was the firms lead designer then . . . .

Mar 6, 23 10:29 am  · 

Always ask for the type of work you want to do. ALWAYS.

And to add, in order to ask the right questions, you need to KNOW what are the different work types in your firm/industry/projects.

That means you need to know what others are doing, your managers, your boss, your colleague, different trades/departments, your consultants, your GC...

Mar 14, 23 3:50 pm  · 

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