Architecture vs design

Coming towards the end of my uni-time, I’ve started thinking of why I chose design over architecture.

Now facing the professional world, I feel like architects have the benefit of making lasting impressions on the world (design of products is not often that “permanent”), architects are often more “recognized” (I feel people often think I just sit around thinking of pretty colours…) and I’d love not constantly having to explain what a designer actually does (and endure the weird looks I sometimes get after…well I do live in Norway, maybe it’s not the same in other parts of the world!)

Anyone had these same thoughts, and what did you end up doing in the end?

I feel they can never be opponents in any game…Agreed that architeture has its own charisma and grandeur attached to itself…and design is much more than playing with color pallette.But ultimately, it all boils down to designing experiences…
I am also an architect turned into product desiger and presently working as an user interface designer.and it takes long to explain to people what do i do… :slight_smile: I feel, i can anytime get back to designing houses, buildings coz i am and i will only intend to design an experience for the end user.Be it spatial or tangible…

IDS major, but I love looking at architecture as a source for inspiration.

biggest difference of ID vs. arch-

  1. scale/tolerances. ID often deals with things at a millimeter or thousands of an inch scale and tolerances of fractions of millimeters. Arch is more in a scale of feet/inches with tolerances up to multiples of inches (depending on construction).

  2. 1 designer vs. teams. An ID product can come from the mind (and pretty much be realized) by one designer (depending on the product, some of course involve engineers, etc.). Architecture rarely is the result of a single designer. Even the “name designers” (ie. Gehry, etc.) have teams of architects working on different parts, draftsmen, structural engineers, etc.

  3. temporary vs. permanence. As mentioned architecture for the most part is more permanent than most products. hence there is not as much influence by trends, fashion, and the “now”.

  4. volume of projects. As its is pretty expensive to build a building, a typical architect will likely work on less finished projects than a typical IDer. An ID consultancy may bring 30+ products to market in 1 year, whereas an architecture firm may design/build only 3 buildings in a year.

  5. time to market. For the most part architecture design is a long process. concept to sketch to engineering stamp, etc. compared to the relatively quick to market (esp. these days), process of ID. hence timelines are often quicker and more projects per year. keeps things fresh, IMHO.

  6. democratic vs. autocratic. this one was pointed out by the dean of my ID university program when i was considering both ID and Arch out of high school to pursue. For the most part, ID is a democratic process having the market decide the success of a product (that is that the consumer is ultimately the decider of which design will sell, choosing the product off the shelf), while most architecture is decided by a very small section of the final end users (ie. most people dont choose the building they work in and very few really “choose” the house they live in except for the rare custom build architectural homes).

As for “grandeur” and perception of both trades, i think it is pretty much these days equal. Aside from the the very few Starchitects, most architects are un-noticed cogs in the wheel, and most buildings built make very little public impression. If you asked most people what they think of the building they work in, for example, most would have little to say. Ask them about the design of their car, ipod, chair, computer, toaster, etc. most can go on and on with an relatively informed perspective from their point of view on the design, ease of use, etc. To add to this, the fact that most architects work on pretty low visibility buildings, (some addition to a house, public spaces, etc.) and many IDers work on products that at least people can recognize and are aware of, i’d say the visibility of ID trumps arch at least in terms of common work.

just my perspective on the topic.


The average life of a building in the US is 22 years, so I don’t think it is fair to say “temporary v. permanent”. Of course, some genres will have a higher turn over. Strip malls don’t last more than 10 years it seems, and shoes maybe 3 months. However, I’m designing heaters that will probably be in the 22 year old buildings when they are being demolished.

As for perception, I think the public awareness of architecture has plummeted due to poor design and little creativity in the final product. Mind you, I don’t blame the architects 100% for this. Moshe Safdie turned down an offer to work on the new Montreal super hospital after he was told it would be a penny-pinching public-private partnership. I think his words were to the effect of, “what’s the use”. Indeed.