To be fair, I shouldn’t really be putting them against each other in the title, because it’s really no contest. As in, they’re not even in the same weight division. Or better, they’re on the same team, just different positions.
The point is: being an architect is important, so is a designer and also a decorator.
Some have skills that bridge more than one of these, most will specialise and others will create their own hybrid.
Most important pre-game training for any punter (including us in the industry and people wanting to get into it) is to know what each of these trades does, so you can understand which to choose, what questions to ask at meetings and what they (or you) will be doing.
PDS for clients: always read the packaging. Check websites, get referrals, ask questions. It’s best to do it all upfront, it’s not offensive, it’s sensible and your architect, designer and/or decorator should WANT to talk to you.
Put really simply, the roles of each of these intertwine, so you’d want to ask your architect if they do design and decoration aspects or if you’re designer is competent with architectural work.
Makes the house stand up, no mean feat. Mostly the behind the scenes type – as in, more focused on the structural integrity, before the aesthetic qualities that are applied once they’re sure the engineering is sound. Is the one that works on new houses from scratch, preparing documents for council approval, assesses the site in detail, should really want to know how you want to live/work/sell. And will do more major renovations where you need to move a lot of walls, or change the structure. These are clever mathematical people. They have a vision, and it should be the same, if not better, than the clients. Can get cranky at times.
Architects often have in-house designers and decorators, so check if they plan to plan that side of the project too, or if you should get one on the job yourself.
The Interior Designer
Knows how a house stands up, therefore what is elementally important and what is artificial. Wants to support the architectural intention through all the parts you can see, so works best to get on the project from the beginning.
An interior designer will specify all of the materials and products to use, based on the function and passion of a space, and the branding and intention for a business if it’s commercial.
They can usually also do council submissions, just double check with them first. Depending on where they've studied, as these courses have such big differences in learning between them, they are very good at drafting, know all about the structure and architectural elements of buildings and also care about the finish.
They work on renovations and new builds – should always do a lot of research work about the site and the client. They’ll be the ones that’ll want to talk.
Don’t be fooled by their title, can also do exteriors.
The Interior Decorator
Best way to describe here is actually to compare. While an interior designer looks after all the things that would stay with the space if you sold it, the interior decorator does all the elements that you would take with you. Many interior designers will consider decorating part of their wholeness in a project, so always best to check because ideally you’d want the same vision for these two parts.
Interior decorating is essentially the completion of a project. It’s the details like soft furnishings, styling, spatial planning of furniture, choosing surfaces like paint, flooring, kitchens - they should also be able to draft and draw, they've learnt it.
Their job isn't just all cushions and carpets (although it does include that), it’s about the person who makes all the final parts come together.
If you’re not doing a new build and don’t need council documentation, a decorator can be more than adequate, if they are qualified. This is probably one of the more saturated areas of the industry as people often think it’s a go-on-a-hunch style career. A decorator should still be qualified as you learn a lot of other things that an interior designer might not.
Decorators are often very experienced in colour, and their knowledge of textiles will be more than the others. They still understand about function and spatial planning, and all the ergonomics that come with living in a space. So if your project is to make what you have look and be the best for you and your people without moving walls, an interior decorator can do it.
Tell 'em the price, son
If you came here to talk about money, good on you. It's great to talk about money because all of these jobs deserve it. It's a bigger topic though and will be another post soon. In the meantime, check out the Design Institute of Australia website for a guide. They've also got a great breakdown of roles too https://www.design.org.au/designindustry/design-disciplines