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The Architect’s New Titles: to Use or Abuse May 14, 2011

Posted by randydeutsch in architect types, BIM, books, career, change, employment, management, software architects, the economy.
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Architects, in an effort to distinguish themselves in a competitive market and work environment, have started to call themselves different things.

Not that they’re going to give up the title architect anytime soon.

They’re in search of a title that more accurately qualifies – and clarifies – what they do as an architect.

With the advent of social media, what we call ourselves in our profiles goes a long way toward how others treat and work with us.

Re-titling it turns out is no longer just for cars

Sometimes we find ourselves using titles that we ourselves aren’t certain what they mean.

And good thing. Because we often use them as much to obfuscate as to communicate.

Many of the newest titles are conjunctions, conflations or co-joining of two or more existing titles – such as business and design – that are meaningful when used independently but when combined leave us ashamed and others feeling abused.

In fact, if you hear someone say “I’m at the intersection of design and business” don’t meet them there – they’re probably lost.

We’ll skip trendy titles such as “Director of Chaos” because architects are more likely to be a “Director of Form.”

And “Director of First Impressions”? A euphemism for Receptionist. (We’ll spare you the Dilbertisms)

Here’s a field guide to some of the ways we are referring to ourselves – and to each other – in this make-it-up-as-you-go world we find ourselves living and working in.

One definition is offered to confuse or Abuse.

The other you’d be better off to Use.


Abuse: A designer

  • is someone who sees everything as an opportunity for improvement.
  • is someone who has to sell themselves and their talents every time they walk into a room.
  • primarily concerns themselves with how to create a successful communication, product, or experience.
  • is an agent who specifies the structural properties of a design object.
  • is anyone who creates tangible or intangible objects

In other words, there are as many definitions as there are designers.

Use: Architect. Use Designer if you’d to be retained by an owner. See An Architect With Low Self-esteem

Design Consultant

A Design Consultant is a person who borrows your watch, tells you what time it is, pockets the watch, designs a new one for you, sends you a bill for it and puts a lien on it when you don’t pay in 120 days.

Abuse: Specialists in human factors, psychology, business, design, engineering and manufacturing who provide full service consulting for building and product innovation and design.

Use: Freelancer. An architect who can’t find full-time employment.

Design Management

Abuse: Uses project management, design, strategy and supply chain techniques to control a creative process, supports a culture of creativity and build a structure and organization for design.

Use: A manager of design projects.

See: This is a comprehensive reference book for anyone seeking an introduction to the basic concepts and principles that inform the management of design projects, teams and processes within the creative industries; and her earlier work, here.

Design Anthropologist

Abuse: Belonging to an interdisciplinary field that seeks to understand the role of design artifacts and processes in defining what it means to be human. See also: Design Sociologist

Use: Someone with an undergraduate anthropology diploma and a 3 year degree in architecture.

See this.

Design Ninja

Abuse: An unorthodox or unconventional designer. Used more often in web and graphic design.

Use: Design Mercenary (忍者)

See this.

Thought Leader

Pure unadulterated business jargon. An entity that is recognized for having innovative ideas or business ideas that merited attention. ‘Go to’ subject-matter experts in your industry. Period. Here’s how to package your ideas to share with others.

Abuse: Calling yourself one.

Use: Only when others call you this. And even then, don’t ever use it to describe yourself.


Abuse: Someone who writes his/her thoughts and feelings online.

Use: Anyone who contributes to a blog or online journal. And I mean anyone.

See: Arbiter of Knowledge and Wisdom

Change Agent

Abuse: Someone who knows what it means to manage the people side of the change equation.

Use: Someone adept at soothing the staff when management changes their mind. See Change Management

Design Thinker

Abuse: Business people trained in design methods.

Use: Design people trained in business methods.

Design thinkers are designers who achieve innovative outputs that drive business success. See this and this and especially this.


Abuse: Design Principals and Senior Designers used to hand off their building designs – and Project Managers and Architects their redlines – to CAD operators. With BIM, it no longer works this way. Like Artworkers in graphic design, BIMworkers initiate, commence, pursue, resolve self-edit and complete the work. If they had money, they would also own it.

Use: BIM Modelers. BIM Managers, BIM Coordinators and BIM Operators will thank you for it.

Information Architect

Abuse: Someone who uses the word “wayfinding” in casual conversation.

Use: An architect knows that if you have to use signage, you’ve failed. Architecture is its own wayfinding.

Design Strategist

Abuse: Someone who provides innovative insights on using design as a strategic resource. Someone who hangs with CEOs of major brand management firms, business school deans, IDEO alum, engineers and professors of design

Use: Someone who uses design to achieve key business objectives. See Design Thinker and Design Guru.

See: To be a design strategist, you either have to be an IDEO veteran, Stanford University lecturer on design, the founder of a customer experience design company – or know someone who is one. Here are the eleven skills sets for what it takes and here and here.

Service Designer

Abuse: Someone who organizes people, infrastructure, communication and material components of a service in order to improve its quality, the interaction between service provider and customers and the customer’s experience. A cross-disciplinary practitioner who combines skills in design, management and process engineering.

Use: Someone who provides numerous benefits to the end user experience when applied to project types such as retail, banking, transportation, & healthcare. See Social Entrepreneur

See Service Design + Design Thinking = This

Design Innovator

Abuse: See Form giver. Someone who gives shape to products, objects and buildings.

Use: Someone who really gets design, puts it to good use and will lead others into the twenty-first century with creative strategies.

See this, probably the best new book on the topic.

Chief X Officer

Where X can be Culture, Interpretation, Learning, Systems, Collaboration, Co-Creation, Creativity, Innovation, Mischief, Imagination, Technology, Information, Fun. As in Chief Storytelling Officer. Someone who has traded real work for knowledge work. A begrudging strategist.

Abuse: A corporate title indicating hierarchy, authority and power. A high ranking officer who gets an office with a window.

Use: Leader. A high ranking officer who gets a windowless office.


Abuse: Entrepreneurs who operate by creating business opportunities and practices inside their organization. Employees who – in addition to their workload – develop client relationships and bring in work.

Use: An employee today runs their own company within their company. Any employee who sells wrapping paper or cookies to captured employees on behalf of their kids. See Social Intrepreneur

Serial Entrepreneur

Abuse: An entrepreneur who continuously comes up with new ideas and starts new businesses.

Use: Someone with a short attention span who can’t make their mind up. Someone who comes up with an idea then abandons it, usually for another equally compelling idea. See Serial Intrepreneur

Design Director (especially when conflated with Founder, Owner, CEO, President and Managing Partner)

Abuse: Principal responsible for client, project, financial, design management and coffee making.

Use: Freelancer. Sole proprietor.

Founding Principal and Owner

Use: You. Your name.

X Advocate

Abuse: Whether Sustainability Advocate or IPD Advocate, they’re a person who publicly supports and recommends a particular cause or policy.

Use: Someone who facilitates the process for others but won’t be seen doing it themselves. See X Evangelist

Director of Product Strategy and Innovation

Use: Sales.

Business Architect

Use: Cell phone sales. See Verizon Salesperson


Abuse: Passionate arbiter of knowledge who enjoys learning while teaching.

Use: Job seeking.

See: Speaker, Author, Educator, Mentor

Lean Ambassador

Abuse: Someone who wastes other people’s time and resources by laboriously advocating the use of such systems as Six Sigma, TQM, Lean and other business management methodologies.

Use: Someone who creates value for others by eliminating waste. See IPD Advocate

Knowledge Worker

Abuse: Someone who works at any of the tasks of planning, acquiring, searching, analyzing, organizing, storing, programming, distributing, marketing, or otherwise contributing to the transformation and commerce of information and those (often the same people) who work at using the knowledge so produced.

Use: Employee. Anyone who works for a living – using something other than their hands – at the tasks of developing or using knowledge. Anyone who develops, works with or uses information in the workplace. See Anyone who works for a living

Business Development

Abuse: Someone who uses industry techniques such as gathering intelligence on competitors, generating leads and prospects, managing presentations and designing and generating successful business models, aimed at attracting new clients and penetrating existing markets.

Use: Client-building, client relations and marketing. See Rainmaker

Trusted Advisor

Abuse: Someone who engages clients by focusing attention on the issues and individuals at hand, listening both to what they say and what they leave unsaid, framing the immediate problem from their perspective, envisioning with them how a solution might appear and committing jointly to the actions and resources that will bring it about, all to gain the confidence and earn the trust of their clients.

Use: Architect. While David Maister’s guide is a classic, this and this are also helpful.

Speaker, Author, Educator, Mentor

Abuse: Expert.

Use: Retired. See Scattershot Approach to Capturing Attention on LinkedIn

Now it’s your turn. Are there any titles you are aware of that you don’t see here?



1. Anne Whitacre - May 14, 2011

Well, this provides a pretty good explanation of why people using these titles are out of work. You don’t reinvent the title — you reinvent the process…and use the same title, sell the new process, and get a new client. It makes the client think they are clever for realizing (with your help) that “architects do this, too” and clients like it when they think they are clever. Clients don’t care if you think you’re clever — and they really don’t like it if they get the feeling that you think you are more clever than them. Remember Lance Armstrong’s book “Its not About the Bike”? — architecture is the same way. If you think its about the title, you’ve already lost the marketing effort.

randydeutsch - May 14, 2011

Thanks Anne. Your comment is as good an argument for architects not to abandon their title as I have come across.

It’s Not About the Title

2. Marjanne Pearson - May 14, 2011

Hi Randy –
You’ve provided a great book list, as well as lots of ideas for future conversations.

I do need to comment on your points about Business Development. For years, architects have used “marketing” or “promotion” as catch-all phrases and resist using anything that relates to “sales.”

Marketing provides the structure for a series of activities that include brand development, image development, communications, positioning, and business development.

The problem isn’t the list that you included under Business Development “abuse.” The problem is that so many firms focus on getting the work and *not* on more comprehensive marketing strategy and processes.

randydeutsch - May 14, 2011

Thanks Marjanne for stopping by and commenting.

First, great eye: thank you for recognizing that this post was really a guise for sharing links for books I like (and some websites.) All my posts should probably be called “books I like” and save all of us time and expense. OK not expense.

I completely agree with you concerning Business Development: I spoke with an architect the other day who, several years into his career, had never heard the term – nor was able to distinguish it from sales and marketing.

I just hope that I haven’t perpetuated this misunderstanding by messing around here for the sake of a hard-to-come-by laugh.

What you call a “problem” I see as a huge opportunity area in our industry – especially now, when our business models are in flux. Thanks again!

3. Anne Elliott (Elly) Merica - May 14, 2011

Ditto Anne #1. Great post Randy.

So why would we give up a title everyone else is so eager to use? Information Architect, New Product Architect, Solutions Architect, and my favorite: Innovation Architect. It seems like everyone wants to be an architect except us. (Though I was really annoyed when I was kicked off of unemployment one time because I refused to apply for the IT Architect positions).

Then there is the press who uses the term as shorthand for “the brains behind” such as “Architect of the War” I shudder when we are associated with destruction instead of creation.

It will be interesting to see if someone tries to regulate the practice of these other “professions.”

4. Randy Deutsch - May 14, 2011

Thanks Anne. Speaking of titles, worth pointing out that my first 3 comments are from people named Anne: namely, two Annes and (Marj)anne.

Let’s see if we can keep this going!

I agree with our keeping our “architect” title. Here I’m really wanting to spark a conversation triggered by that recent UK report that announced:

“In 10 years we probably will not call ourselves an architecture practice, it will be something else entirely,” from The Future for Architects.

Click to access The_Future_for_Architects_Full_Report_2.pdf

So, what is that “something else entirely?”

If no more architecture practices, does that mean there will be no need for “architects”?

Anne Elliott (Elly) Merica - May 14, 2011

Very possibly. The study seemed to find that UK firms would be culled down to underpaid sole proprietors or large global engineering/design/consultancies. The market for mid-size firms is tough. I think we’re seeing that already. But I’m very serious about keeping the title, though it holds more sway with people outside the A/E/C industry. Despite the frou frou titles, we’re able to visualize and strategize and manage complex projects. That ought to be good for something. Already there is a demand for design school graduates, but with business school training as well. Maybe we need more joint programs to boost our cred with future clients. Better yet, aim to BE the client.

5. Marjanne Pearson - May 14, 2011

BTW – My middle name is “Anne.” (“Marjanne” is a contraction of Margery Anne.)

6. Randy Deutsch - May 15, 2011

For what it is worth, my first name is R Anne D.

My parents were both in research and development, so named me after their favorite subject (R&D)

According to the 2011 Blogging Statistics Almanac, no blog has ever had the first 10 commenters all named “Anne”

7. Andra Miliacca - May 15, 2011

Hi Randy: I just HAD to comment since my name starts with “An.” Laughed out loud at “the intersection of design and business.” Certainly, there is no GPS known to technology that can get you there!

Randy Deutsch - May 15, 2011

Thanks Andra for your GPS comment. Very funny.

I think it is only fair that we now officially open comments to those not named Anne.

8. Sam Allan Morris - May 19, 2011

Couldn’t pass the opportunity since middle name ends with “an”!
Back on topic: over the years, and fluctuating markets (read “un/employment”), with dismay and challenge I have wrestled with this topic. Many aspects of our profession have spun off into related yet arguably (now) non-architect jobs and/or totally outsourced consultancies, especially for specialties that a majority of architects neither want to do nor value enough to keep close. Obviously still of great necessity, these opportunities are readily fulfilled by some architects and many others, e.g., specifications (right, Anne W.?), project management, estimating, interior design, etc. The age of specialization has decimated our profession, by tacit agreement. From the extreme of seeking a new term that reinvigorates “architect”, I am back to acceptance of “architect, the single term for multiple capabilities” as recognized by all the flattering imitative use by others. Played well, their use strengthens our brand, as the other “types” of architects must adjectively specify. At US2, we will, when asked, reply “built environment” even though that usually requires explanation also. As sure as many architects will still smell as sweet under a different name in ten years, the reports of the demise of

9. Sam Allan Morris - May 19, 2011

(Sorry about that, and the tiny keys on the so-called smart device; how about a confirmation before posting?)
To finish from prior:
As sure as many architects will still smell as sweet under a different name in ten years, the reports of the early demise of “architect” are greatly exaggerated. Embrace change, my colleagues, for that is what we do. They but borrow our name, and to it must add their bit, which bit more explains them than what they borrow. At least they spell it correctly, and mean us little harm. Play well.

10. Michael McKay, Architect - May 20, 2011

I like your blog Randy, and as someone not named Anne I knew right away I should add my comment.

We should all stand our ground and hold on to use of ‘Architect’ and ‘Architecture’. It’s what we do.

I wouldn’t mind the usurpers from the IT crowd adding the word ‘architect’ behind words other descriptive words like ‘database’, or ‘information’ or ‘SQL’ if the damned job search engines could/would tell the difference between them and us and quit flooding me with a bunch of computer-related job offers. I’m the guy with the license to call myself an Architect.

From the Greek arch (“primary”) + tekton (“master builder”, i.e. “A person who designs buildings and advises in their construction”. Definition paraphrased from the Webster’s New Encyclopedic Dictionary, copyright 2002 by Merriam-Webster, Inc. (a large, heavy hardback book).

Where are the ‘search-engine architects’ who’ll take the lead and solve this problem?


P.S. ‘Architect’ is a noun, not a verb. I’ve seen ads to the effect of “XYZ Bank in need of someone to architect the loan and mortgage programs”. Hello!!! Why not advertise for a programmer? Tsk tsk

11. Architects 2Zebras Top 10 Posts for 2011 « Architects 2Zebras - December 31, 2011

[…] The Architect’s New Titles: to Use or Abuse […]

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