5 Design Tips to Design like an Architect

Featured Image_5 Tips to Design like an Architect

As an aspiring architect, there are a lot of design tips you may have heard. Deciding which ones are the most important can be overwhelming. In this article, we’ll go over the 5 best ones to get you designing like an architect! We’ll break down the elements of concept, alignment, scale, proportions, and finally, details. We’ll show you an example of each one so you can see real-life scenarios of good and bad examples. Let’s get started!

Design Tips

1. Develop a Concept
A concept is likely one of the first things you will learn about in architecture or design school. It serves as the basis for all of your design decisions. It can be literal or abstract. For example, if you use a literal apple as your concept, your building may look like an apple. If you abstract the apple, your design may focus on how an apple is formed or grown. As you can see with the design of the Seattle Public Library, the form is intriguing but also functional. The design was based around arranging core components of the library in the most logical way, and the form was then generated from the interior layout. The most ideal library would be completely linear to easily locate books, but that isn’t very practical. The architects (OMA) of this library decided to make a ramp that travels up all of the floors instead. This is a great example of how a concept informed the entire design of a structure.

design tips: Seattle Library exterior
design tips: Seattle Library interior

2. Focus on Alignment
The second, and possibly the most important of design tips, is alignment. The first image represents an example of poor alignment. You can see by just being off by a small amount, the alignment of the ceiling and walls creates a bit of an eyesore. If each point were to come together at the same point, it would create a symmetrical and intentional alignment.

design tips: poor alignment

The next image shows an example of good alignment. The portals line up with the center of each arch, which also lines up with circles in the tile floor. Above the portal, you can also see a pointed arch that lines up with the center. The repetition of elements and precision creates a beautiful and intentional design.

design tips: good alignment

3. Be conscious of scale
Scale can sometimes be easily overlooked, which makes it just as important as other design tips. You have to keep in mind the function of the space when you are designing to use an appropriate scale. For example, this house featured on Architectural Digest includes an over-sized front door, large stairs, and super high ceilings. These features may be neat for a gallery or large event, but they’re not practical for everyday use for one person.

design tips: scale

4. Maintain proportions
Possibly the second most important design tips are proportions. It really comes down to the unification of alignment and scale. Similarly to how the scale is relative to the user, the proportion is relative to the other pieces of the building. When looking at a proportional building, one side may be twice as long or the same size as the first side. The Parthenon is a perfect example of proportion. The capital of the column is the same length as the space between each column. The details in the frieze are proportional to each other as well.

design tips: Parthenon proportions

5. Don’t forget the details
Details are essentially the culmination of all of the previous design tips. If you keep each one of them in consideration when designing, you can create beautiful details. The façade of this building was clearly well-thought. The geometric pattern is recessed and aligns perfectly with the reveals. Because of the attention to detail, the overall appearance and concept can shine through.

design tips: facade details

In this ecclesiastical design by Tadao Ando, you can see the alignment of every joint and the opening of the cross. The architect is using contrast between light and darkness and materials to showcase the cross detail.

design tips: church details

Being a great architect takes knowledge, training, and practice, but if you keep these five design tips in mind, you will be well on your way to designing like an architect! Were there any tips that you disagreed with? What do you think is the most important design tip? Let us know in the comments!

Be sure to check out the rest of our tutorials and tips to further improve your design skills!

Happy Hacking!


  1. allstarcarpetandtiles June 24, 2019 at 10:31 am #

    Great tips. I’m bookmarking this page. Its a great resource to keep. Thanks for sharing.

  2. hamzakhan17826 May 19, 2019 at 7:16 am #

    Ok sure, I will follow your steps before going to do exams. I hope your article will help me more.

  3. karlmistos May 14, 2019 at 10:41 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this. I’ll definitely share this with my classmates at de la salle zobel.

  4. classboat01 October 17, 2018 at 7:37 am #

    Hello there and thanks for your information, I have certainly picked up allot new info from right your post. You are also provided information about best tips for exam,Which is very helpful to me and other people also.

  5. mikemoreno September 5, 2018 at 3:48 am #

    thank you very much, verry helpfull…

  6. jogesh12345 August 14, 2018 at 1:55 am #

    Very effective and informative article.Thanks for sharing such an important tutorial.

  7. FLMIMA August 11, 2018 at 9:20 pm #

    Really helpful website

  8. Rumi July 15, 2018 at 7:16 am #

    I feel very grateful that I read this. It is very helpful and very informative and I really learned a lot from it.

  9. RJennings April 28, 2018 at 6:12 pm #

    Thank you for this website. The practice questions are helpful.

  10. Scott March 22, 2018 at 1:50 pm #

    Taking this test on Saturday. Last 4.0 exam to complete for the trio, then on to 5.0. This site is my go-to place when organizing what materials I’ll be studying

  11. shozab January 30, 2018 at 2:22 pm #

    Hi , very good article.

    thanks for sharing, keep up the good work

  12. dyba January 27, 2018 at 1:08 am #

    Good advice. Best of luck to all!

  13. KendraShirley January 16, 2018 at 4:04 pm #

    This is my favorite site for practicing for my tests! Great advise and super helpful.

  14. reximagetrim January 16, 2018 at 10:37 am #

    Nice post to read. A complete guide that can help all of us.

  15. tylerstockholm December 17, 2017 at 9:37 pm #

    Nice one… very helpful! Thanks!!!

  16. Aartiwalvekar November 21, 2017 at 8:56 am #

    Nice post

  17. Aartiwalvekar October 9, 2017 at 9:45 pm #

    Great post!

  18. Tony August 30, 2017 at 7:07 am #

    In the NCARB ARE 5.0 handbook they reference Fundamentals of Building Construction: Materials and Methods in both of their example questions for cost estimating. Unfortunately there isn’t a specific chapter on cost estimating, it’s woven throughout the content.

  19. Spencer August 30, 2017 at 1:15 am #

    What is the best reference for cost estimating for PDD.

  20. Amy July 26, 2017 at 3:24 pm #

    Thanks! Great advice

  21. Tony June 29, 2017 at 7:23 am #

    Deciduous trees should only be used for shade (especially in temperate climates). Deciduous trees lose their leaves in the fall and will have little protection against wind in the winter when it is most needed. Likewise, the leafless trees allow solar heat gain in the winter when it is desired, and shade in the summer.

    Coniferous trees are only to be used to block wind and views. Since they don’t lose their needles, they work great for these two items year-round.

  22. Shahid Logan June 28, 2017 at 4:50 pm #

    Hello. My name is Shahid. This comment is for anyone who would like to reply. On the Siteplanning test. To block the wind, can you use a Deciduous tree or must you use a Coniferous tree?

  23. Mike January 4, 2017 at 11:04 am #

    Hi Tony,

    I need to take 5.0 PPD & PDD. Do you plan on posting notes such as “Caroline’s Notes” that you had posted for the various 4.0 exams for either of those sections? I found those notes to be some of the best resources in studying for the 4.0 sections. If so any idea when? Thanks

  24. Stephen October 17, 2016 at 9:30 pm #

    Hi Tony,
    Any updates on the SS exam ? If there’s an expected release date ? Thanks

  25. DesignerHacks October 4, 2016 at 12:11 pm #


    We are releasing practice exams for the SS exam later this fall.


  26. Paige October 4, 2016 at 11:34 am #

    Will you have SS questions on here at some point?

  27. Daniel September 9, 2016 at 8:47 am #

    Great post, very helpful with the lists of suggested materials, I just passed CDs in July and am taking PPP in November so I definitely needed the list.

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