Do you know the difference between a web designer and a web developer?

Many people use these terms interchangeably. In all fairness, there are those who can call themselves both a designer and a developer. I’ve even been guilty of using the term “developer” to describe myself. I do have a proclivity towards programming and coding … if the mood suits me. I don’t think the term is how I would label myself, though, if I believed in the validity of labels. But, I digress.

Did you think they were the same thing? Can we use these terms interchangeably to describe people who build websites? In short the answer is, not necessarily. They are two sides of the same coin, but very different in their nature.

What is a web designer?

Web design is, simply put, what you see in your web browser. To go into more depth I would say that it is the planning side of the process. It involves design principles (balance, color, alignment, form, contrast and space) along with color theory.

web design wireframes

It also involves UX (user experience) design. User experience design refers to the specific task of designing for the end user. A web designer thinks about how best to organize information on the page and how the end user will interact with it and feel about it. It includes visual design as well as audio and video media. UX design is also about how the visitor travels from one page to another and how the design and functionality of the website effect their experience.

Web designers often begin with wireframes to plan the layout of the page. Organization of content (especially in a large website) is super important here. If your audience can’t find what they’re looking for within 2-3 clicks, you’ll likely lose them. A good web designer will also plan out a sitemap for the different navigation throughout the site. Web design is decidedly a more traditionally creative skill set.

What is a web developer?

A web developer is going to be on the other side of a website project. Literally, the other side. They sometimes call it “back end” development. It’s primarily the hard coding of the design elements that the designer planned out.

web developer code on a laptop

Web developers use coding languages like html, css and php (among others) to create the visual experience the designer defined. The web developer takes the wireframes or fully fleshed out mockups and figures out how best to make it work the way the designer envisioned. The development side of a website is definitely seen as more technical, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t creative as well.

It used to be that you probably had one person working on the design portion of the website and then you brought in the developer to implement the design.

When I taught myself html and css back in the early part of the century I was in love with it. Turns out, I am one of those rare birds that is capable of being a web designer and a developer. The problem is, development is super painstaking work and often really repetitive. I no longer have the patience for it. I’m not certain my brain can retain one more programming language either.

Enter CMS or content management systems. CMS like WordPress made it super simple for a designer to work on their own. When I discovered that I no longer had to hard code page templates, correct a lazy developers code or update outdated code I was ecstatic. As much as I loved the development side of the project, I was completely committed to the design portion of it. It’s where my brain is happiest and where my skills are the most effective.

So, which do you need?

If you’re looking for a static website, a blog or a small eCommerce website then a web designer is probably sufficient. This is provided they are using up to date software to implement the design effectively.

If your needs are more along the lines of a large, multi-functional site or even an app then you will likely need to hire a web designer as well as a developer. I say both because you never want to neglect user experience. Many developers will tell you that they don’t need a web designer to get them started. That they can do both jobs. I would highly recommend getting live examples that you can visit online. It’s one thing for the site to be fast and functional, but if the design is hard to navigate or visibly unappealing then you’re definitely missing out on the user experience portion.

At the end of the day it’s about your user.

The end user is always your first and last thought. How will they use it? What will they expect from their experience? Making sure you’re working with individuals with the relevant experience at the right stages of the process is really important. You should never skip steps in the spirit of budget limitations or speed. It never ends well.

As a web designer, each of my projects begins and ends with your and your audience in mind. I’m constantly testing and asking the client to test while in the process of building the site. I encourage people to reach out with feedback on my own site. You should do the same. Some UX elements to consider are:

  • mobile first design
  • effective call-to-action
  • to-the-point content
  • an obvious path through your site that leads to a conversion

You can find out more about all of the branding and digital marketing services I offer here. If you’re ready to reach out regarding a website or other project you can contact me or schedule a consultation.

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