Are you not sure about the differences between a web designer and a web developer? It’s easy to confuse these two. They both help build websites, but each of them is involved in very different areas. Below I will define each role, explain what it does, look at the required tools and resources, and tear down the personality types that suit one or the other.
Quick Overview: Web Designer vs Web Developer
Developers build the backbone of a website using different coding languages, while designers are focused on visual creativity and user interaction. Developers use their programming knowledge to bring to life the creative vision of the designer. Developers function as construction workers while web designers function as architects – both are necessary for website creation but have different skill sets.
To put it simply:
- Web designers work on the general look of a website.
- Web developers transfer that vision into an operating website.
I’ll explain the details later as we go over the varieties of web designers and web developers that you can find. This comprehensive information will help you pick the right option for your site’s website design & development needs.
The different types of web developers and designers can build websites for all different kinds of people and businesses that need them. Thanks to content management systems like Wix as well as pre-coded themes and plugins, some people can build websites themselves. But it requires a combination of strong coding and design skills to create a website that attracts people, generates sales, and collects subscribers. As a result, dedicated web designers and web developers are indispensable for a project.
Today we will examine the critical differences between web design vs web development and I’ll provide answers to the common questions about them. Let’s begin by setting the comparison through something familiar: imagine a web developer and a web designer meeting together to build a car.
What is a Web Designer?
A web designer will create the car’s aesthetic design (the comfort of the seats, the layout of the dashboard, etc.) and think about the convenience of driving and riding the car.
A web designer makes your website look great. They focus on the page’s style and overall feel, using Photoshop graphic editor to customize all visual elements. They also use HTML and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) to create their designs.
Web designers are used to experiencing the world in a visual way. For example, if they’d you directions, they might tell you to turn right when you see a big tree. Web designers also rely on intuition and feeling as they develop the websites’ look and feel. If you ask them to write a word in the center of a page, they most probably will eyeball it. Usually they:
Design websites using content management systems like WordPress and web builders like Elementor
Specialize in designing for smaller websites and clients
Web designers are used to generating ambitious ideas and think about the whole picture. For example, if a web designer had to build a theme park, he would love to focus on the overall “vibe” of the theme park first, the layout, and the way a visitor would explore it, and then get into details like the colors, shapes, and names of the rides.
What Do Web Designers Do?
Just as web developers, web designers are responsible for multiple tasks and areas of a website they build. Most frequently web designers are working on the design of digital interfaces that are both appealing for visitors and effective in converting the offer (e.g. to buy, download or subscribe). A lot of the web design process involves research and testing and is more than just choosing an aesthetically pleasing color palette and set of icons.
Web designers should be able to design custom experiences that appeal to the needs and motivations of the target audience. They also need to balance their vision with an understanding of how their design decisions impact a website’s coding. This often means going through an extensive research and planning process before committing to the final design of a website.
What Kind of Web Designers Are There?
Web designers usually have a specialized area of work. Here are the main ones:
User Experience (UX) designer
The job of a UX web designer is to keep your visitors hooked on your website. They know how to build a website that your specific audience will enjoy to see and use. This is a result of the carried out thorough research into the users’ demographics, their needs, and numerous prototype testing and site restructuring that is required. Usually they:
- Create designs using professional design software
- Make sure that design is data-based and human-centric
- Involve in extensive research, testing, and validation of ideas to create the ideal user experience
If people enjoy using a website, they’re more likely to visit again or recommend it to their friends. This is incredibly helpful to grow your online community.
User Interface (UI) designer
A UI web designer improves the way users interact with the elements of a page, or the entire interface, on your web site. This is accomplished by translating complex brand ideas, propositions, and values into a website that’s enjoyable and easy to navigate. Usually they:
- Create designs using professional design software
- Make sure that the suggested design is great for usability
- Involve in designing an interface that is friction-free and is likely to convert the traffic
It is different from UX because it involves building a solid foundation for a positive user experience, while UI focuses on the actual website’s aesthetics (the look and feel).
A visual designer combines the skills of UX and UI designer. It’s their job to improve the user journey using their creative and coding skills and solve design issues. They also help to conceptualize a brand’s unique style or tone of voice. Usually they:
- Create designs using professional design software
- Work both on the user experience and the user interface
Basically they’re a master of all web design tasks and their specific roles can vary hugely depending on what you want.
What is a Web Developer?
A web developer will be responsible for connecting all components (like the engine, transmission, wheels, etc.) to put together a fully-functional car that is error-free in its technical aspects.
One of the web developer’s role is to build the concept that the web designer presented. As mentioned earlier, web developers are similar to those who build, and web designers are like visionaries. Web developers approach the world from a logical, scientific standpoint. If they get lost they will drop a GPS pin to find the right path.
Web developers see the world as a huge collection of data that can be organized and used for different purposes. If a web developer is asked to write a word in the center of a page, he will look for a tool to measure it in the quickest, most efficient, and exact way (by folding the paper evenly into 4 squares or grabbing a ruler).
Web developers handle big projects by taking them one step at a time, planning the flow, and paying close attention to all involved details. If a web developer had to build a theme park, he would love to define the details of the physics of the rides, seat capacity management, and the number of visitors the park could accommodate, and he’d work through them one small step at a time.
What Do Web Developers Do?
Web developers use all elements that have been created for the website (the site structure, design mockups, prototypes, and the copy) and turn it into functional code that connects everything. Usually, web developers don’t do any design work but they collaborate closely with web designers throughout the process and provide directions where needed. This collaboration may begin early so that the web design process goes smoothly.
The developer then assesses whether the vision that a web designer has conceptualized about how they want a website to look and work can be programmed technically and fit the budget of the project.
Web developers and designers also collaborate later at the next step when designers get designs and redlines approved by the client and need them to be coded. They can convert a static layout into a dynamic website by using images, content sliders, active buttons, and other interactive elements.
What Kind of Web Developers Are There?
There are specific roles for web developers that I’ll explain below.
The back-end of a website is where the core structure is designed and assembled.
These developers are experts in programming and use complex software languages like Java, SQL, and C# to write code. Users do not see their work because it’s hosted on the web servers and involves coding scripts and databases. Usually they:
- Write code using advanced programming languages like PHP, Java, and SQL
- Are responsible for coding the scripts, database, and server integrations
- Handle the complex functionality on a website
- Are responsible for testing and debugging the features
Basically their job is to create logical, functional websites using various programs and make sure that all features work properly. They also devote a lot of time testing scripts, deploying solutions, and fixing any possible bugs.
- Are responsible for coding the website pages
- Build all user-facing functionality and features
- May specialize in development for a CMS (e.g. WordPress)
In summary, just like a back-end developer, people that are developing the front-end have coding skills but they build frameworks the user can interact with.
A full-stack developer can work across all different layers of a project, including both the front and back end. Usually they:
- Write code using basic and advanced programming languages
- Are responsible for coding everything: front- and back-ends of a site
It is essentially the full package required for web development because they are an expert in all involved areas.
What Skills are required for Designers and Developers?
There’s some overlap between the administrative responsibilities that web designers and developers have, but their job-specific skill sets greatly differ:
What Skills Do Web Developers Need?
Web developers tackle the technical side of a website, which means they need to be fluent in code. However, as we’ve already mentioned, developers may be responsible for programming the different website parts.
The following skills don’t apply to everyone who is a web developer but define a great specialist:
|HTML||A basic markup language that enables developers to style text for web browsers (front-end).|
|CSS||A basic stylesheet language which allows developers to format the elements on a web page (front-end).|
|PHP||An advanced server-side programming language that developers work with through a command-line interface (CLI) to code the core of a website (back-end).|
|CSS pre-processors like SASS or LESS||A tool that makes coding with CSS more efficient.|
|Git||A version control platform that makes it easy for developers to work with and manage various iterations of a website.|
Web developers would also benefit from the following skills:
- Good project and time management
- Responsive web design
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Problem-solving (especially useful for debugging)
- Communication and collaboration skills
What Skills Do Web Designers Need?
Web designers handle everything that represents the interface of a website. Their skill sets have to go beyond the basic design concepts or color theory. The designers that work on UX or UI need a broader set of skills and include an understanding of the customer’s mind.
The following skills apply to different kinds of designers and define a great specialist:
|Branding||Even if you don’t develop branding (like logos) for clients, it’s still useful to understand the “why” behind a company’s brand and how it affects the design and messaging.|
|Color theory||It’s not enough for color palettes to be aesthetically pleasing. Colors mean different things psychologically and culturally and this has to be accounted for.|
|Layout/format||As screens grow smaller, the website’s layout has become an important factor in the design process.|
|User journey mapping||Web designers need to visualize the pathway target customers will take in order to build it out (UI/UX design).|
|Funnel development||This is all about user intent and understanding how different mindsets drive users to take additional actions. The design should account for these different funnels (UI/UX design).|
|Emotion design||Empathy plays a big part in the web design process — for designers of all types. Without it, you’ll be designing for the wrong persona.|
|Responsive design||While platforms like WordPress will take some of the work out of this for you, as will a web developer, it’s important to consider how your design choices impact users on different devices and browsers.|
|Interaction design||This segment focuses on how to increase clickability and engagement with key elements of a website.|
Web designers would also benefit from the following skills:
- Good project and time management
- Web accessibility best practices
- HTML and CSS coding
- Search engine optimization
- Conversion rate optimization
- Client communication
- Team collaboration
What Tools Do Web Designers And Web Developers Use?
There is a small overlap in terms of the tools that web developers and web designers use to get the job done because they focus on completely different parts of a website.
Web designers are primarily responsible for making sure it’s aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly for website visitors and may not know how to code. They will utilize graphics design software, including Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Corel Draw, Inkscape, and GIMP. They design the layout of the website and individual pages through constructing prototypes and wireframes with tools like Figma, Adobe XD. Designers control the flow of information, action segments and can even be responsible for website analytics.
What Kind of Tools Do Web Developers Use?
Web developers must have expertise in the use of the following tools in addition to being able to work with coding languages:
|Web Developer Tools||Examples|
|Integrated development environment (IDE)||Visual Studio|
|Version control platform||GitHub|
|Browser developer tools||Chrome DevTools|
|Web hosting, control panel, and FTP||Bluehost|
|Content management system||WordPress|
|Website testing tools||Lighthouse|
|Issue tracking and management tool||Jira|
What Kind of Tools Do Web Designers Use?
What Kind of Tools Should Web Designers and Developers Both Use?
Designers and developers share a certain set of tools for easier communication and handoffs because they must closely collaborate. For example:
|Designer-developer collaboration tool||Figma|
|Project management software||Teamwork|
|Team chat software||Skype|
What Kind Of Salaries Can Web Designers And Web Developers Expect To Earn?
This number is subject to many variables, including location, experience, and skillsets. The reported median annual pay for web developers is $75,487 (in the US, as of March 2019), while the median yearly income for web designers is around $57K (according to Glassdoor).
Many contributing factors influence the amount they can earn as a web designer or web developer. This includes the type of designer or developer, what kind of companies they work for, as well as how much work experience they have and the responsibilities they take.
|Source||Web Designer Salary||Web Developer Salary|
|Overall Average Salary||$54,178||$67,477|
While web designers might earn significantly less, these are just the averages for web designers. It’s possible to earn more for those that specialize in UX or UI design or if they work in an incredibly lucrative niche.
At first glance it may appear that an average web developer salary gives a LOT more money than an average web designer salary:
- Web designer: $66,000
- Web developer: $87,000
*Indeed salary search report for the US.
If you look for more specific areas of a web designer salary, you’ll see that the two are competitive:
- Interaction designer: $93,000
- Mobile designer: $92,000
- User Experience designer: $92,000
*Indeed salary search report for the US.
An average web developer salary is higher, but web designers also make plenty of money. Both are lucrative options that pay well:
- Web developer’s salary in 2019: $99,112/yr
- Back-end developer’s salary in 2019: $164,786/yr
- Full-stack developer’s salary in 2019: $98,332/yr
- Web designer’s salary in 2019: $76,177/yr
- UI designer’s salary in 2019: $97,494/yr
- UX designer’s salary in 2019: $109,062/yr
- Visual designer’s salary in 2019: $91,383/yr
Web Development vs. Web Design: Which Career Path Is Preferable?
Web design and development are difficult to master. Figure out what gets you excited before investing time and money into either field:
- Do you like to write code, manage data, and handle multiple databases?
- Would you prefer to create graphical elements, design the visual appearance of a website, and shape the user experience?
Neither can exist without the other. Web development and web design are two halves that make the whole. Web designers have to understand what goes into being a web developer and work hand-in-hand to develop perfect website solutions for clients. A web developer can also be a web designer as much as a designer can choose to be a developer and write code.
Although there are skillful people that can do both types of work, a serious development studio will have dedicated designers that create great website layouts and then will hand the design files to a developer that completes the development stage.
How Do Web Designers’ And Web Developers’ Portfolios Differ?
A professional portfolio is essential for a developer or designer. By looking at the past performance you get a great indicator of future performance and possible outcome. Professional developers and designers will showcase their skill sets and experience for future employers and clients but may use different services to do this more efficiently.
Developers primarily rely on GitHub.com to display their excellent repositories of coding work and accomplished projects. It demonstrates how well the developer can refactor and abstract their code to be elegant and readable to other developers. On cloud-based hosting services like AWS (Amazon) and Heroku.com developers can display static websites and web applications that are fully functional.
Designers usually show off their ingenuity through websites like Behance.com, Dribble.com, or Coroflot.com. Here they can present the expertise in color schemes, graphic design ability, and creativity. They also can host their wireframes on Figma.com.
Do You Need a Web Designer or a Web Developer?
By now you now know the differences between a designer and a developer. This knowledge is important because it will make the website development process much easier. Check out the table below for a quick overview of when it’s best to choose each one for hire:
|Project||Who do you need?|
|Design a new homepage layout||Web Designer|
|Build a new contact form||Web Developer|
|Create a mobile app||Web Developer|
|Conceptualize new website branding||Web Designer|
|Fix server/hosting issues||Web Developer|
|Edit photos and videos||Web Designer|
As I already mentioned, it doesn’t always have to be just one or the other. If you want to build a website from scratch, you’ll need both a developer and a designer. A web company usually is full of experts and can provide a great solution for your needs. They already have the people with all of the various skills needed to create a high-quality website that will attract and convert users so that you don’t have to employ two separate professionals.
How Much Does a Web Designer vs Web Developer Cost to Hire?
To hire a freelance web designer usually costs between $10-$50 p/h, while hiring a freelance developer usually costs $30-$65 p/h. Hiring a medium-sized web developer agency (which provides both sides of website construction) will cost between $65-$100 p/h of their time for building a basic website.
The average cost of building a custom website is around $6,000 in total you use both developers and designers.
If your budget for a website is very limited and you want to have a custom website then you can look at online website builders. Ready to try it yourself? Here you can read more about which website builder is right for you.
Web Designer vs Web Developer: Summary
By now, we should have more advanced knowledge of what web design vs web development is about, but let’s quickly recap what we’ve learned: sometimes you need both to get the best experience.
- Web developers build the foundation of a website and web designers make it look and feel the way you and your users want.
- You need a dedicated web developer to build the site’s core structure, using coding languages to construct logical, programmatic websites.
- You need a dedicated web designer to bring a brand’s idea into an on-screen reality and knows precisely what the specific audience will enjoy.
You can build websites more effectively and efficiently once you understand how a creative vision translates into code or the other way around. Website builders make the process easier.