The Difference Between a Web Designer & Web Developer

Think about a house for a quick moment. How many people are involved in bringing the structure to life? There’s the architect and designer that creates the outline and overall design of the house. Then there’s the builders that implement the design. Then there’s typically a stager who gets the house ready for potential buyers.

That’s not even including the specific roles within each designation.

Building a website is much like building a house: there are separate roles for each stage of the project.

First, there’s building a design using basic standards and principles of UI/UX. Then, there’s the implementation of this design. And finally, the final touches and publication of the new website or application.

Now, I want you to consider this scenario for a moment: what would happen if a builder decided to design the house? Or how would the house look if the architect decided to physically construct it?

Chances are the house would be riddled with errors.

The distinction between web development and design is very similar to the house analogy. Let’s take a closer look at the difference between a web designer and a web developer.

What Does a Web Developer Do?

A web developer is responsible for building a website or application. They typically have an in-depth understanding of the fundamental programming languages, such as HTML, CSS, Javascript, and PHP. 

However, with the emergence of CMS tools, such as WordPress and Squarespace, this knowledge isn’t wholly necessary to create a functional website. In essence, CMS programs create a user-friendly environment for programmers and reduces the need for a data scientist.

Yet, in my experience as a designer, there are many situations where it is necessary for your developer to have a familiarity with programming languages. For instance:

  • Implementing features not available on your page builder or adding additional classes
  • Speeding up your site and editing scripts
  • Troubleshooting errors

Keep in mind, it is possible for a developer to build a website without reading or writing a single line of code. But, on every project we’ve had, some form of custom code was necessary to implement a fully functional and fast website that fit our client’s demands.

Within the developer industry, there are four main fields: there’s front-end developers that are responsible for the code that affects the appearance of the website. There’s back-end developers that focus on interactivity and data processing. And there’s also data scientists that focus on the data architecture. Then there’s full-stack developers that have a general understanding of all four programming fields.

But, in the majority of cases, a developer IS NOT a designer. How do we know this distinction? Because we have a team that consists of both a designer and a developer, and their roles are very distinct. We know firsthand that there is a clear difference between a web designer and a web developer.

We see this scenario all the time: a poorly designed, unorganized site that doesn’t follow basic design principles. And this is typically the result of work that wasn’t approved by a designer.

In fact, I can almost always tell when a site was created and designed solely by a developer. And, alternatively, I can almost always tell when a site was created solely by a designer. In most cases, their missing crucial features that make a website successful.

web developer sitting at desk and drinking coffee

What Does a Designer Do?

A good designer will have a working knowledge of basic design principles, including UI/UX concepts. They’ll also have an understanding of successful frameworks, buyer psychology, and the interplay between separate elements. And most designers will have some form of distinct ‘style’ that separates them from others in their fields.

There are 5 basic design principles that your designer will follow. And they include:

  • Emphasis & Dominance: These are your areas of most contrast and typically include your primary actions, such as Add to Cart or Book Now
  • Balance: balance is essentially creating visual order. It ensures that the design ‘fits’ together, so elements are not competing with one another. Balance works hand-in-hand with dominance. Because, if there’s no dominance, there is competition, and this will make your site difficult to process
  • Form & Function: a seasoned designer will ensure form and function work together to create a design that focuses on the experience
  • Rhythm & Harmony: rhythm speeds comprehension and reduces cognitive strain, while harmony forms a cohesive whole and brings consistency
  • Color: the colors and tones on your website will signal different types of actions and create an overall mood. It will also convey meaning. Most designers will consider topics such as color theory as they conceptualize a design

Before creating an outline, a designer will typically research your target market. Are there certain colors do they gravitate towards? What designs do they often see? What types of functions do they understand?

A good designer will complete the research necessary to understand what appeals to your audience. And they’ll build a design optimized for conversions.

In addition, designers also have experience in information hierarchy, branding, primary actions and objectives, and lead-generation. They know that it’s not just how your site looks, but also how your audience connects with the overall design.

They’ll also ensure your site is easy to use, functional, and simple to navigate. And, in most cases, they use software, such as Adobe XD or Photoshop, to conceptualize their designs. They will then pass along this design to the developer to implement.

Web designer building outline for website

Why Do I Need Both a Developer and Designer?

Think back to the house analogy. The architect is trained in creating the blueprints and forming the design. The builders are responsible for physically building the structure. They are two separate fields with two separate areas of expertise.

Similarly, there is a clear difference between a web designer and a web developer.

Websites created by developers with little understanding of design are often missing 1 or more of the key principles explained above. Their sites are often confusing, lack clear visual hierarchy, and have competing elements.

In turn, if your designer can’t read or write code, they are likely limited, especially when troubleshooting. Their sites are typically slower and only consist of the elements provided by their page builder or theme.

What to Know When Hiring a Web Development Company

First and foremost, make sure they have a team of designers that build the initial design. Many web development companies rely on themes for building their client’s websites. As a quick disclaimer, there is nothing particularly wrong with using templates or themes. However, themes offer no explanations on why they chose that design for that audience. This means your audience may not resonate with the theme or template.

Your target audience is special and specific. And your designer will research your ICA (ideal customer avatar) before starting the visual component. That means, your site is optimized for your intended buyer. This crucial step will boost your conversion rates and decrease your bounce rates.

In addition, make sure the company’s designers have a working knowledge of proper UI/UX principles. And, most importantly, ensure they offer responsive design with their packages. Remember, roughly 80% of your audience will be visiting your site on a mobile device.

What is Your Site Like?

If you already have a website or blog, do a quick glance at your design. Is your site following the basic design principles? Is there balance and clear hierarchy? Does form and function work together?

If you’re missing one or more of these fundamentals, consider hiring a design company that has BOTH a developer and a designer. Always keep in mind that there’s a difference between a web designer and a web developer, and ask any company you research what there process is from initial conception to final implementation.

Why Work With Us?

At CS, we have a specialist in EACH field. Every website we publish is professionally designed by a designer and fully implemented by a developer.

The result is a clean, professional website that follows the proper design principles and is optimized for conversions.We conduct hours of research before starting any design, so you know your website will directly appeal to your target audience.

To book a free website audit and consultation, head over to our contact page, and send us a quick note!

Also, don’t forget to follow along on Facebook and Instagram, so you keep updated on our valuable content.