Web Designer vs. Web Developer: Understanding the Key Differences

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What are the differences between a web designer and a web developer? And which one should you use?

It’s easy to get web designers and developers mixed up. They both help design websites, but they’re involved in very different areas.

If you need some quick help finding out which web design service is best for you, take one minute to use our web design comparison tool. It’ll ask you four to five easy questions, and use your answers to match you with web design offers which make the most sense.

Or you can read on for more information, starting with the short answer…

Web Designer vs Web Developer: Quick Overview

Developers build a website’s core structure using coding languages, while designers are more visually creative and user-focused. Developers use their programming knowledge to breathe life into the designer’s creative vision. Think of developers as construction workers, and web designers as architects – both necessary, but different, skill sets.

We’ll dive into the details later where we’ll explain the varieties of web designers and web developers you can have, so you’ll have all the information you need to pick the right option for your site.

Find Out More

Already like the sound of that? Read our guide on How to Hire a Web Designer.

Alternatively, check out our discussion of How to Design a Website for the specifics, or our guide to What is Web Design for the basics.

What Is a Web Designer?

A web designer makes your website look good. They focus on the style and overall feel of the page, using software like Photoshop to customize the website’s visual elements. They also use code like HTML and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) to create their designs.

But wait – there’s more. Web designers usually have a specialism, which we’ll jump into right now.

User Experience (UX) Designer

A UX web designer’s job is to keep your visitors hooked. They know exactly how to craft a website that your specific audience will enjoy because they’ve carried out thorough research into the users’ demographics and website-needs, not to mention tons of prototype testing and site restructuring.

Just think, if people enjoy using your website, they’re more likely to revisit or recommend. So, you can already see how it can help grow your online community. For some inspiration, check out these excellent UX examples.

User Interface (UI) Designer

A UI web designer helps to improve the way users interact with elements, or the interface, on your website. This is done by translating complex brand ideas and values into a website that’s enjoyable and easy to navigate.

How does it differ to UX? It’s a subtle one, really. UX involves research into building a solid foundation for a positive user experience, while UI focuses on the aesthetics (the look and feel) of the actual website.

Visual Designer

A visual designer is a mixture of both UX and UI. It’s their job to not only improve the user journey using their creative and coding skills, but to solve design issues. They also help to conceptualise a brand’s unique style or tone of voice.

In essence, they’re a master of all web design trades and their specific roles can vary hugely depending on what you want.

The Web Design Process

While all web designers will have their own way of doing things, in general web design projects tend to follow a similar process

  1. Identifying the goals and purpose of the website.
  2. Determining the scope and timeline of the project.
  3. Research including audience and competitor analysis.
  4. Sitemap and wireframe creation.
  5. Content and visual element creation.
  6. Testing and tweaks.
  7. Website launch.

Skills and Software

Web designers have a strong understanding of how visual elements work together and are up to date with the latest web design trends. Most web designers also need to be proficient in using software such as Adobe Dreamweaver and InVision Studio as well as working with relevant website builders such as WordPress.

Adobe Dreamweaver
Adobe Dreamweaver is one of the common softwares used by web designers.
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Do You Need a Web Designer?

If you want a professional to design your site, our trusted partner Expert Market can help you get started. Their simple comparison tool recommends the best web design service for your needs and budget.

What Is a Web Developer?

Part of a web developer’s role is to build the a web designer’s concept. Like we said earlier, web developers are similar to those who build, and web designers like the visionaries. A developer usually specializes in designing website apps – a web designer focuses more on what the user will enjoy doing.

How does the relationship between developers and designers work? A web developer builds a website’s framework using software like Javascript and JQuery, aiming to craft a smooth-running website, which web designers then pour their creative juices onto. Like designers, there are specific roles for web developers, which we’ll highlight below.

Back-End Developer

The back-end is where the website’s core structure is designed. These developers are experts in programming and using complex software languages like Java, SQL and C#. The work they do is not seen by users because it involves coding on the web servers and databases, not on the browser (unlike front-end developers, which you’ll soon find out).

In short, their job is to create logical, functional websites using various programmes. They also spend a lot of time testing and fixing bugs.

Front-End Developer

This is also known as client-side development. It’s more connected to web design than back-end development because it involves using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to create things the user can see, like client lead forms.

In summary, like a back-end developer, those developing the front-end have coding skills but they build frameworks the user can actually interact with.

Full-Stack Developer

A full-stack developer works across different layers – or stacks – including both the front and back end. It is essentially the full package when it comes to web development, because they are an expert in all areas.

Skills and Software

Web developers need to be knowledgable in coding and programming languages such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and PHP as well as using JavaScript frameworks such as jQuery.

Like web designers, web developers also need to be proficient at using relevant Content Management Systems (CMS) such as WordPress. The CMS that a developer uses will depend on the website requirements and their own skillset.

A good web developer is also often a great analytical thinker and problem solver, allowing them to find the perfect solutions for any web development project.

WordPress
WordPress is a Content Management System that many web developers will be adept at using.

Web Development Best Practices

  • Keep things separate. HTML, CSS and JavaScript all work differently and developers need to not only understand each, but keep them separate too.
  • Write smart codes. The longer your lines of code are, the more room there is for error. Web developers should ensure each piece of code resolves a problem or achieves a specific goal.
  • Run compatibility testing. Running cross-device and cross-browser tests helps web developers to find and fix flaws before launch.

Differences and Overlaps

There are key differences between web designers and web developers such as:

  • Web designers focus on appearance and usability, while web developers focus on structure and functionality.
  • Web designers create the idea for the website while web developers will determine if that idea is both functionally and financially viable.
  • A web developer role is considerably more technical than a web designer role. While both require a good level of technical knowledge, design skills are much more important for web designers.

While the two roles are fundamentally different, there is some overlap. Both web designers and web developers play a crucial role in building a website from scratch and the two will often work together.

For example, a web designer will often take advice from web developers over what design features will and won’t be possible for the project, while web developers will help designers turn their ideas into a fully-functioning reality.

Do You Need a Web Designer Or a Web Developer?

You now know the differences between a designer and developer. This is important stuff to know because knowing when to hire each one will make your website-related life much easier. For a quick overview on when to choose each one, take a look at our table below.

ProjectWho do you need?
Design a new homepage layoutWeb Designer
Build a new contact formWeb Developer
Create a mobile appWeb Developer
Conceptualise new website brandingWeb Designer
Fix server/hosting issuesWeb Developer
Edit photos and videosWeb Designer

How Much Does a Web Designer Vs Web Developer Cost?

A freelance web designer usually costs between $10-$50 p/h, while hiring a freelance developer normally costs $30-$65 p/h. A medium sized web design agency (which provides both sides of website construction) will cost between $65-$100 p/h for a basic website.

In a lump sum, you’re probably looking at around $6,000 in total for designing a site if you use both developers and designers.

Visit Expert Market

Is a Web Designer the Best Option for You?

If a web designer is what you need, we’d suggest using our trusted partner Expert Market’s web design comparison tool. It’ll show you services and pricing information that suit your budget and needs.

Find Out More

Want to find a freelancer? Read our helpful guide on Where To Find The Best Web Designers and Developers.

Or, if you just want some more detail on pricing, learn more about How Much it Cost to Build a Website.

Alternatively, you can learn more about Shopify-specific developers – such as where to find them, how to find them, and how much they cost – with our guide to Where to Find the Best Shopify Developers.

When Do You Need a Web Designer and Web Developer?

As we’ve mentioned, it doesn’t always have to be one or the other. For instance, building a website from scratch requires both a developer and a designer. After all, teamwork makes the website dream work.

Using a web design agency can be really helpful if, like most people, you don’t have time for creating website pages while juggling invoices and client emails. Or, if you need a website with advanced functionality, an agency full of experts is a great solution.

Find Out More

Fancy trying it yourself? Read more about which website builder is right for you:

Best Website Builders.

Best Free Website Builders.

Website Builder Comparison Chart.

Web Designer Vs Web Developer: Summary

You should now have a more developed knowledge of web design, but let’s just quickly recap what we’ve learned.

The difference between a web developer and a web designer is bigger than you think. A web designer brings a brand’s idea into an on-screen reality, and knows exactly what the specific audience will enjoy. A web developer builds the site’s core structure, using coding languages to construct logical, programmatic websites.

However, just like mustard and ketchup on a hot dog, sometimes you need both to get the best experience. When building a website from nothing, you need a web developer to build the foundation, and web designers to make it look and feel the way you and – more importantly – your users want.

To ensure you make the right choice when it comes to web design services, use our one-minute, 100% free web design comparison tool. Answering four to five quick and easy questions and you’ll be matched with services and quotes that make sense for what you need in a matter of minutes.

FAQs

When looking for a web designer to build your website look for someone who has a strong eye for design and visual features and someone who is up to date on web design trends. Always ask to see a portfolio of their previous work to see if their design style matches your goals.
The best web developers are proficient in coding language such as HTML and CSS and understand the need for websites to function properly. When looking for a web developer look for someone who not only has the technical skills but who is also a great communicator and problem solver.
No! While web designers and developers can create stunning websites, you don’t have to use one, especially if your budget is tight. Website builders such as Wix and Squarespace are built for people with no web design or coding knowledge and can be the perfect choice for beginners.
Written by:
Black and white headshot of Lucy Nixon smiling at the camera
I’ve been a content writer for Website Builder Expert since 2021. Through almost a decade in the digital marketing industry, I’ve built up knowledge on everything from growing ecommerce businesses to building websites. I love breaking down tricky topics into digestible and engaging content for readers. Breaking down the jargon and uncovering the best platforms, tools, and strategies, I’m a meticulous researcher who’s committed to providing our readers with tips and advice that’s tried and tested.

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