Web Designer vs. Web Developer: What’s The Difference?

Adam Tilston

20/04/21

PLUS – Which One Do You Need To Launch Your Website?

Web Designer vs. Web Developer – Round 1 – FIGHT!

There are a lot of rumblings in the digital jungle, one being a HUGE misconception that a website designer and a website developer are one of the same. Couple that with a vicious rumour that both can do everything you need them to when it comes to getting your business online, and confusion is abound.

To be clear, both can technically build a website and make them look good. But, and it’s a big but, unless you find one person that is one of the same (a designer and developer rolled into one superhuman), the two activities are very different.

It’s about time someone attempted to right these wrongs and ended the web designer vs. web developer debate. Read on and you’ll discover what the differences are, how it impacts your businesses digital/online strategy and which ones you will need for specific tasks to do with your website or app.

  • What is a website designer?
  • What is a web developer?
  • Do I need both a designer and a developer?
  • What does it mean for you?

What Is a Website Designer?

In straightforward terms, a web designer is responsible for how your brand spanking new website will look. Their primary role is to build up the user interface, with a keen focus on looks, styles and graphical execution. Now, just because they’re handy at doing this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re graphic designers, that’s a whole other story.

A (good) website designer will:

  • Sketch and create layouts – these will likely be in both mobile and desktop so you get a flavour (always ask to build mobile-first)Articulate the user journey (sometimes referred to as UX – this can be a deep process too)
  • Implement your brand guidelines and rules
  • Drop your content into place
  • Present what your site “will look once live”, for you to sign off and move onto the development stage
  • Optional – develop what is known as the “front end” of your site (what it looks like when working)

They’ll also take into consideration what your site is being built in, whether it be WordPress, Shopify or a completely bespoke coding method. Not all website designers will be able to use all systems. Some will classify themselves as WordPress website designers, or Shopify website designers.

Are we, the mighty C&C, web designers?

Web designers tend to focus on how the website looks and works for the intended user. The fancy stuff, such as choosing colour palettes, images, text layout and fonts all sit-in design, along with making sure your new website is super user friendly. So, yep!

For Code and Create, our “tech stack” from the front end design looks like this:

  • We build our sketches, user experience processes and mock user interfaces in Figma
  • We build in WordPress with a homegrown clean theme, nothing off the shelf.
  • We can build in a web framework, with a focus on using:
    • Clean React
    • Gatsby with WordPress for headless CMS builds
    • We can also build completely static in raw HTML and CSS

What Is a Web Developer?

Web developers can be designers too – let’s get that out of the way first! 

However, web devs tend to focus on other aspects of the process, such as creating the systems to make your site work – aka your engine. Sure, your new site might look like the StarShip Enterprise circa the Picard era, but if it’s built like Sputnik 1, you’re going to be in a lot of trouble when it comes to launch (space jokes). 

Like with website designers, there are many types of web developers. Some can develop apps (native or web apps), and some can create bespoke software. There are also Full Stack Developers, who can make pretty much anything (and charge what they want). 

All web developers will use various coding languages and programming languages to complete their work. And Carl has this to say about what Code and Create bring to the dev table.

“On the Web App front, we can break it down as follows:

  • .NET core / C# / SQL Server backend
    • MVC framework builds
    • Web API builds
  • Javascript front end apps with React or Vue
    • React is the exclusive front end with API to drive data
    • Vue we use complementary with an HTML/MVC driven site to introduce advanced functionality
    • JS libraries and extensions of choice such as data tables”

Designers and developers have a symbiotic relationship (hence why the business is called Code and Create, we do both). They work together to create the finalised product for the client in a functional, beautiful app or website.

Do I Need Both Web Designer & Web Developer?

Yes.
.
..

Well, yes and no, so it’s not just a one-word answer! In a nutshell, start thinking about a web developer as someone who can make the components for the website work. The designer makes sure everything looks the best it can be, aesthetically.

Do you need both? It all depends on your brief (you ALWAYS need a BRIEF).

How complex does your site need to be? If it requires multiple logins, checkouts, account creation, extension security, logic that only Mr Spock can comprehend (back to Star Trek), AND it’s there to do a job rather than act as a brand statement – you might just need a web developer who has some design skills.

However, if your goal is to engage with an audience, convey a message, help users buy your products in the simplest way, then a website designer is your choice in battle.

But, here’s why you had a one-word answer before. Breaking it down into that simpler explanation is not ideal – a website designer can create functional websites using existing software, such as Shopify and WordPress. Most even know some basic CSS and other coding languages to make the site “do things” that they want it to.

To reiterate, it simply comes down to the complexities of your brief (get in touch if you want a briefing template to use). The more complex, the more likely you’ll need a web developer.

Web Designer vs. Web Developer: The Difference, In Summary

Style vs substance. Looks vs performance. A DeLorean (looked great, couldn’t get past 88 mph) vs. Herbie the VW (looked odd next to supercars, but 0 – 60 in minus 3 seconds). 

Web designers will make something look good, it’ll be user-focused and they’ll aim to guarantee your site works on the customers level. 

Web developers make the core aspects of the site work, such as logic, where buttons point to, guaranteeing there are no breakages in the links. 

The good news is that most agencies have both on their teams. If you’re getting a little lost with it all still and you’d like further advice, or have Carl talk about web development for 60 minutes, non-stop, completely free of charge, just give us a shout. Here are some things we did earlier too.