Web Designer or Web Developer: What’s The Difference?

DifferenceMany business owners aren’t clear on the difference between a web developer and a web designer. They know they need someone to create a website for them. But, without understanding the roles of web professionals, business owners have trouble hiring the right person and communicating their needs effectively. From the perspective of web professionals, clients who don’t understand what to expect can be hard work.

The divisions we’re about to discuss are somewhat arbitrary. Web professionals are capable of wearing different hats. Some designers are happy to offer front-end development services, for example. Nevertheless, an understanding of what the terms web designer and web developer mean will help business owners get the site they want with less stress, confusion, and expense.

Web Designer

Web designers create the appearance of a website. They design the layout, branding, color schemes, typography, and other aspects that impact how the site looks.

A person who offers only web design services does not code the website. They use tools like Sketch and Photoshop to create images that represent the appearance of the site, and other assets.

Designers fall into two major camps, graphic designers and UX designers. For smaller web projects, the same person may fill both roles, but larger projects might use several graphic and user experience designers.

If you hire a web designer, the deliverables you can expect include wireframes of the site, graphic design assets that might include logos and illustrations, and a mockup of the site as a Photoshop file.

Web Developers

Web developers are responsible for building a website based on the deliverables supplied by a designer. There are two basic types of web developer: the front-end developer and the back-end developer.

Front-End Developers

Front-end developers are responsible for converting the design into a functioning website. Working with the design deliverables, they build out a web page’s structure in HTML and style it with CSS. Front-end developers also use Javascript to add interactivity, animations, and the loading of data from other sites and services via APIs.

Put simply, a front-end developer is responsible for creating the code that runs in the user’s web browser.

Back-End Developers

Most modern websites are divided into code that runs in the browser and code that runs on the server. Back-end developers write the code that runs on the server, including the code the interacts directly with the site’s database and the code behind any APIs the server-side application provides.

Back-end developers use a huge range of different tools and programming languages. If your site requires a bespoke content management system or eCommerce solution, it’s likely you will be working with a back-end developer.

Blurred Lines

These distinctions are helpful, but largely artificial. Many designers are also front-end developers. Some back-end developers are also front-end developers. All developers specialize in specific languages and technologies, which may or may not be right for your site.

When hiring a web professional, ensure that you understand their individual capabilities and services. Any decent web professional will be happy to supply you with a list of their deliverables — the concrete product they will provide.

Matthew Davis is a technical writer and Linux geek for Future Hosting.

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