Web Design vs. Web Development: What’s the difference? (Part 2)

by Sep 1, 2020

Learn the difference between web design and web development and what you might need for your website.

In this two-part article, learn the difference between web design and web development and what you might need for your website (the answer may surprise you).

Read Web Design vs. Web Development: What’s the difference? (Part one) ›

So what IS the difference? A recap introduction:

In the early days of the web, the question “What’s the difference between web design and web development?” was really easy to answer:

designers design and developers code.

As I stated in the first part of the article, it’s not hard to find a web designer who doesn’t know a little code, and most web developers can quickly add a little style to a web page to make it look presentable.

But I said, and this bears repeating: there are fundamental differences between the two. If you are looking to find someone to build your website, then you should know the difference and the roles each skillset plays in building a website your clients will love.

Web design versus web development – the short version revisited:

Web Development Theme Design Mockups

In part one, I also wrote this: “Web design refers to the aesthetic portion of the website and its usability. Web designers combine the website’s objectives with various programs and software to create the layout and other visual elements of the website. Web design’s counterpart, web development, is all about taking a design and, using programming languages and framework systems, build it out and make it operational. Web development has everything to do with how websites work behind the scenes. It is the programming required to construct a website and build out the way the website functions.”

Now that the stage is set for part two, let’s go!


What is Web Development? What does a Web Developer do? Let’s look closer . . . .

Good web developers have a working knowledge of how different coding languages work together and are very good at creating programming solutions to meet customer’s needs. The term “web development” is a very broad description of a huge multitude of coding skillsets. I’ve noticed over the years this term can cover anything from someone who does design and front-end website development to someone who does only back-end website programming and everything in between; there are a lot of overlaps.

Side note: Industry professionals refer to people who do everything “Unicorns,” but for the purposes of this article, I’ll first cover two variations on a theme: front-end development and back-end development.

Front-End Website Development

Front-end website development is the process of taking the visual design of a website and building it using code. The visual design can be something they received from a visual designer, or something they created themselves (again, overlapping duties here). The front-end developer may use several different coding and scripting languages to develop the website. They should be able to use HTML, CSS, and JavaScript or PHP at the very least. HTML is used for site structure, CSS is used for making the site pretty, and JavaScript and PHP are used for behavior.

Let’s again compare this to building a house.

In web development, HTML is the foundation, framing, plumbing, and wiring. CSS is the drywall, carpet, flooring, curtains, and any other item that makes it look good. JavaScript and PHP are what makes the doors and windows open, the water faucet turns on and water runs through it, the toilet flush, and the lights go on and off with the switch. Many projects only require front-end development to complete.

Back-End Website Development

Back-end website development is the process of programming what goes on behind the scenes of a website. Typically, back-end developers are only dealing with more advanced coding and programming. They deal with databases and making sure everything functions. They are much less concerned with design, layout, and aesthetics and more concerned with making sure that things work fully. Back-end developers may also be called upon to create new functionality from scratch if there are no existing solutions.

Web Design Unicorn

The Mythical Web Design Unicorn at work!

Putting Web Design and Web Development in the Blender; the Unicorn

As I mentioned in part one, the “unicorns” in the industry have skillsets in both web design and web development. This is called “cross knowledge.” I believe that people can be both a designer and developer and I consider myself both. I use both those skillsets on a daily basis for client projects. A bit about how I got there:

I started out years ago learning graphic design and layout / print design in a small print shop. I worked in that industry for many years. In the early 2,000s I started teaching myself to code; just basic HTML and then CSS. Here was a medium where I could use both the visual design that I was so fond of AND the logical side of code and programming that I was learning to love; I could blend them both! I went back to school and got a Bachelor of Science degree in Web Design and Interactive Media with a focus on Web Development (I graduated in 2014). Since then I’ve been building websites right along with various graphic design projects. I enjoy doing graphic design, web design, and web development. One of the most fun things for me is learning a new coding language or updating my existing coding skills and I like to keep them as up to date as possible.

My point? Cross knowledge is helpful.

The ability to code basic pages can help the web designer better understand what a web developer needs, and what is (and isn’t) possible in a website design. Cross knowledge is extremely helpful for the web designer who may be most comfortable using visual design programs like Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator. Conversely, web developers who have even a basic understanding of visual design, user interface design, and user experience design can make intelligent choices when they work on the code for the pages and interactions for their projects.

If you get nothing else from this two-part article remember this main point: to design and build a website, you probably need to find someone with both web design and web development skillsets. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, and it may be a company like mine – e design studio, LLC – who does both.

Wrapping up part 2

Now that you have more knowledge about the difference between developers and designers (from reading my two blog posts), you will have a better idea of what you need when looking for help to build your website. If you are ever in question, this table is a great guide to help you figure out what you need for any particular piece of a project:

Project Who you need for the project
Design new home page / website design 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, graphics, or videos Web Designer

 

While the difference between a web designer and web developer is more extensive than you might think, just like toppings on a hamburger, you can pick and choose what you need, however sometimes you need everything to get the best finished product. At the end of the day, designers and developers are working toward the same goal; to create a website that is both beautiful and functional and, more importantly, one which attracts visitors. Design and development must be sound, must work together in tandem toward the desired result, which is not only bringing visitors to your website, but also to engage them to the point that they become your client or customer.

Thanks for reading!

This is part two of a two-part article. Read Web Design vs. Web Development: What’s the difference? (Part one) ›

e design studio LLC logo mark

About the author

Tracy Trathen, Owner and Designer, e design studio, LLC

Tracy Trathen, Owner and Designer, e design studio, LLC

Photo by: Rachel Rausch Photography

Tracy Trathen is the owner and designer at e design studio, LLC. She has a bachelor of science degree in Web Design and Interactive Media, and has over 10 years of web and graphic design experience.

Tracy is also a musician and performs around the Portland, Oregon area with the vocal group Trouble with Trebles. She is an avid hockey fan as well and spends many evenings each month cheering on the Portland Winterhawks hockey club.