Web developers and web designers engage in complementary efforts to produce a quality website. It may be easy to conclude that one is programming while the other just designs.

However, while the primary functions of each position are different, they share some overlapping skills. Therefore, as you think about a web designer vs. web developer, understand that while different, they are both equally important to the outcome.

A good website requires both web developers and designers to create a visually pleasing, user-friendly, functional brand that results in conversions. The goal is to achieve synergy between the design and its implementation. Achieving this requires first-rate web designers and developers.

Here, we will illuminate their differences and similarities and demonstrate how they work together to produce results.

Web Developer and Web Designer: What is Their Major Difference?

The major difference, with some overlap, is that web design generally focuses on the look and feel of a site. In contrast, web development is focused primarily on its backend coding and functionality. These are two halfs of the whole in website creation.

Web designers focus on the visual appeal of a site. They are graphic designers. Their task is to take an actual website, or to create one from scratch, and turn it into a site that users find visually appealing and easy to navigate. They must match their skills to the client’s wishes.

Web developers are in charge of building the website’s core structure. This requires proficiency in several programming languages. The languages they use to develop websites are contingent on the type of developer they are. Developers must match their skills to the designer’s vision.

Role in Building Websites

Within a web design process, both designers’ and web developers’ work play a critical role in producing the final website. They can be thought of as the substance and the style of the website development world. The graphic artists focus on the aesthetics of the site’s layout and overall appearance. Web developers work on its core structural design and functionality. For it to be successful, both must work together.

Traits

It is essential to understand that the traits necessary for designers and web developers extend beyond their traditional training. For example, web designers must have excellent communication skills. These communication skills allow them to convey ideas effectively and set client expectations. Likewise, web developers must be able to think analytically and problem-solve.

Skill Sets

html and css image concept

Web designers and web developers need to have a variety of skill sets which will depend, in some measure, on the specific type of web design or web development in which they specialize.

A successful web designer has strong technical mastery of the following processes:

Conversely, a web developer, whether front-end, back-end, or full-stack, requires an understanding of programming languages, complex software languages, and software development. Generally, developers possess a robust technical mastery of the following skills:

  • Coding and programming languages such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and PHP
  • Content Management Systems (CMS)
  • JavaScript frameworks, including jQuery
  • Testing web applications
  • Debugging of a web app
  • Mobile apps
  • Back-ends, servers, and databases
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Tools and Programs They Use

Web designers hone their creative intuition and senses to deliver eye-popping graphic design results for users, with assistance from the many specialty tools at their disposal. The tools available today certainly make their job more accessible and efficient, but as with any tool, they must understand how to use it to be effective.

The most popular and widely available tools on the market today include the following:

  • Adobe Creative Cloud
  • Balsamiq
  • Figma
  • Flinto
  • InVision
  • Material
  • Design
  • Miro
  • Mock Flow
  • Photoshop
  • Proto
  • Sketch
  • Zeplin

A web developer has access to countless tools, with new ones created regularly. Different projects require different tools, and a vast knowledge of the tools available and competency in their use is essential.

Typically, an experienced web developer will have command of the following tools and systems that are common in the field:

  • WordPress or other CMS’s
  • AngularJS
  • Chrome DevTools
  • GitHub
  • Grunt
  • Lighthouse
  • MongoDB
  • MySQL
  • Postman
  • Ruby on Rails
  • Sublime Text
  • TypeScript

A web designer and a web developer will stick out from the crowd with the more tools they have mastered.

Portfolio

A web designer and a web developer need to have an online portfolio of their work. A portfolio is essentially their resume or CV. Both should include examples of their recent work, name, contact information, education, and skill sets.

A web designer should also list their proficiency in specific design tools and any programming skills in HTML and CSS. A web developer should list all programming skills and languages as well as competency in particular tools.

Their Similarities

There are many similarities between web designers and developers, and some people become skilled in both fields. The two groups share specific skills. For example, web designers and developers are proficient in HTML and CSS.

In addition, a web developer and a web designer share the same goal — a high-performing website. Achieving this requires collaboration between web developers and web designers. As with any collaborative effort, they work together seamlessly to produce a finished product that exceeds customer expectations.

Types of Web Designers

ux and ui image concept

A web designer will typically have a specialty in either user experience (UX), user interface (UI), or Visual design. Here are the qualities of each type of web designer:

User Experience (UX)

UX designers focus on crafting a website to match the needs and wants of the target demographic. To do this, they conduct detailed research into the habits of your users. This requires significant testing, trial and error, modification, and site restructuring.

User Interface (UI)

UI designers improve the way users interact with the site through user interfaces. That sounds like a mouthful, and it is! A UI web designer must enhance and optimize a site. The goal is to lead to a greater number of user conversions.

Visual

A visual web designer possesses the skills of both the UX and UI web designer. Their skill set allows them to operate as a visual designer and use their coding skills. Visual designers work on all facets of web design, including brand creation.

Types of Web Developers

man typing with different programming languages floating to his head

There are three primary subcategories of web developers: front-end, back-end, and full stack. Each requires proficiency in different programming languages and skills.

Front-end Developer

Front-end developers, also known as client-side developers, are responsible for the website’s visual elements — the side the client interacts with most frequently. Consequently, they work closely with all three types of web designers. They rely on coding languages such as CSS, HTML, and Javascript to achieve this. However, front-end developers must also be skilled in content management systems (CMS).

Back-end Developer

Backend developers, also known as server-side developers, are responsible for coding the web servers and database that allow the site to function. To achieve this, they rely on more advanced programming languages and programming knowledge, including Java, PHP, Ruby, C#, Java, SQL, and NodeJS, in the development process. Since users do not see this work on the site, they are called back-end developers.

While both front-end and back-end developers spend their time writing code, there are key differences between them. For example, back-end development, unlike front-end development, does not impact the visual aspects of a site but its technical aspects.

Full-stack Developer

Full-stack web developers are familiar with coding languages for the front-end and back-end of the website because they engage in both. As a result, they possess a solid foundation on how the front and back-end work together to create functional websites.

In addition to coding in all of the languages used by front and back developers, full-stack developers have the technical skills to configure servers, query databases, and code application programming interfaces known as APIs.

Why A Web Designer Also Needs To Be Familiar With Web Development

web developer teaching basics of web development to a designer

Web designers do not live in a vacuum. Their creative visual designs must be possible for the web developer to construct. Moreover, there is already basic familiarity, at least in the client-side aspects of both jobs.

Do Web Developers Need to Understand The Design?

Yes. A web developer must bring functionality to the web designer’s work. While they need not be proficient in web design, they must understand the web designer’s job and design to be effective.

Generally, there is a good deal of collaboration between the front-end developer and the web designers on a project. Understanding what designers are responsible for and what they can and cannot do can help the developer avoid wasting time on front-end projects that never come to fruition.

When Do You Need a Web Designer or a Web Developer? 

Whether you need a web designer or developer depends on correctly identifying the problem you need to solve. For example, if you need a new layout for your web pages, edited photos, or entirely new branding, you need someone trained in web design. On the other hand, you need a web developer if you need new functionality on your site, including forms, server issues, or a mobile app.

Should You Hire a Web Developer and a Web Designer?

You likely need to hire both if you need new branding, design, and development. For example, a web designer and a web developer can work together to make your site more useful to your target audience and drive conversions with seamless functionality.

Web Developer vs. Web Designer: Which Career Is Right for You?

man choosing between two paths to take

Choosing a career between web designer vs. web developer can be challenging, as many of the skills overlap. This is especially true between client-side developers and web designers. They are familiar with HTML and CSS, and both jobs are client-facing.

It may be helpful when deciding designer vs. web developer to think of the jobs, and their specialties, on a continuum. On one end, you have the artistic and creative visual designers. On the other end, a web-developer spends a good portion of their day problem-solving and engaging in analytical thinking. So, are you more of a right-brain or left-brain person?

Of course, salary also matters. Many people deciding between the two paths believe web development pays more than web design. However, a closer examination reveals that the pay is quite competitive depending on your specialties in each field. For example, the average salary for web development is $71,497, while the average web design salary is $47,590. However, a UX web design job has an average salary of $94,454.

Of course, if designer vs. web developer is too difficult a decision, you can always be both!

Learning To Be Both

Nothing is stopping you from pursuing both skill sets. Since many of the skills overlap, putting in the time will make you more familiar with all the intricacies of either job. Web developers and web designers work hard to achieve results. If you have both the right and left brain mind and the motivation to succeed at both, merge them into your ideal career.

Rodney Warner

Founder & CEO

Rodney’s two primary responsibilities are business development and marketing strategy. He produces highly effective marketing campaigns for our clients and works tirelessly to bring new opportunities to Connective and our connections. In his off time, he produces music, plays video games, enjoys his family, and eats way too much ice cream!

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