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


When trying to determine the best path for a freelance career, many people gravitate toward web design or web development. For newcomers to this world, the similarities and differences can be confusing. While there is an overlap between the two roles, there are some notable differences.

Here are the differences between web designers and web developers, and how they work together.

What Does a Web Developer Do?

A web developer works on the back end of a website to create the proper framework and flow. Businesses will often hire a web development company to create a custom site that suits their needs and optimizes the customer journey.

Developers work with coding languages to program a site that suits their client’s vision. Meanwhile, they’re tasked with making the back-end functionality as streamlined as possible to adhere to SEO best practices and maintain an acceptable site speed.

Working with a developer has numerous benefits. A developer can create a responsive web design that works across various applications. Outsourcing this task can save companies time and money compared to using premade templates.

What Does a Web Designer Do?

A web designer takes a more graphic design-centric approach to creating a website. Rather than focusing on the programming aspect, they specialize in creating something dynamic and visually appealing. For many companies, their website ties into their overarching brand strategy. Having consistency here can improve the customer experience as they navigate the website.

One of the benefits of working with a web designer, is that they can create a visual outline that fits your brand. Many out-of-the-box templates are generic and recognizable. Their overall feel might not suit your core brand standards.

Designers are also creatively minded and can turn a company’s ideas into something they wouldn’t have otherwise envisioned.

Forward Facing Design Elements

In essence, a designer works on forward-facing design elements. This could include everything from the color scheme, to the typeface, even how your homepage is organized as a visitor navigates it. They are experts at keeping things organized and adding subtle touches that compel visitors to keep clicking throughout the site.

Deeper User Experience Considerations

Developers have a more methodical, logic-based approach to creating a website. Whereas a designer knows where to place buttons to keep people moving forward, a developer can predict where customers will get bottlenecked and how to create an intuitive flow.

In many ways, the developer is an expert in creating a deeper user experience.

How Designers and Developers Work Together

There are many overlaps between the two roles, which is why the titles are often used interchangeably. For example, a web designer might create an eye-catching button that triggers the transaction process on an e-commerce site. The developer might code the audible click sound when the button is pressed to indicate that the site is working, making the UX more immersive and intuitive.

The design plan for the front end of the website will ultimately impact what needs to happen on the back end, and vice versa. Working with a team that has both developers and designers or a freelancer who is skilled in both areas can be incredibly beneficial for businesses.

Which is Right for You?

If you’re trying to determine whether you should be a designer or developer, consider your skillset: are you creatively inclined with a strong penchant for marketing or branding? Conversely, are you more technologically savvy with a passion for programming?

Start with your existing skill set or interests, and dedicate yourself to continued learning as time goes by. Consider reaching out to shadow other freelancers in each field before making your decision.