What is the Difference Between a Web Designer and a Web Developer?

When I am asked what I do for a living, I tell people that I am web designer.

Most people accept this to mean that I build websites. However, when I tell someone within the web building industry that I am a web designer, they generally seek further clarification.

In fact, I am actually a web designer, a front-end web developer and a back-end web developer.

Within the industry, this is often referred to as a full stack web developer.

But what exactly is a web designer? or a web developer for that matter? and what do they do?

To put things into simple terms, the relationship between a web designer and a web developer has a lot of similarities to that of an architect and a builder.

Although they are entirely different professions, for a project to be completed at it’s best they will generally need to work together.

Web design application working on a website

Salary Information

Before we go any further, lets take a look at the salaries of the two professions.

According to PayScale.com, the median annual salary for a web designer in Australia is approximately $55,000.

The median annual salary for a web developer in Australia is approximately $59,000.

However, these results should be taken with a grain of salt as the actual take home pay will vary greatly depending on location and experience.

Overall, there is not a large difference between the two however a web developer will generally be paid gradually more as a result of demand and supply.

With the pay out of the way, lets take a closer look at the individual job descriptions.

Group of Australian cash notes laid out on a table

Web Designer: A Closer Look

There are two major components to any web designer, they are 'designer' or 'design' and 'web' or 'website'.

Design includes: balance, contrast, emphasis, rhythm and unity. It also includes the design elements such as lines, shapes, texture, colour and direction.

Using these components alone is enough to 'design' a website, however, an experienced web designer knows that this in itself is only half the job.

The other half of the job is combining all of these elements within the constraints of the 'web'.

Computer showing website services being performed

Web covers everything from user ability (UI) and user experience (UX) to form and function.

Having a website which looks stunning but has a navigation bar which is difficult to use will create a poor user experience and thus, create a high bounce rate.

Please note: Bounce rate is determined by the percentage of people leaving a website after viewing only 1 page. Generally, websites with a higher bounce rate are considered to be of poorer quality, usually not fulfilling the users requirements.

There are several courses which can be taken to become a web designer. However, there are no minimum educational requirements which must be completed in order to become a web designer.

One of the more common courses many aspirational web designers take is Certificate 4 in Web Based Technologies.

Web applications being designed around a mobile phone

Most web designer's will have a good understanding of most of the following, if not all:

Software

Using software tools such as Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator to help design and build the final layout design of the website.

Having good skills in graphic design, which may also include logo design.

User Experience

Have a good understanding for user experience, being able to make sure that the website is easy to use whilst still providing all the information the user would typically expect to find on the page.

This will usually include a variety of elements such as the layout, buttons (including call to action buttons) and images.

Group of buttons in various colours

User Interface

It is also important to keep the design of a website consistent. This way it will make the user feel more 'at home' when they are browsing pages of a website but also for when they decide to return at a later date.

This will also make the interface easier to navigate as it is already familiar to the users eyes.

Ongoing Research

Design trends are continually changing and evolving. For this reason web designers need to stay up to date by regularly researching new ideas and concepts as well as communicating with other web designers.

Colour and Branding

Web designers will also need to keep in mind the branding of the website.

Will they be creating a website for a premium brand like Hugo Boss or will they building it for a more mainstream brand like Bonds.

It is crucial to select the correct colour scheme and typography to exemplify the desired qualities.

Group of crayons in various colours

Summary

From the description above you will notice that there is a large focus on visual design and user functionality.

A web designer will generally not perform any hard coding however it is desirable to have at least a basic understanding as it will assist the designer to have a better understanding of what is and isn't possible for the developer.

This will help the designer to work better in unison with the developer. That is because it will reduce the likelihood of the developer asking the designer to redesign certain elements because of 'web' constraints rendering their original design concept impossible.

Web Developer: A Closer Look

In a nutshell, a web developers role is take the concepts which the web designer has created, and turn them into a functioning website.

There are two variants of a web developer, the front-end developer and the back-end developer

Group of web develpment tools being used to help with writing the development code for a website

Front-end Developer

The front-end developer's role is to turn the web designer's layout concepts into code. It includes everything which the browser will render on the client side.

For example, almost everything a user will see when visiting a web page. This will include but is not limited to the copy (text), images and colours

As with the web designer there are no set minimum requirements to become a front-end web developer however some of the more common coding languages used are:

Laptop with web development code on the screen

Back-end Developer

The back-end developer's job is to code everything which the user generally does not see.

For example, when a user inputs a query string into a calculator, the back-end developer has the role of making sure that the calculator calculates the correct answer and then displays this answer on the calculator’s screen.

Back-end code is generally run by the server as opposed to front-end code which is handled by the browsers being used by the visitor to the website.

If a web page is continually crashing or displaying error messages it is almost always as a result of the back-end code not being coded correctly.

Back web developer using several programs

Again, as with the front-end developer and web designer there are no set minimum course requirements requiring completion to become a back-end web developer.

There are a myriad of programs which can be used by a back-end developer to complete their tasks however most are all interchangeable.

The decision to chose one over others is usually one of personal preference unless the company they work for choose to work with only certain programs.

Some of the main programs used are: Ruby, Python, SQL, PHP and Java. Back-end program icons

Is it possible to be a Web Designer and Web Developer?

Let me answer that question by asking a question.

Can a tennis coach also be a soccer coach?

The roles of web designer or web developer (front-end or back-end) can be rolled into one, also known as a full stack website developer or they can also be stand alone roles.

The decision to combine the roles or keep them seperate will often be determined by the size of the company or agency they are working for.

For example, in a company like Google or Facebook, where there are thousands of web developers and designers the roles will typically be more specialised and thus kept in seperate roles.

Group of social media icons

In Conclusion

Is is the goal of both web designer's and web developer's alike to create a website which creates an enticing, and user friendly experience for the user.

Ultimately, it is vital to ensure that all coding has been completed error-free, works seamlessly to provide a hassle free experience and consequently, keeps the user coming back for more.