What’s the Difference Between a Web Designer and Web Developer?

Almost everywhere you look someone is talking about or calling themselves either a web designer or web developer. But what does it all really mean?

Who really is a designer or developer? Can you be both?

SEE ALSO: 15 Inspiring Lessons From Medium Posts

While this can be a topic of hot debate, we help break down the terms, what they mean and how they relate to each other.

A Designer’s Job

Web Designer and Web Developer

First, it is important to really think about each job on it’s own.

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A web designer uses graphics and graphic design software (think Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign) to create a look for the web. This design is then married with coding to bring it to life online.

The designer may not always be the person writing the code and in some cases can work independently of the team who will take a website design live.

Much of a designer’s job is creative and uses both intuition and imagination, often characteristics of people who are considered right-brained. People in this field may continue their educations in a variety of fields but are most commonly drawn to graphic design and the arts. Designers collect work portfolios to showcase their projects for potential employers.

The best designers have a strong grasp on a variety of concepts including color and typography, spacial relationships, audience and user experience.

A Developer’s Job

A Developer's Job

While aspects of a developer’s job may resemble that of a designer, it can be quite different as well.

A web developer builds the backbone of websites, typically from the ground up, and knows languages specific to the web. HTML, Javascript, JQuery and CSS are among the tools in their kit. Developers, historically, don’t focus on making something look visually appealing but create websites with clean code and that are technically sound.

Web developers are often thought of as left-brained workers. Skills from technical ability and thinking to logic are an essential part of their repertoires. Web developers may have degrees in a variety of fields such as computer science or programming. Most employers will require a portfolio during the hiring process.

The best developers are often detail-oriented and are keen on specifics.

Two Jobs, One Goal

At the end of the day, both web designers and web developers are working toward a singular goal – to create a website or app that entices and attracts users.

To do this, both the design and development must be sound. A site needs to look good and function properly. The colors and imagery need to reflect the brand and the interface needs to encourage visitors to take a desired action.

The defined lines between designers and developers are becoming more blurred as more designers are learning to code and more developers are paying close attention to design theory. (Just one of the reasons why design and development articles and tutorials are so popular.) We are all beginning to see that the future of the field includes the title web designer/developer.

Working Together

Working Together

One of the toughest parts about web design and development can be working together and communicating in a way that everyone understands. There is so much jargon on each side that it can make working together hard if you don’t consider your words carefully.

Here are a few tips for bridging the communication gap:

  • Avoid jargon.
  • Show, don’t tell, people how things should look or work. If you don’t know how to explain something, bring a working sketch or example to meetings.
  • Be open to ideas. Designers should accept design concepts from developers, and developers should be open to user experience ideas from designers.
  • Learn more about how the other part of the web creation process works. Read up about things you don’t know a lot about and ask questions.

Can You Be a Designer and Developer?

All of these differences seem to imply that designers and developers are two very different jobs or roles.

But they don’t have to be.

You can be a designer and developer at the same time. More people are beginning to label themselves in this way and it is becoming an in-demand skill-set. Design and development are converging for a number of people and even for designers who never considered learning development and vice versa.

I am even one of those people. A bit of a personal story:

I came up as a designer working in print design. I had no idea how websites worked or why, nor did I consider building them.

That all changed a few years ago when I realized that websites could and should be just as beautiful as printed things. And I would be more valuable as a worker and more satisfied in my job if I could learn both skills.

So I started learning to code. I won’t admit to knowing a lot about code. I do know enough to be dangerous.

But I can talk to developers and understand the language. It has made it easier for me to work with developers on projects and hopefully it has made developers appreciate working with a designer who gets where they are coming from.

Now just think if I had learned design and development simultaneously like many of the people just starting their careers.

So … the answer is yes. You can be both a designer and developer. You will probably always be better at one, but your goal should be to have some aptitude in each.

Conclusion

So how do you classify yourself and your work? Share it with us in the comments. We love to know about the people who are part of the Designmodo community.

Carrie Cousins has more than 10 years experience in the communications industry, including writing for print and online publications, and design and editing. You can connect with her on Twitter @carriecousins and Google+.

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57 Comments
  1. McCall Bliss Oct 15, 2:54 pm

    This was a pretty awesomely concise definition of the difference between the two. There’s definitely a fine line between development and design since they almost always influence each other, but this article helped pinpoint the main objectives of both sides.

    Too bad there’s not a word for someone who does both! I’d love to label myself that. Perhaps a creative technologist?

    Reply
    +30
    • Ivanov Karmazov Oct 15, 4:14 pm

      Web Development Artist. :D

      Reply
      +23
    • Kristina Oct 18, 5:25 am

      Someone once called me a ‘devigner’ hehe. ;)

      Great article!

      Reply
      +36
    • Chozen Jun 20, 4:09 pm

      I’m the same as you, I’m versatile in both Dev & Design, which is just two sides of the same coin. The term that’s been getting passed around a lot lately is Hybrid.

      Reply
      0
      • Warre Jun 20, 10:46 pm

        Not really a fan of that term. I prefer “Deviner”. Both designer and developer. :)

        Reply
        0
  2. CSS Lover Oct 15, 2:56 pm

    Nicely done. I’m trying to be the both – learning Graphic and Web design for that. And Designmodo is one of my fav places to learn design and get inspire :)

    Reply
    +4
  3. Joko Wandiro Oct 15, 2:58 pm

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

    Reply
    -76
  4. Amy Oct 15, 3:20 pm

    I think that the information architecture of a site is a key element of its effectiveness. Designers can create attractive and helpful visual hierarchy that developers can code, but figuring out how to best organize the site can be a challenge. In your experience, who is best suited for this? Sometimes there is a third person who is part of the initial design team who can think this through alongside the designer.

    Reply
    +8
    • Darwin Santos Oct 15, 5:56 pm

      I totally agree. In my experience that key decision making of what goes where and what goes in and what to leave out, is the most time consuming task of making a website or a web based app. In the end everything revolves around content.

      Reply
      0
    • Jennifer Wagner Oct 15, 6:02 pm

      Ahh, the missing person(s) you are thinking of is the User Experience and or Information Architect. They lay the foundation for great design. Of course, all designers should have an understanding of UX (its what we do, really) but a UX expert can make those decisions based on testing, etc. and provide a wireframe as a guide to both designer and developer.

      Reply
      +7
  5. Ivanov Karmazov Oct 15, 4:13 pm

    I work as lead designer for PhaseWare Inc. My role here is that of designer and front end developer. It’s a very strenuous role. My degree is in Computer Science and a minor in Graphic Design. Sadly, I like graphic design better but it was not an option to me when starting college. I am glad to know I am both a designer and a developer. I can do a beautiful design and then make it reality without any other parties present. I too wish there was a term for folks that can do both design and development.

    Reply
    +4
  6. Darwin Santos Oct 15, 5:54 pm

    In my case I went to college for both things, computer science and then graphic design.
    I remember couple years ago I read the term “Web Craftsman” to refer to a Web Developer/Designer or vice versa. I personally like the term, it’d be nice if it’d stick.
    I like it because I’ve caught myself making icons and comparing fonts then later on the same day, designing a database and coding server side functions to retrieve that data.
    At the end of the day I want to be credited for both, the fancy icon and the blazing fast database behind that app or website. I’d vote for “Web Craftsman” or “Web Specialist”

    Reply
    +7
  7. Mithicher Oct 15, 9:09 pm

    Thanks….Nice Explanation…cleared my doubts.

    Reply
    +1
  8. Warre Oct 15, 9:42 pm

    Well, you even have a university course for that at Belgium, to become a web designer, developer, iOS developer, Motion graphic artist, UX designer, … Check out http://www.devine.be

    I’m one of those students, and being able to do all of those is just awesome. When I got a client that contacts me to set up a website I can build it up from scratch and finish it, all by myself.

    Reply
    +6
  9. 1Plus0.com Oct 15, 9:46 pm

    When I jumped on the scene working at organic.com you had a choice. Designer or Developer? I choose designer. I think that being skilled in both is a plus regardless. But being a designer and someone who is trying to push the limits needs a strong back up developer who can put your visions into something applicable. I think knowing the limitations and freedom of client vs customer has a lot to do with it. I could design/have a vision for a client but does that translate to the clients at hand? Remember in the industry we’re restricted by the customer. Sure I could have an awesome HTML5/CSS3 site I designed, but is that right for 50+ Women? Probably not. What are they viewing the website on? So again, it’s sad but in a true agency you need to know your crowd. How far can you push the concept and development vs what’s needed and viable. Being a designer you have to shelve you’re futuristic visions for the client at hand. Most designers are trying to design for other designers approval. That’s not reality, it’s all about client needs.

    Reply
    +6
    • Darwin Santos Oct 15, 9:53 pm

      Totally agree. Designing for the wrong crowd is like selling heart medication to teenagers. pointless. Indeed the client’s needs dictate the do’s and don’ts when creating an app/service.

      Reply
      +3
  10. Jean Marie Bauhaus Oct 15, 10:53 pm

    I’m both — always have been. I started teaching myself both design and development back in the ’90s. I wish there was a more succinct way to convey this than “web designer/developer,” since that’s kind of a mouthful and harder to fit in a Twitter bio. For that reason I usually just refer to myself as a web designer.

    (And an unrelated note to the author – my maiden name is Cousins.)

    Reply
    +2
  11. Mike Oct 16, 3:01 am

    Traditional designers struggle to effectively design the web. It’s that simple. Every project I have worked on that was designed by a graphic ‘artist’ runs over budget and overtime as we try to build something that ultimately doesn’t work. Try get the idea of responsive into their heads!

    My simple rule is if you can’t write front-end code you are NOT a web designer.

    This methodology of thinking you can throw the different stages of a web build over the fence to the next guy to complete their part is nonsensical. Never works and just ends up causing division between a team.

    I am 100% done with ‘graphic designers’ – even though that’s where I came from. Sad but true.

    Reply
    +11
    • Sean Oct 22, 8:20 am

      I’ve run across those people, but I think you can’t discount everyone right up front. It really depends on person and their experience. We have a guy right now who doesn’t know front-end and is strictly a graphic artist. Excellent illustrator and even does animation, but when it comes to web development, he wouldn’t be able to do it. However, at this point, he’s designed so many websites, he knows what makes a good website, what’s possible, and what makes good UI/UX. I’m fine with letting him take the reins.

      Now just grabbing someone off the street who has never designed a website, that’s a different story. With that said, there’s no other industry out there where you would grab someone off the street and ask them to do a job they’ve never done and reasonably expect good results. That would make you crazy. If you look at a portfolio and check experience, you can find people who have the chops.

      Personally, I like hiring people who can do both. I can do both and have for so long but I also know what to look for. I’m tired of dealing with clients on the design side so I’ve moved towards training a couple of graphic artists right now to design for the web and then let me and my team turn them into websites. It’s working great.

      Reply
      +3
  12. Shibin Ragh Oct 16, 10:06 am

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

    Reply
    -8
  13. Vic Oct 16, 1:35 pm

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

    Reply
    -10
  14. Gabs Oct 16, 2:14 pm

    OK, so what is a PHP guy ?

    Reply
    0
    • Tom Oct 16, 7:38 pm

      “What is a PHP guy?”

      Well, if all you know is PHP, then you are a PHP guy.

      If you know how to develop software, understand design patterns, data structures, algorithms, and software engineering techniques and practices, too, then you’re a software developer.

      Reply
      +5
  15. Rajab Natshah Oct 17, 1:29 am

    I did both [At the starting of my career] .. but now I know for sure I’m a Web Developer.. which can design and work with designers.. to finish the Job ..

    Reply
    0
  16. Michael Oct 17, 2:25 am

    Thanks for this un-biased and clear article. I do “set up” websites for my my own company and for my clients. By background is graphic design and print production. I’m not a programmer (developer). However, I’ve found it necessary to learn the basics so that I can better communicate with my programmers and clients. I’m also happy that my programmers don’t have a problem with me calling the shots regarding design and functionality. There’s no conflict of interest. I would say that it’s not only a question of pairing designers and programmers. Most of what I do these days involves WordPress, and choosing a good theme to start off a project (and to save money for my clients) is very important. I’m getting better at “seeing” what to expect from a theme and choose themes created by good designers and developers. Then, I use my programmers to make tweaks to a theme when and where needed. So I would say there’s a triangular partnership going between designers, developers, and programmers.

    Reply
    +2
  17. Simon Oct 17, 4:37 am

    To me they are both one. Further, I would add app design and app dev. =)

    Reply
    0
  18. Adekunle Oduye Oct 17, 7:27 am

    I began as a web designer first… But to really understand the web medium, I started to code. To me, having the ability to execute front-end development made me a better designer.

    Reply
    +8
  19. Cola Chan Oct 18, 4:58 am

    I came up as a designer working in print design too, and now both a web designer and a web front developer. But I still hate coding. That’s the least fun part of my work.

    Reply
    0
  20. Christer E Oct 19, 10:38 pm

    I’m learning botht side by sides and thanks to the many framework that kinda ease me when i get a job to work on. I think i’m more on the development side. Thanks nice article :)

    Reply
    0
  21. LVDOVICVS Oct 19, 10:43 pm

    Simple! Front End designer.
    Actually im in the same position as yours. Ive been a print designer for years now, and lately Ive started learning code for the same reasons as you did.
    And (not for advertising) Flat UI is helping me a hell of a lot :)
    Anyways I still think, like many in here, I’ve chosen the wrong profession :P

    Cheers everybody

    Reply
    +1
  22. Riting LIU Oct 21, 6:50 am

    What about “desigrammer” – a combination of “designer” and “programmer”?

    Reply
    0
  23. Dave Oct 22, 11:47 am

    God you make me wish i knew PS but alas i am just a developer although i have made some awesome stuff with just code mainly my 2 million user web socket chat with cluster support for more servers, in browser p2p file sharing with nodejs and a few other things and all that started after i launched my site that now has over 150,000 members. I do the odd bit of freelance work but nothing major i would love to get in touch with my creative side but my brain is just too full with the other 11 languages. Great article it was a good read.

    Reply
    0
  24. Steve Oct 22, 11:51 am

    Good read, to be honest it’s far from reality.
    On the actual market “Web Designer” is someone that know Photoshop, Illustrator, HTML5, CSS3 and preferably JS/jQuery while Web Dev is someone that master HTML, CSS and use some backend scripting language like PHP, RoR, Python etc

    Reply
    +4
  25. Megan Alexa Oct 22, 1:41 pm

    Wonderful article! I completely agree that as time goes on, the lines between developers and designers will continue to be blurred. It is truly valuable to know not only how to design something that is aesthetically pleasing and functional, but to understand how it will be built once the project goes into the development phase.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    +1
  26. Caju Oct 22, 3:10 pm

    Design is not only “…use graphics and graphic design software to create a LOOK for the web.”

    Design is solving problems. Design is putting form and function together.

    A designer that make things look good are not a good designer. A great designer make things better to work with, easy to use… and that implies in organize things, thinking about its goals and its target audience.

    There should be no intuition involved in it. Its a logic cience. The designer does whats best for the project based on many variables, not based on his “intuition”.

    All that, combined with his designing and aesthetics skills, result in a “better looking” project, since its content is organized in a simple way, and the aesthetics are also revisited to look better.

    But “looking good” should never be the first priority.

    Reply
    +6
    • MCynowicz Nov 1, 12:00 pm

      That makes you a better designer than some that I’ve worked with. I’m currently working as a ‘Front End Developer’ but my background started in graphics & animation. I will admit that now that I’ve been in the business long enough to be called ‘Senior’ I prefer writing code over designing the look of a site. However I do often find myself at odds with designers who have not fully considered the user experience before finalizing a design. I think an Information Architect would be great to have as a liaison in large companies. I wonder how I can integrate that title…

      Reply
      +1
  27. Sidnei Gripp Oct 22, 4:43 pm

    I have noticed this trend, designers increasingly are engaging in codes, function and beauty.

    Reply
    +1
  28. JJ Oct 22, 5:01 pm

    I know so many “UX Information Architects” (They call themselves that, not the industry) who can’t code or design. Had to work with many over the years. They are pretty useless IMP. I call myself a “UI Designer/Developer and UX Creator”. It’s a long title but at least it means something. Whenever I read these buzzword titles I think of non-techies rushing to hire these people having no idea their actual level of knowledge or skill. E.g., A CEO looking for a product lead.

    Reply
    +3
  29. Mayra Oct 22, 5:47 pm

    I am both a web designer and developer. I strongly believe that in order to design a great website you need to know how HTML, CSS and JavaScript work. I’ve had to develop website for the “designer” only and it is a painful experience sometimes trying to explain what can be done and can’t be done and so on.

    Reply
    +2
  30. ayush kushwaha Oct 22, 7:41 pm

    I can design and develop. I know both the things … although i have a strong interest in code but as per me to become a good programmer who develop better things, must know how to design.

    Reply
    0
  31. Judit Kovacs Oct 22, 11:01 pm

    I am both, I design the look and design the architecture. The first part is important because it is what the public sees and has to grab the visitor’s attention. Designing the architecture is important because that gives the site functionality. I cannot imagine doing design without immediately pairing it with development. I always wonder about the advertisements “get a website in 5 minutes, many designs to choose from, no coding knowledge required” – no wonder they look as they are.

    Reply
    0
  32. Ludvik Herrera Oct 25, 9:55 pm

    I appreciate your article Carrie. However, I feel it needs a more specific and more organized structure of work tasks and responsibilities.
    There are very few individuals that can deploy a strong website from concept to completion, your article mostly depicts the difference between a web designer and a web developer. There are definitely more roles than this: interaction design, user interface design, user experience design, information architect, web developer (front-end), web designer (front-end), web developer (back-end), web designer (back end), web content strategist, web content producer, web content editor.
    Some organizations, trying to reduce their staff costs, sometimes hire one single individual to take on all of these tasks.

    If there should be a web designer, this individual should not only know graphic and visual design principles, but should have a strong understanding of HTML/CSS code, digital design and be superb at visual design.

    A web developer should have the strong grasp of programming, coding and HCI.

    The difference can be stated in a simple sentence. Web Designer takes care of the aesthetics and user interfaces, a web developer is in charge of the programming platform and delivery framework.

    Reply
    0
    • Warre Oct 25, 9:58 pm

      And I am all the above, which makes me god? No, seriously. I do the entire process. I’ve been trained like that to do it. At Devine they teach everything you’ve stated up above. It ain’t easy and we start every year with about 200 new guys. In the third year there are mostly 20-30 people left. Quite a high level. It’s hard but certainly possible.

      Reply
      +2
  33. George Oct 28, 11:13 am

    I personally believe that there is no specific definition for this profession.
    Depends where wants go one. I am a Graphic & Web Designer, experienced more than 15 years. I only do website design, hand code and development, and i believe that development is a stage between design and programming. Maybe someone deal only with the development maybe not. From experience i practice development, but I would not say that I’m developer.
    The web site development is teamwork so was so it seems to remain as though some are trying to want to do with a person all the jobs. A good job takes time, thought and planning implementation, always depends what you’re going to choose!

    Reply
    +1
  34. Candice Oct 28, 11:13 am

    “Designer”, technically, would be related to the visual aspects of the web site. “Developer” would include coding, scripting, interactivity – elements beyond the visual. For some, that will extend to back-end work as well. The term is often used to mean “I don’t just do the visual”, so it could mean anything.

    These days, “Web Designer” is often chosen as a description by some who just want a general term that doesn’t limit or over-define what it is they do. It’s a default. An individual’s work can be way too hard to define accurately in a single phrase, so “Web Designer” can be used to mean “I do website stuff”.

    They both beg the question: “So, what is it you actually do?”

    Reply
    0
  35. Alex Reds Oct 31, 8:01 pm

    What about people who does everything from beginning to the end of the projects? IA, UX, Design and coding? Like freelancers who offers such service? When client approach to us, they don’t want look out for UX UI Devs and designers separately. All what they want is proper web presence of their business.
    I see only one suitable term for such persons – Web Producers.. Cuz we produce websites.. whole production is going on when we building websites.
    If we look at other industries where the same term is used e.g. cinema, music, events, terms producers and productions involves whole development of their tasks.
    But sadly in WEB this term is stands for guys who manages and creates content on big web projects.
    Perhaps that has to be changed? Vote! :)

    Reply
    +2
  36. Nero Nov 6, 2:12 pm

    We don’t need another term. There are already people out there that claim to be one of them but they can’t do design nor development.
    If you claim that you are a web designer or a web developer you should be able to do both. The difference between being a developer or a designer is that you are better at one of them. If your work is better that what you see on dribble (without using psd uis made by other people) and your websites are greater than almost every website on the internet (without using pre made cms systems), then you have a problem… there is no term describing what you do.
    A good designer should know at least html and css and a good developer should be able to make decent looking designs.

    I consider myself a developer because i’m more concerned about best practices on structuring databases, code usage and fast loading time than the design. I like that webdesign these days is all about simplicity and that i can do, look at designmodo, this website is dead simple and yet it has a very good design.

    Reply
    +3
  37. Esther Lee Nov 7, 9:58 am

    I started out as a graphic designer. My first full-time job was at a traditional print shop working with typesetting machines and burning plates and stripping negatives for short press runs.

    I was no press expert, but that first job gave me invaluable knowledge in just how print is done, how ink behaves on paper, what trapping is. Now, 20 years later, I like to think of myself as a Visual Designer. And while I know HTML5, CSS3, jQuery and Flash, these are only tools of the trade. For me, coding is like being adept in Photoshop or Illustrator. It can also be frustrating and time-consuming to have to juggle both design and development.

    Knowing how something works informs the design process, yes. But merely knowing how to code without understanding color, typography or spatial relationships does not a Web Designer make. By the same token, knowing graphic design without a solid understanding of how stuff functions under the hood also does not a Web Designer make.

    Teams are a wonderful solution. Teamwork ensures that there’s a web architect to handle the UX, a developer on hand who can address the programming side, and a web designer who works in tandem to skin the wires. A solid team comprised of knowledgeable members who “get the jargon” can collaborate like a well-oiled machine and in the best cases inspire new ideas about building better web applications.

    Reply
    +2
  38. Pedro Flores Nov 17, 9:00 pm

    In my particular case, I’m a ISC, but at my job and for my skills I’m rolling in Web Design. As much of ISC’s I code too, spcially Web Code… My card on my jobs say that my role is Graphic Designer, but not only that, I do the programming of the websites, the front and the end of its.

    When people ask me ¿can you be a web designer and a web developer at same time? I respond quickly YES!!! YOU CAN… but when you are boths, your seems change… Now that I work like web designer and web developer can do more beauty designs, and can code faster, thas because I know the limitations of the designs, and if the design can be code or not, specially when client haven’t any idea of websites…

    I love be the web desginer and at same time, the web developer, now I understand boths parts and can work with designers and developers without problems… Thats makes a more interesting job about ir really is…

    P.D. my english is poor but I’m getting up in that jaja…

    Reply
    0
  39. Arunkumar Dec 17, 7:31 am

    Awesome Article..! Thanks Designmodo.

    Reply
    -2
  40. kev Jun 9, 5:57 pm

    Based on my experience, working with a number of Designers and Developers, here’s what I’ve seen;

    Designer: At the least creates the graphics and look/feel of the site. Depending on the person may pick up technical css/html/javascript skills. Things can get tough for them and the developers as they wonder into the more technical side of things.

    Developer: Always doing the “programming” of javascript, css, html. Haven’t seen too many developers who can do quality/aesthetically pleasing Designs. Developers tend to be fine with that.

    If I had a $1 for every designer who also wants to develop I’d be rich. If I lost a $1 for every developer who doesn’t want to design I’d be poor. lol

    Reply
    0

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