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

By Alethea Gerardot on May 12, 2020

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If you have artistic talents, a love for tech, and a desire to work in a business setting, then a job in web creation as a web designer or web developer might be right up your alley.

Web creation is often done by multiple professionals. Sometimes people ask, “What is the difference between a web designer and a web developer?” These professions are closely tied but provide distinctly different services to any clients that need a website.

Are Web Designers and Web Developers the Same?

Web designers are in charge of the look and appearance of the web site. Web developers are the ones that make the site functional.

In larger creative firms, there is typically more than one person creating a project for a client (like a website). A small website may only take a couple of employees to brainstorm ideas and produce a handful of evergreen pages (pages with content that doesn’t change). But, there might be a team of eight to ten professionals working on a big website that requires a lot of technical parts, content, SEO, and more.

What Is a Web Designer?

The web designer’s tasks are closely related to those of a graphic designer. The web designer is the one who decides on the impression the website makes as soon as a visitor lands on a page. From choosing fonts and colors to determining the connection of one page to the rest, the designer is the one that creates the visual aspects of the website.

  • Nearly all (94%) first impressions are now based on the website, according to WebFX.
  • 75% of people decide a brand’s credibility based on the design of the website.
  • 73% of companies invest in design in order to differentiate themselves from competitors—and placing a high value in creativity makes a company more likely (46%) to succeed, according to research from Blue Corona.

Design is a vital part of any branding process. In physical forms, it is the graphic designer that creates the ideas before a printing company puts them on the surface that makes them useable (pamphlets, mailers, t-shirts, signage, etc.). With web designers, it is much the same. The web designer creates the visual ideas that represent the company before a web developer turns them into useable components of a functioning website.

Tools Used by Web Designers

Most web design professionals use creative tools like:

  • Adobe Photoshop – Mostly used for editing raster images (like digital photographs)
  • Adobe Illustrator – Used for vector graphics and layouts (color blocks, fonts, and path-based illustrations)
  • Microsoft PowerPoint – Great for presentations to clients
  • Sketch – A design app that makes it easier to illustrate ideas that can then be opened in Adobe programs
  • Canva – Used for creating simple text graphics for visual aids, like mood boards or social media images

Typical Web Designer Job Requirements

Design is the launchpad for the website. It is the designer that communicates ideas to the client, tells a story about the brand, and considers the client’s needs and goals, as well as the target audience’s preferences and the capabilities of the web developer. Initial mood boards, sketches, mockups, and digital design elements for the website are all done by the web designer.

It is the website designer that must decide how a page looks and how various types of pages within the website will remain consistent (product pages, landing pages, content pages, homepage, etc.). The web designer typically does all the research required to understand the company they are building the site for. Research includes products, customers, competitors, stakeholders, industry, and anything else that might impact the direction of the design.

Average Salary of a Web Designer

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t have a separate category for web designers, so they are typically considered graphic designers or web developers for salary. Graphic designers are listed with an average pay of $52,110 or about $25 per hour, according to the BLS. GlassDoor comes in with a similar average salary for web design professionals at $52,691 a year.

What Is a Web Developer?

The developer is the professional or team of professionals that take all the visual aspects (created by the designer and agreed upon by the client) and puts them into functional pieces. This job can be broken down further into front-end website design and back-end website design. Especially with larger projects and bigger firms, professionals may only work on one part of the development. Front end (buttons, website search functions, drop-down menus, etc.) and the back end (server, database, etc.) are both important aspects of a functioning site. While front-end development allows the design to become interactive, it is the back-end development that allows the front end to function properly.

  • 89% of consumers will change to a competitor after a bad experience on a website, according to WebFX. Broken links, lagging load times, and missing information are all examples of what will push visitors away.
  • 47% of visitors will expect load times to stay under two seconds, according to SWEOR.
  • This leads to an estimated $2.6 billion loss in sales for retailers each year.

While a pretty site might keep a visitor on the page, it has to load properly for them to see it. Development is a key part of the user experience. Visitors only stay on the page if the components are working.

Tools Used by Web Developers

Most developer tools are for functional web creation processes, helping create and organize code:

  • Coding Languages: HTML, JavaScript, CSS, PHP, Python
  • Sublime Text – A sophisticated text editor
  • React – An open-source library for JavaScript
  • Chrome DevTools – Debug JavaScript and edit pages on-the-fly
  • Grunt – JavaScript task runner with plugins to automate anything
  • CodePen – A place for testing code
  • AngularJS – Extends HTML vocabulary for static documents

Typical Web Developer Job Requirements

A web developer works with the web designer to ensure the client’s vision can come to life in a way that works smoothly for visitors. The developer oversees load times and ensures page elements work without errors.

Designers will often use code elements to construct the website, so they must know the languages well enough to manipulate and create the working elements of the site. From the structure of the page to the ability to click graphics or see moving elements, the developer has to problem solve any design ideas to make them work within the code language capability.

Average Salary of a Web Designer

According to the BLS, the average web developer makes a salary of $73,760 or $35 an hour. Web developer jobs are expected to grow at a much faster-than-average rate (13%) between 2018-2028 because of the increased demand for websites and the quickly changing technologies. Glassdoor reports the average salary as $68,524, with senior web developers making as much as $88k a year. Engine Yard says an average full stack developer can make an average annual salary of $110,500.

What Is a Full Stack Developer?

While many developers focus on front-end development or back-end development, some can do both. This professional will be able to handle all the database, systems engineering, language, and technology needs to make the website design fully functional.