Home » Professional Development » What Is the Difference Between a Web Designer and Web Developer?
By Alethea Gerardot on May 12, 2020
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.
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.
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.
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.
Most web design professionals use creative tools like:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Most developer tools are for functional web creation processes, helping create and organize code:
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.
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.
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.
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