What is the difference between web design and development?

What is the difference between web design and development? In the early days of the web, the answer to that question was simple: designers design and developers code. Today that question requires a little more nuance–you’d be hard-pressed to find a web designer who didn’t know at least a little HTML and CSS, and you…

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What is the difference between web design and development? In the early days of the web, the answer to that question was simple: designers design and developers code. Today that question requires a little more nuance–you’d be hard-pressed to find a web designer who didn’t know at least a little HTML and CSS, and you won’t have to look far for a front-end web developer who can whip up a storyboard.

If you’re strictly speaking about the general concepts of web design vs. web development, however, the distinction is a little more clear. Let’s take a look at these two concepts and their roles in building the websites and apps we know and love. Web design is concerned with what the user actually sees on their computer screen or mobile device, while web development governs all the code that makes a website tick.

web design vs web dev
difference-between-web-design-and-development

What is the difference between web design and development: What is web design?

Web design governs everything involved with the visual aesthetics and usability of a website—color scheme, layout, information flow, and everything else related to the visual aspects of the UI/UX (user interface and user experience). Some common skills and tools that distinguish the web designer from the web developer are:

difference-between-web-design-and-development
difference-between-web-design-and-development
  • Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, Illustrator) or other design software
  • Graphic design
  • Logo design
  • Layout/format
  • Placing call-to-action buttons
  • Branding
  • Wireframes, mock-ups, and storyboards
  • Color palettes
  • Typography

Web design is concerned with what the user actually sees on their computer screen or mobile device, and less so about the mechanisms beneath the surface that make it all work. Through the use of color, images, typography, and layout, they bring a digital experience to life.

That said, many web designers are also familiar with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript—it helps to be able to create living mock-ups of a web app when trying to pitch an idea to the team or fine-tune the UI/UX of an app.

Web designers also often work with templating services like WordPress or Joomla!, which allow you to create websites using themes and widgets without writing a single line of code.

What is the difference between web design and development: What is web development?

Web development governs all the code that makes a website tick. It can be split into two categories—front-end and back-end. The front-end or client-side of an application is the code responsible for determining how the website will actually display the designs mocked up by a designer. The back-end or server-side of an application is responsible for managing data within the database and serving that data to the front-end to be displayed.

As you may have guessed, it’s the front-end developer’s job that tends to share the most overlap with the web designer. Some common skills and tools traditionally viewed as unique to the front-end developer are listed below:

difference-between-web-design-and-development
difference-between-web-design-and-development
  • HTML/CSS/JavaScript
  • CSS preprocessors (i.e., LESS or Sass)
  • Frameworks (i.e., AngularJS, ReactJS, Ember)
  • Libraries (i.e., jQuery)
  • Git and GitHub

Front-end web developers don’t usually create mock-ups, select typography, or pick color palettes—these are usually provided by the designer. It’s the developer’s job to bring those mock-ups to life. That said, understanding what the designer wants requires some knowledge of best practices in UI/UX design so that the developer is able to choose the right technology to deliver the desired look and feel and experience in the final product.

What is the difference between web design and development: Meet the “Unicorn”

What started out as a joke in the industry—the designer/developer hybrid who can do it all—is now a viable endgame for both web designers and front-end developers, thanks to the increase in the availability of educational resources across the web. Those developers/designers who have a good grasp of skills across both sides of the spectrum are highly sought after in the industry.

The “unicorn” can take your project from the conceptual stage of visual mock-ups and storyboards, and carry it through front-end development all by itself. Not that you’d want them to; the real value of developers who design and designers who develop are their ability to speak each other’s languages. This leads not only to better communication on the team and a smoother workflow, it means you’ll land on the best solution possible.

As a general rule, feel free to rely on the “unicorn” for small projects, where it’s feasible for one or two people to handle both the back and front-ends of an application. Even if you manage to hire a few “unicorns,” more clearly defined roles are required for larger projects.

What is the difference between web design and development?

What is the difference between web design and development?

I remember in my early stages of learning web development, that I found myself confused multiple times about the differences between design and development. What are the roles of a web designer? What is involved in working with web design? Are web design and web development the same? Are they interchangeable terms with the same meaning?

The simple answer would be no. The role of each is completely different from the other. But let’s have a look into the different roles and methods, of both a web designer and a web developer.

What is the difference between web design and development: Web design

Think about web designers as those who transform an idea, or a story, into a visually appealing design, and use their layout to build the user experience throughout the whole website. They design the website’s look and feel. As an architect would create a plan of your house prior to start building it, similarly a web designer would model the layout of your website before a web developer can start developing it.

difference between web design and development
digital composite of business graphics with office background

Web designers have a difficult role which is often underrated. In their designs they need to integrate the best user experience possible, and create a welcoming environment for the user. They have to change an idea from writing, into a usable design and interface that catches the user’s attention. A website cannot be described as great if a proper design strategy wasn’t applied into the early stages of the project. Nowadays, web designers are rated at the same level of web developers, as without a great user experience and design, the development cannot be truly appreciated by the user.

Web designers have built a whole library of strategic techniques for themselves. You don’t just create a perfect website immediately after reading or thinking about the specifications or the features required. You start with a scope — the focus point and the purpose that the website will offer.

You would first roughly envision the designs in your head, and start with a sketch or draft of the design. From sketching, web designers move to wireframes, mock-ups, and to the final design. Professional web designers build the whole website in design components, with a pixel-perfect layout of all the web pages, icons, typography, and other intricate features.

These are some of the main roles of a web designer:

  • Using software tools such as Adobe Photoshop, Framer, or Sketch to build the final layout design of the website
  • Have good skills in graphic design and logo design
  • Have a good feel for user experience, to identify the simplest approach possible to attain the desired function. This includes the layout, buttons, images and the general format of the website.
  • Web designers need to keep themselves up to date with the latest design trends. It’s also important to keep design consistency that is made popular from other web giant companies, such as Google, and Facebook. This makes the website environment and interface easier to navigate and use, as it is already familiar to the users eyes.
  • Web designers have to also keep in mind the branding of the website, colour palettes to be used, and the typography and readability of the website.

Web development

Think about web developers as those who turn the designs into a live website. Web developers uses web languages and software tools to develop the design and functionality of a website. Notice, that web developers are further split into two sub-categories; front-end developers, and back-end developers.

I see front-end developers as the connection between both web designers and back-end developers, as having a little knowledge of both, would allow a front-end developer to build a fully working website. A front-end developer is the one who builds the interface and provides the layout as the interaction between the back-end of the website and the user.

Front-end developers use three main languages; Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), and JavaScript (JS). With these languages, a developer is able to create a full-fledged website. From the main design layout, to inserting images, applying different types of typography and font families, implementing animations, the flow of different pages, form interfaces, and more.

Back-end developers are those who control the server data and requests. Usually a website requires back-end services if it contains dynamic data. This means, for example, users submitting a form with personal data (such as creating an account), or saving an article for your blog page.

Generally, if the website requires data to be saved, and making it accessible at a later stage, it means that it would also need a database connection. Database connections are made possible by a direct connection from the server itself. Thus, a back-end developer then uses server languages such as PHP or ASP.NET and writes database queries by using languages such as SQL or MySQL.

Here are some of the main roles of a web developer:

  • Building the actual interface through which a user interacts with the website. This interface is built by front-end developers using HTML, CSS, and JS languages.
  • Front-end developers can use styling preprocessors, javascript libraries, and frameworks to fasten the process of development (see my previous article).
  • Front-end developers provide the markup design to back-end developers, so they can implement a dynamic website, and submit all the required data on the server and databases.
  • Back-end developers create the backbone of the website using languages such as PHP and MySQL.
  • Both front-end and back-end developers can use the same development environments or IDEs (Integrated Development Environment). These are software application tools where you code and build the structure of the website.
  • Web developers may also use versioning tools to keep a history of the previous builds. This will help them to quickly and effortlessly move back to a previous “unbroken” version if required to do so.

Closing thoughts

difference between web design and development

What does a full-stack developer do?

Full-stack developers are those who have a good knowledge of all of the development areas discussed above. This means that if you are a full-stack developer, you should be able to build a website from scratch, from looking at a design, and creating the mark-up of the design, up to handling back-end processes, and database queries.

Usually, a full-stack developer would also have a basic knowledge of design and user experience. Being a full-stack developer does not mean you have to be an expert on all of the languages. It’s already hard to become an expert or a professional on just one of the languages. It’s also hard to learn all the best techniques and strategies on how to be most efficient in all of the areas we discussed above. Remember, web technologies are evolving every day.

Having a basic knowledge of everything regarding the web is always a plus, but I recommend you stick with the one you enjoy the most, and focus on becoming an expert on that. Once you feel comfortable with developing the front-end or back-end, you can then dedicate more time for those areas that need more attention.

I hope you now have a clearer understanding of the difference between the roles of web developers and web designers. Keep in mind that both have essential roles, and the web would not exist without one or the other. I can tell you that from my experience nothing will come easier then the rest.

Working full-time as a front-end developer, and interacting regularly with both designers and back-end developers, has shown me that all of the roles we just discussed have their own quirks in one way or another. Just keep in mind that focusing on one language at first is the best way to get yourself started. Once you get motivated and take the first step, the rest will be less of a challenge.

Thank you for reading!

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