The title of this article sounds a bit like the setup for a cage match. “Web Designer vs Web Developer — two creatives enter, only one will leave!” But the truth is that the two roles are complementary, both adding necessary components to a finished website.
The same person can fill both roles but they’re commonly separated. The web designer crafts the look of the website and the web developer makes it do interesting things. Confused? Let’s put it in terms we’ll all understand.
Web Designer vs Web Developer: An Analogy
To better understand how these two roles differ, let’s consider a similar product — the not-so-humble skyscraper (it’s similar, trust us.) From one perspective, it’s just a tall box with holes in it. Likewise, a website is a nebulous collection of words and pictures. The designer transforms these basic shapes into something engaging.
In the case of the skyscraper, that job falls to an architect. They put an enormous amount of creative work into designing a striking tower that dazzles the eyes of passing pedestrians. This is similar to what a web designer does, layering text and other visual elements to build an eye-catching layout. Both the building and the web design are attractive and engaging, but they do absolutely nothing at all.
“Well that’s not true”, you might say. “Buildings do plenty of things. They can regulate their temperature, transport electricity and water, and offer free gym facilities that residents can pretend to take advantage of.”
And you’re right. However, a building’s functionality isn’t the work of the architect. There are a host of other professionals that “develop” a building’s infrastructure, running plumbing and electricity, installing elevators, and ducting for AC and heat. These tradespeople transform a static building into a living system that follows rules, converts inputs to outputs, and delivers useful services.
Adding functionality is the role that a web developer plays, too. They take the static site created by a web designer and breathe life into it, adding interactivity, inputs and outputs, email capabilities, and more. Using code, they develop the internal logic of the website — its infrastructure. Put simply, they take a beautiful site and make it do useful things.
Designer and Developer, Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together
When considering web designer vs web developer, understand that they’re both critical disciplines, and modern websites demand both. Like the protagonists from the old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercials, they complete each other.
Maybe you’ve hired an inexpensive web designer and were disappointed by the results. If the site felt more like a static billboard than a dynamic, interactive website, it may be because your hire lacked web development skills.
And that skillset is radically different. Web developers are web programmers. They use scripting languages to build dynamic websites. They add interactivity that converts user input into useful actions.
You can thank a developer when the information you enter into a web form is automatically sent to a database and batched into a custom welcome email. Developers typically have analytical minds and high-level problem-solving skills. They don’t concern themselves with the aesthetics of a website. Their job is to turn it into a tool.
By contrast, web designers are focused entirely on a site’s visual design. They’re concerned with colors, shapes, fonts, and imagery. Their job is to build a site so visually arresting that visitors are enticed to read. Like a developer, designers use code (markup rather than scripting languages), but their goal isn’t back-end data processing or front-end interactivity. They’re simply crafting the best-looking website they can.
Don’t Forget Hosting!
There’s a third actor we haven’t talked and their role is just as critical. Web hosting professionals make a website accessible to the outside world. They configure and manage the infrastructure that runs the website which includes the servers and storage devices that house a website’s files. It’s their job to make sure that the fruits of the designer’s and developer’s work are served to visitors as quickly and efficiently as possible. Without hosting, a website is just a bunch of files on a hard drive.
So in reality, this triplet is less like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and more like an Almond Joy. The almonds of the web designer’s visual layout are brought to life by the web developer’s liberal application of code and coconut. Both are then housed and supported by a web host’s chocolate embrace.
Here’s your final takeaway. The next time you’re in the market for a website, don’t buy a bag of almonds. Buy a bag of Almond Joys.