Web Designer vs. Web Developer: Definitions and Differences
By Indeed Editorial Team
Updated October 30, 2022
Published September 7, 2021
The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.
Web design and web development are common roles in the tech industry. Because of the similarities in their names and job functions, many people use both terms interchangeably. Understanding the differences between these roles can help you decide which career path suits your unique skill set. In this article, we explore what a web designer and a web developer are, discuss which skills are necessary for this field of work, and explain the fundamental differences between web designer vs. web developer roles.
Web designer vs. web developer roles
There are several similarities between website designers and developers. For example, they both focus on website building, use similar tools, and may even have similar skill sets. However, detailed job descriptions differ, as each deals with distinct aspects of website building. Web design focuses on the aesthetics and usability of the website, and web development takes web design and produces a functioning website from it.
What does a web designer do?
A web designer is responsible for creating and optimizing a website's usability, layout, and visual appearance. A web designer is a dynamic role that requires a vast set of technical and creative skills. A web designer's primary objective is to develop a website that's both visually appealing and user-friendly to facilitate easy navigation and enhance visitor retention. A web designer's job includes monitoring, maintaining, and conducting periodic reviews of the website to ensure every feature is operating as intended.
Web designer skills
As web design continues to evolve, web designers need to stay up to date with new skills based on the latest standards and best practices for building and designing a website. Regardless of changing trends, every web designer needs some general technical skills, including:
Knowledge of CSS and HTML
Typography, colour theory, and branding
Interactive and responsive designing
Understanding of graphic design tools and software
Use of content management system and page-builder tools
Digital marketing skills
Web designers also collaborate with clients and web developers who write the code for website features. Some essential soft skills for this role include:
Types of web design roles
Before you decide on web design as a career path, consider which role is most suitable for you. There are three different types of web designers, each with a specific focus:
User interface (UI) designer
User interface designers play a pivotal part in web design. They are primarily responsible for creating and improving website and app usability. They prioritize interactions and design or update website features to enhance user satisfaction.
User experience (UX) designer
User experience designers are responsible for creating and enhancing the human-focused aspect of the website. Their tasks typically involve research and testing to generate data and web layouts that engage visitors and provide an overall positive experience. UX designers rely heavily on research data to inform their final design decisions.
Visual designers, or hybrid web designers, often combine both UI and UX design aspects. They work with graphical elements as well as layout features to create a website that's both easy to use and visually pleasing.
What does a web developer do?
A web developer's role revolves around building and maintaining the overall structure of the website. Their tasks require technical expertise, including complex programming and advanced coding languages for testing, debugging, and maintaining hosting and server issues.
Web developer skills
A web developer is a highly technical role that requires proficiency in specific skills. To be effective, a web developer should have a knowledge of:
Programming languages such as PHP, CSS, HTML, and Python
Debugging and testing
File Transfer Protocol (FTP) and hosting control panel
Server and database management
Search engine optimization (SEO)
Content management systems
Code versioning and issue tracking
In addition to their technical skills, web developers benefit from having the following soft skills:
Types of web developer roles
Web developers typically use programming languages to a significant degree in their job functions. The set of technical skills or programming languages a web developer uses depends on the kind of tasks they perform. There are three types of web developers:
Back-end developers, or server-side developers, are responsible for building and developing the aspects of the website visitors don't see from the front end of the site. They code the server and database using complex programming languages. Typically, they focus on Java, SQL, C#, NodeJS, PHP, and other coding frameworks to build the website.
Differences between web designers and web developers
Although web developers and web designers play a crucial role in building, developing, and maintaining a website, both roles are ultimately two distinct designations. The main differences between a web designer and a web developer are:
Function and scope of work
Web designers focus on the usability and appearance of a website, such as branding colours, layout, and typography. Web developers handle the functionality and structure of the website. They convert the concept or idea of the web designers into fully functioning features. They also determine the best tools for creating each aspect of the web design plan.
Web designers typically require less technical expertise than web developers. The reason for this is that their role requires limited to basic design skills and website-building software. Web developers need a more advanced understanding of several complex programming languages to be effective in their roles.
Some employers may prefer candidates for these roles to have a two-year diploma or an associate degree in fields such as computer science or information science. Formal education can help prospective designers and developers gain solid foundational knowledge, gain new skills, and refine the skills they already possess. While a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field may not be essential to succeed in these roles, it's helpful for career advancement.
Skill requirements and interests
Both career paths require a different set of skills, interests, and strengths. Web designers need strong creative skills in order to develop solutions that make navigation easier and increase visitors' engagement. Web developers require a significant level of technical skills, which often comes with hours of practice and programming experience.
Before choosing either career path, first examine the level of skill you currently possess and compare it with what's needed for your chosen role. Not having the exact skill set necessary for either position doesn't rule out the possibility of it being a potential career. Instead, consider if you'd be interested in learning those skills before deciding the best path for you.
It's also important to note that the financial aspects of both roles may differ. The average salary for a web designer is $28.29 per hour. In contrast, the average salary for a web developer is $29.75 per hour. Generally, the more experience and skills you have, the more you will be paid.
Please note that salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organization and a candidate's experience, academic background, and location.
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