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

  • Conversion-rate optimization

Web designers also collaborate with clients and web developers who write the code for website features. Some essential soft skills for this role include:

  • Communication

  • Teamwork

  • Organizational

  • Stress management

  • Time management

Related:

  • How to Become a Freelance Web Designer (With 7 Steps)

  • Time Management Skills: Examples and Definitions

  • 13 Interview Questions for a Web Designer With Sample Answers

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 designer

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.

Related: 5 Web Design Certifications You Can Pursue (With FAQs)

What does a web developer do?

A web developer is responsible for developing and converting the design aspect of a website into functional features using programming languages such as Javascript, HTML, PHP, and Python.

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.

Related:

  • Software Developer vs. Web Developer (Plus IT Skills)

  • Web Developer Skills: Definitions and Examples

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

  • JavaScript frameworks

In addition to their technical skills, web developers benefit from having the following soft skills:

  • Critical thinking

  • Problem-solving

  • Analytical

  • Communication

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

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.

Front-end developers

Front-end developers are responsible for coding the actual content on the website. They use programming languages such as HTML and JavaScript, content management systems (CMS), and other programming frameworks to create the visual features of the website that visitors eventually use. Due to the nature of their job, there's significant overlap between the duties of a front-end developer and a web designer.

Full-stack developers

Full-stack developers are hybrid web developers. They perform both the duties of front-end and back-end web developers. Full-stack web developers are typically highly skilled professionals possessing technical expertise in several programming languages and frameworks, such as query databases, server configuration, JavaScript, HTML, CSS, PHP, and application programming interface (API).

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.

Technical skills

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.

Education

There's no specific degree or academic path for careers in web design or web development. In the learning process, both careers prioritize different sets of courses that web designers and developers can complete online. An aspiring web developer can take courses more related to programming and programming languages like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. In comparison, a prospective web designer would benefit from courses that focus on using graphic design software.

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.

Read more: How to Improve Your Skill Set and Keep Skills Current

Salary expectation

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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