January 2, 2022

A Look into the Difference Between Web Design vs Web Development

The skills of web design and development are crucial when building a website, yet remain very different from one another. However, the difference comes in the areas of expertise.

The need for both web design and web development is often confusing and understandably so. Without prior knowledge or taking the time to look it up, it’s hard to determine the difference between them. Both skill sets play a crucial role in building a website. However, the difference comes in the areas of expertise.

The skills of web design and development are crucial when building a website, yet remain very different from one another. Websites generally involve two main types of work. The first being aesthetic-based design, focused on shaping what users see. The second aspect being development, focused on technology and shaping how information is accessed by users.

Web design involves user interface, colour selection, logos, shapes and typography. While web development entails back-end programming, database management systems and CRM applications often serve as the foundation for an entire project’s functionality.

Web Design vs Web Development – Introductory Overview

Before getting into the nuances that differentiate the two, it might be helpful to dig in to a few of the notable differences between a website designer and a website developer.

Web design focuses more on the creative planning and visual aspects of a website, as well as the user-experience a website provides. Web development involves building the core functionality and website structure using various programming languages such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Both are necessary but require unique skills that work together in order to create a quality website with functionality that works for its intended audience.

What is Web Design?

Web design brings everything the user sees on the front-end together and focuses on the visual aspects from the user’s perspective. They also help shape the information architecture of the site and ensure it aligns with the overarching business goals. It’s the web designer’s job to make your site’s visuals compelling by taking care of design elements such as layout, usability, colour palette, creating visual mockups and wireframes.

With a focus geared towards style and usability, web designers tend to have a skillset geared towards the user and will work closely with web developers to tackle various project requirements.

Web Design Specializations

There are three common focus areas in modern web design:

  • User experience
  • User interface
  • Visual design

User Experience Designers (UX)

UX design or User Experience Design focuses on the interactions that occur between a website and the person visiting it. The job of User Experience Designers is to keep your visitors interested and engaged. A UX designer understands how to create an enjoyable digital experience through responsive web design, extensive user testing, and demographic research.

The process often starts by creating a wireframe to map out the UX design and determine the format that will ultimately be the most enjoyable for the end-user. They are the people responsible for bringing repeat traffic to your business’s website.

Another fundamental aspect of user experience is interaction design, which focuses on how visitors interact with the site itself. This could include behavioural elements determining how users interact with the navigation, pushing buttons, swiping through image carousels, or scrolling through product listings.

Each component needs to be strategically planned and thought-out to provide each end-user with an enjoyable experience that encourages them to come back to your website and engage with it while they’re visiting.

User Interface (UI)

User interface design focuses on finding ways to improve user interaction. They accomplish this by combining the information architecture and brand assets into a user-friendly design (A site that’s sensible and enjoyable to interact with.)

Another aspect of UI design is to maintain responsive breakpoints built to detect the user’s screen size and orientation and make adjustments accordingly. Instead of focusing on the website’s foundation, a UI designer focuses on the overall usability and appeal.

Visual Designers

A visual designer is a combination of both a User Experience Designer and a UI Designer. They also take on a role similar to that of a graphic designer and are responsible for bringing a brand’s uniqueness to life by managing the website’s graphic design. A visual designer focuses on the user’s journey through creative coding while solving layout issues along the way.

Web Design Principles

Understanding the principles of design is fundamental for web designers. To combine the aesthetic elements required on a web page that provides clients with a site that is both eye-catching and conveys the messages their company would like to express, each of these principles needs to be carefully addressed.

Besides specializing in specific aspects of website design, the design principles listed below can help you achieve a better website experience for your visitors:

Visual Hierarchy – When considering the principles of designing a website, visual hierarchy is one of the most important because it zeroes in on how the eye interprets the elements on your website and what should receive more attention.

There are parts of your site that are more important than others, and you want those elements to get the most attention. Visual hierarchy also guides the visitor’s eye across each page logically. This makes it easier for users to absorb and understand what is being conveyed through the website more efficiently.

Balance – The layout of the website you are building is a critical component to consider during the planning phase. Symmetry and colour are both essential parts in achieving an effective layout. Determining which colours work best in particular locations of your site and deciding how many light or dark components there should be.

Ideally, you want to create a balanced proportion in that you’re not overloaded with too many bold or eye-catching elements on one part of your site, but lacking in another. An unbalanced website is challenging to navigate and read, leaving it visually unappealing and will most often result in end users leaving the page pretty quick. Finding a balance through multiple elements such as shape, colour, typography or content structure, and how they are arranged both individually and as a whole.

Website Purpose – A website’s purpose should be clear on every page. Ensuring that your site meets its users’ needs will help for a more enjoyable experience, leading to higher visitor retention rates.

Consistency – Designers are always trying to find that perfect balance between consistency and variety when it comes to designing a website. Certain things should be consistent, like the menu/navigation. While other aspects such as page layout, colour palette or design can benefit from having some variety. The end goal being to provide visitors with an enhanced user experience that can contribute to the success of your site’s goals.

F-Shaped Pattern – The F-shaped pattern is a simple design strategy based on creating a hierarchy to facilitate the natural reading experience. Studies have shown that most people tend to focus on the top left portion of a screen.

The F-shaped pattern allows you to mimic natural reading patterns to make it as easy as possible to consume content on your site. When everything on your website looks the same, it can be difficult to scan for relevant information.

What is Web Development?

Website developers are the ones who help bring a website to life. They are the workhorses behind a successful website. Web developers take the plan, mockup or wireframe and break it into smaller components, often using HTML, CSS, Javascript or PHP to turn that plan into something functional like a responsive web application or element that users can interact with. Web developers are like programmers in that they can build web-based applications.

However, not all programmers are web developers. A programmer focuses exclusively on building out specific functionality, like processing payments or a site search. Web programmers tend to focus on the technical aspects of these functions that allow them to work properly. On the other hand, a software developer will write software based on the business’s needs or target user.

Web Development Specializations

Web developers can choose from many specializations, each with its own area of expertise. The three most common are full stack development, back-end development, and front-end development.

Back-end Development

The back-end production is the unseen workhorse of a website and is where the core structure is created. It takes care of the technical aspects so that the user-facing side can operate smoothly. Typically, back-end developers use Python, SQL, Ruby, C#, or Java written through the website database. The back-end also includes things like data management and security. Without a back-end, you’d be left with an empty shell of a website.

Front-end Development

Front-end web development is the more visually stimulating side of coding and is all about what the user sees and interacts with. Sometimes referred to as client-side development, front-end developers use HTML, Javascript, and CSS to build an interface for websites and apps for users to interact with. Unlike back-end developers who focus on building out the inner workings of a website, front-end developers are more focused on what users actually see and use.

For instance, HTML is used to format the elements and text seen on a web page, whereas CSS is used to style those elements or configure how a layout will look. JavaScript enables a front-end web developer to transform a static page into a dynamic one.

Dynamic web pages can take a website to the next level, engaging the user with a more interactive experience. This can encourage users to interact with the site and push them toward whatever the website’s end goal might be. Some common examples of an interactive web applications include clickable widgets, maps, calculators, and chatbots.

Full-Stack Development

Full-stack developers are a rare breed and are the backbone of a lot of highly functional websites, SaaS companies, and online services. These MacGyver-like multitaskers can work across all different layers of a website, back and forth from the back-end to front-end development. Full-stack developers work with HTML, CSS, and Javascript but also the command line and back-end languages like PHP or Ruby.

People capable of doing both front-end and back-end web development are in high demand these days because their skills span all aspects of web and software development. Web-based applications are an extension of software development that involves building apps on remote servers and can be accessed through a browser.

Web applications can be integrated with websites in various forms, including online photo editors, shopping cart functionality for eCommerce sites, word processors, video editors, and email providers like Gmail or Outlook. The primary advantage of these types of programs is that they allow you to access data from anywhere that has an internet connection, making them available for use without having to download anything. This also plants them in the realm of web developers.

What is the difference between web design and web development?

These two areas of expertise work closely together to build websites that ultimately need to accomplish the primary business goals. Having satisfied, frequent and returning visitors arises from an engaging website that is both functional and well-designed goes hand-in-hand with accomplishing those goals. The collaborative effort between designers and developers enables a website to best succeed in these areas.

While these two aspects of web development go hand-in-hand, they are not the same. If you were to look at the website as the brain, design would be the more creative right side, and development would be the analytical and methodical left side of the brain. Each performs an entirely different function, but they are both necessary for the website to work effectively.

Designing a website is a delicate and creative process that involves carefully piecing together the visual elements such as logos, fonts, colours, images, and shapes. Things that the user sees and interacts with when they visit.

Developing a website translates that design into a functioning website that includes more functional aspects such as buttons with hover effects or a shopping cart function that leads you through a checkout page where people can purchase your products. The process of developing websites is focused on logic, how the website works and incorporating unique applications required for your business.

Two halves of the same whole that often overlap in expertise. Web designers and web developers work together to create sites that offer a unique user experience while putting the best foot forward for the person or company it belongs to.

Do you need both a web designer and web developer?

Regardless of the path you decide to go, the process behind creating a new website is a significant undertaking for any company. For businesses that have a project that’s larger in scope, you’ll likely need to have both.

One factor that could influence this decision is the balance between visual aesthetics and functionality. Your website is often the first impression a customer will have of your business.

If you want to make an informed choice about which option provides the services that are the best fit for you, you’ll want to be sure that you understand your needs and the goals you need your site to accomplish before reaching out to either about working on your project.

Web Designers

Web designers tend to focus on the visual aspects and user experience of the website. It’s their job to communicate the brand identity to users. They also implement various creative assets like fonts, colours, shapes and graphics to develop a unique look that stands out.

A website designer makes sure that the components they create can be easily converted into code, usually through tools like Figma or Sketch. This is where the web developer usually steps in.

Web Developers

A web developer or front-end developer is a cog in the machine that zeroes in on the more logical and systematic aspects of designing a website. They apply their skills to programming and writing code that ensures a website functions and end-users can navigate it with ease.

A web developer often collaborates with interaction and UI designers to build a functional layout. From there, they optimize the site’s performance and maintain the site after its launch.

Who earns more: A web designer or web developer?

There are several factors that could come into play when determining what you can expect to earn as a web designer or developer, such as your skillset, level of experience or specializations.

While it’s a competitive industry, the demand for web developers is expected to continue growing. According to Indeed, Canada’s average base salary for a web developer starts at roughly $67,142 per year, while the average for a web designer is $47,856 per year.

Can a web developer be a web designer?

Short answer, yes. Both web designers and web developers can probably build a site from scratch. While a web designer may traditionally err more on the visual side of things, a web developer can deliver a highly functional site. There are plenty of people who excel on both sides. However, talented folks like this are relatively hard to find.

Is it better to work with a web designer or a web developer?

While it’s possible to find someone who can do both. Though, this route could also cause an imbalance, leaving you with a website that doesn’t quite reach its full potential. A better route could be to hire someone you’ve vetted as a fit to build your site and identify which category you think they’d fall under, or flat out ask them!

That allows you to outsource an audit from another freelancer or agency at the end of the project to ensure a well-rounded result. Working with both web designers and web developers would more than likely leave you with a site that ticks all the boxes and performs better.

It’s not uncommon for people to get lost in the differences between web design vs. web development. While these two careers work closely together, they are distinctly different from one another. One does not necessarily replace the other. Rather, they both contribute to achieving a finished result.

Wrapping up

When it comes to web design vs web development, the differences are complex and extensive. A web designer focuses on user-experience while bringing the idea of a brand to life on the screen. The website developer is in charge of building the site at its core, writing code and configuring programs to make the site functional.

When creating a website, it’s important to consider the perspective of both a web designer and a web developer. This ensures that every aspect of your website is exactly what you and your business need it to be. Which lets you focus on what matters the most, the customer experience.

I hope you were able to find something of value to consider for your next web project. With so many things going on behind the scenes, it can be challenging to know who to deal with. Do you need help building a website? I provide custom web design and development services and would love to hear about your project.

Ready to create your digital presence?

Have a bold idea or unsolvable problem regarding your website? I’d love to hear about it.

Let's get to work →