Difference Between Web Design and Web Development
When I meet new people and they ask me what I do for a living, I often reply that I am a “web designer.” I use this term because it is a safe “catch-all” phrase that lets people know what I do, in general, without confusing them with a too-specific job title that someone outside of the web industry would likely not understand.
The fact that the term “web designer” is a generalization is helpful in instances like I have just described, when you are speaking with someone who is not a web professional, but when you are speaking with someone in the web industry, that generalization may not be enough to explain what it is that you do.
In truth, many people use the two terms “web design” and “web development” interchangeably, but they really do have two very different meanings. If you’re looking for a new job in the web design industry, or if you are someone looking to hire a web professional to build a website for you or your company, you need to know the difference between these two terms and the skillsets that come with them. Let’s take a look at these two terms.
What is Web Design?
Web design is the most common term used for professionals in this industry. Oftentimes, when someone says they are a “web designer,” they are referring to a very broad set of skills, one of which is visual design.
The “design” part of this equation deals with the customer-facing or “front end” part of the website. A web designer is concerned with how a site looks and how the customers interact with it (they are sometimes also referred to as “experience designers” or “UX designers”).
Good web designers know how to use the principles of design to create a site that looks great. They also understand about web usability and how to create sites that are user-friendly. Their designs are one that customers want to navigate around because it’s so easy and intuitive to do so. Designers do much more than make a site “look pretty.” They truly dictate the usability of a website’s interface.
What is Web Development?
Web development comes in two flavors – front-end development and back-end development.Some of the skills in these two flavor overlap, but they do have very different purposes in the web design profession.
Back-end development deals with the more advanced programming and interactions on web pages. A back-end web developer focuses on how a site works and how the customers get things done on it using certain functionality. This could include working with code that interfaces with a database or creating features like E-commerce shopping carts that connect to online payment processors and more.
Good web developers may know how to program CGI and scripts like PHP. They will also understand about how web forms work and how different software packages and APIs (application programming interfaces) can be used to connect those different kinds of software together to create solutions that will meet a specific customer’s needs for their online presence. Back-end web developers may also be required to create new functionality from scratch if there are no existing software tools or packages that can be leveraged to meet their clients’ needs/
Many People Blur the Lines
While some web professionals specialize or focus on certain areas, many of them blur the lines between different disciplines. They may be most comfortable working with visual designs using programs like Adobe Photoshop, but they may also know something about HTML and CSS and may be able to code some basic pages. Having this cross-knowledge is actually very helpful as it can make you much more marketable in the industry and better at what you do overall.
A visual designer who understands how web pages are built will be better equipped to design those pages and experiences. Similarly, a web developer who has a grasp of the basics of design and visual communication can make smart choices as they code up pages and interactions for their project.
Ultimately, whether you have this cross knowledge or not, when you apply for a job or look for someone to work on your site, you need to know what you’re looking for – web design or web development. The skills you hire for will play a major role in the cost of what you will have to spend to get that work done.
In many cases, design and front-end development for smaller, more straightforward sites will be much less (on an hourly basis) than hiring an advanced back-end coder. For larger sites and projects, you will actually be hiring teams that contain web professionals who cover all of these different disciplines.