Web Design vs. Web Development: Understanding the Difference

Web designers and web developers both play a vital role when it comes to the creation and release of a website. However, I've spoken to many clients who weren't sure what the distinction is between these two disciplines. This guide should help you understand what sets one apart from the other and let you know which you should reach out to in a given situation. While we focus primarily on design, we do partner and work closely with developers.

Introducing the Designer

It might be helpful to think of building a website as an analogy to building a house. In this context, think of the designer as an architect. Similar to an architect our job is a mixture of analysis, functionality, and creativity.

On the first level, we analysis what is currently working on your site and where there's room for improvement. We also look at competitors or others in the space to get a baseline on websites in your niche.

From there, we dive into the IA or information architecture of the site. If your brand has been growing rapidly, you might have out-grown your existing website structure. Similarly, if you've pivoted your business, you will need to adjust your website's structure to reflect this. You'll want to make the customer's journey as seamless as possible so it's important to consider the different types of visitors on the site and how they will interact with your website. Common deliverables during this phase are sitemaps, wireframes and storyboards. 

Once that is complete, the next stage is the visual design. Sometimes we refer to the design as the "look and feel" of the site but it's often much more than that. We keep up to date on trends and best practices to build trust and optimize conversions. We create moodboards, mockups, and interactive prototypes to create a user experience that engages your target customers.

After the design of the site has been approved, it is handed over to the development team. While we usually continue to answer questions from the development team and help out as needed, this is technically when we hand-off the project.

Introducing the Developer

A web developer plays an equally vital role in the creation of web pages. To continue our analogy from earlier, if designers are the architects, developers are the builders.

A web developer takes control of the building phase of a web page. We work closely with them to answer any questions on the functionality of the design and help with any issues that come up during this phase. They are the ones who bring the designs to life using coding skills. Depending on the complexity of the project and the type of functionality needed, you might need specialists in specific programming languages. 

They will also typically set up integrations where your website needs to communicate with other business systems, for example to your warehouse inventory system. They can also look into improving issues like site speed.

After the initial coding phase, the developer will also need to do cross-browser and device testing to make sure the website functions the same across all platforms. Usually the client is also involved to some degree in the QA for the site before it goes life.

Working Together

As you can tell, both roles are very intertwined and necessary when it comes to the creation of a website. Hire a designer if you need help with the concept, organization or visual look of your website. Hire a developer if you are having issues with the functionality of your website.