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Website Basics

Do you need a web designer or a web developer?

Find out about the differences between a web designer and a web developer.

March 09 · 8 min read

Anytime you need some form of website-related service, your go-to options are either a web designer or a web developer. Of course, there are some minor, simple stuff you can do easily on your own, especially if you know your way around the website, but generally, you go to one of these experts for web work.

Now, because these two services cater to website work and use similar tools, it’s all too easy to assume that they are one and the same and even interchange them for each other. In reality, however, web designers and web developers have very distinct roles. As such, it’s essential to understand which one you’ll actually need for specific work on your website.

Let’s break each one down, so you have a clearer picture of the differences between a web designer and a web developer.

Defining web design and development services

Let’s get some context by assuming you want to manufacture a car. You need an automotive engineer to work in the engine, transmission, wheels, and other technical aspects. You’ll also need someone in charge of the aesthetic design of the car — the steering control, seat comfort, dashboard layout, and so on.

In this scenario, the web developer is the automotive engineer, while the web designer is the design expert tasked with ensuring a great user experience for the eventual car owner.

Makes sense? Let’s look at another analogy.

Say you want to build a house. You need an architect to translate your vision for the building in a way that the civil engineer or building construction expert can follow and make that vision a reality. So the architect (web design) deals with the visual elements, layouts, floor plans, etc. The building construction expert (web development) takes those plans and executes them.

The point is that website design and development services go hand in hand to produce a quality website. It’s like a symbiotic relationship.

Can someone be both a web designer and a web developer?

Of course! Provided the person takes the time to master both skill sets necessary to produce quality results. Some web development and designing tasks can sometimes overlap, so being proficient in both fields is always a plus.

Breaking down website design

Web design deals with the conceptualizing, researching, planning, and arranging, and overall flow of the design of a website. It is a broad field that covers more than just aesthetics, as the primary focus is on delivering the perfect user experience and information architecture.

In fact, web design is critical to the website’s performance in terms of searchability and visibility, which can impact your company’s bottom line.

Who is a web designer?

Basically, web designers are responsible for the look, feel, and function of the website. These individuals are usually well-versed in UX (user experience) and UI (user interface) designs. However, it’s not uncommon for some to have more proficiency in one aspect over the other.

A web designer primarily seeks to understand the end user’s needs and motivations. Equipped with this knowledge, they then decide on the various design aspects of the site — color schemes, content flow, typography, graphic design, etc.

Let’s get a bit more specific.

Web design roles

The roles and responsibilities of web designers continue to expand as today’s websites become more and more sophisticated. This has led to specialized roles across the board. Let’s break them down into three main categories:

UX designers

The primary role of a UX designer is to figure out the needs of the website’s users and ensure that they are fully met in the web design. They carry out various forms of user testing, create user personas, and even develop prototypes so that users are treated to a one-of-a-kind experience when interacting with the website.

UX designers also oversee the information flow of the website, making sure it is logical — one element leads to the next in an organized manner. For this, they have to create website mockups and wireframes, then do the necessary testing to ensure it leads to a seamless user experience.

What are the most important skills that UX designers should possess?

  • Extensive target audience research
  • User personas development
  • Information architecture expertise
  • Designing wireframes and user flows
  • Creating prototypes
  • Running extensive user testing
  • Graphic design, photoshop, eye for aesthetics

UI designers

The primary role of a UI designer is building clean, simple user interface designs for the website. They concern themselves with ensuring that every touchpoint and interaction between the user and the website deliver an outstanding user experience.

To that end, UI designers handle everything from visual elements like buttons and the arrangement of the content on each web page to the website navigation and everything else in between. They aim to balance usability with the website design.

What are the most important skills that UI designers should possess?

  • Extensive understanding of how color theory, typography, and design patterns affect one another
  • Knowledge in various design approaches
  • Deep knowledge in responsive design
  • Design UI elements — icons, sliders, scrolling effects, buttons, etc.
  • Proficiency in prototyping tools
  • Design animation expertise for better interactivity

Visual designers

Visual designers are essentially a mix of UX and UI designers — like a hybrid role. They excel at visual messaging, graphic designs, branding, and any other design-related items that can take your website to the next level. Their primary roles involve aspects of the design process like layouts, spacing, imagery, color palettes, typography, among others.

For instance, if you have a page with lots of bulky content, a visual container can help streamline the flow and convert some of the text into infographics or videos for a better user experience. Even though they’re primarily concerned with the design process, visual designers often also have a say in each page’s functionality.

What are the most important skills that visual designers should possess?

  • Strong design skills with the ability to harmoniously bring all the elements together
  • Unparalleled knowledge of color theory and design patterns
  • Strong proficiency in conceptualizing brand elements for both new websites and redesign projects
  • Proficiency in design software
  • A keen eye for details
  • Proficiency in creating eye-catching transitions, animations, and other forms of dynamic interaction on the site
  • Ability to interpret and present information in a creative manner

What are the most common tools used by web designers?

A certain spark of creativity and ingenuity is needed for web design, but by and large, a web designer is only ever as good as their toolkit. Not only do these tools save them valuable time, but it also allows them to deliver the kind of next-level results that clients need from their new website or web redesign.

That being said, there’s no shortage of web design tools out there today. If you’re a budding web designer, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the options, so it’s essential to first know exactly what you need before signing up.

Here are some of the most popular web design tools:

  • Figma
  • Sketch
  • Adobe Creative Cloud
  • MockFlow
  • Photoshop
  • Miro
  • InVision
  • Flinto
  • Material Design
  • Proto.io
  • Balsamiq
  • Zeplin

Breaking down website development

Web development deals with the building, creation, and maintenance of a website or related web application. It’s about turning the wireframes and creative ideas from a web designer into a stunning, fully-functional website.

A web developer is primarily concerned with ensuring the website loads fast, runs smoothly, and that all the functionalities are delivering as expected. Like web designers, they’re also focused on user experience, though their approach is not often as pronounced.

Who is a web developer?

Simply put, a web developer is the person you call when you need someone to deal with issues under the hood of your website. Also, the person you’d call when setting up a new website or application (mobile app, web app, third-party integrations, etc.).

Web development skills are highly sought after by just every organization, from small businesses to non-profits. This is primarily because of the vast array of specializations that are generally under the belt of a professional web developer.

Web developers are adept in various programming languages, including HTML (Hypertext Markup Language, Javascript, CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), PHP, Python, and many others. The coding language they use varies depending on the type of project they’re working on and the specific task.

Web development roles

What are some of the most impressive web designs you’ve come across? Chances are the behind-the-scenes work was done by a seasoned web developer, or perhaps even a full-on web design agency.

A web developer doesn’t just take care of the coding. They also build the framework of the website based on input from the web designer, making sure every element, every function is bug-free and fully functional at all times.

They also provide expert recommendations to the designer on the feasibility of their designs. Plus, they do the programming for the UI design and maintain the website on the server-side.

Because of the many roles and responsibilities that website development covers, the field is split into three broad categories — front-end development, back-end development, and full-stack development. Let’s look at each one in turn as they majorly handle different tasks.

Front-end developer

Front-end means the user-facing side of the website development. This includes building the website’s mockup design, implementing the site’s layout, and coding the interactive elements. Front-end developers are also responsible for ensuring fast website loading speeds, accessibility, responsive design, and making any bug fixes as needed.

What are the most important skills that front-end developers should possess?

  • Fluency in different programming languages (HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Python, and so on)
  • Complete understanding of CSS preprocessors
  • In-depth knowledge in responsive design principles
  • Relevant years of experience in framework building
  • Knowledge of web performance and automation tools
  • Mobile app layouts and framewires
  • Debugging knowledge
  • Basic to intermediate knowledge in website design

Back-end developer

This is the main behind-the-scenes engineer. They are responsible for coding and maintaining the engines that power the front-end of the website. They also take care of server-related issues, hosting, database and applications maintenance, and even implementing tracking codes and improving the website accessibility.

What are the most important skills that back-end developers should possess?

  • Fluency in server-side scripting languages, such as Python, PHP, Java, and so on
  • Mastery of Ruby on Rails software framework
  • In-depth knowledge of API architectures
  • Experience in database management (SQL)
  • Knowledge of version control systems
  • Debugging knowledge for back-end systems

Full-stack developer

Full-stack developers are proficient enough in both front-end and back-end web development. They possess a well-rounded understanding of website development on all levels (or stacks) and are primarily concerned with ensuring smooth interplay between the website’s front-end and back-end. As you can probably expect, full-stack developers are in high demand in today’s digital age.

Besides being adept at writing multiple coding languages, they may also be expected to oversee website development projects, anticipate tech issues, and maintain industry best practices.

What are the most important skills that full-stack developers should possess?

Basically, all the skills required for front-end and back-end developers. Of course, it’s not mandatory to be proficient in all of them. Typically, full-stack developers possess basic to intermediate website creation knowledge across the board and maybe one or two specialties — the more the better.

What are the most common tools used by web developers?

There are literally dozens upon dozens of web development tools, each with its own unique purpose. As with any tool, it’s all about who’s wielding it. Generally speaking, however, here are a number of tools and systems that can find in a good web developer’s wheelhouse:

  • AngularJS
  • Ruby on Rails
  • MySQL
  • Grunt
  • Sublime Text
  • TypeScript
  • Chrome DevTools
  • Postman
  • GitHub
  • MongoDB
  • Lighthouse

Building a great website sounds like a pretty simple endeavor, especially with today’s selection of easy-to-use content management systems and one-click website builders. In reality, however, there’s a lot that goes into the web development and design process. That’s why it’s essential to put some thought into who gets to handle your web work.

Should you hire a freelancer or a web design company?

Most small business owners and professionals will often encounter this question at some point. Your business will live on those web pages, so above anything else, it’s important to get it right the first time.

The answer ultimately depends on a circumstance basis. For example, a web design agency may be a better fit if you wanted to build a professional business website for a large company or non-profit. Of course, this isn’t to say that small businesses cannot hire a digital agency. The main consideration is the cost involved.

The complexity of the task is an important consideration too. If it’s something simple like a few minor fixes on your eCommerce site, you could easily get a freelance web developer or designer. However, for something more complex, like adding custom functionalities or designing a mobile app, you might need a dedicated development team to get the job done.

One of the most compelling benefits of working with web development companies is that they offer complementary digital marketing services for your website. These marketing agencies can work on your website and help you develop a sound marketing strategy.

Related: How much does it cost to hire someone to build a website?

The bottom line

In today’s ever-competitive marketplace, it’s no longer enough just to have a digital presence. Your website must be able to attract and convert visitors on a steady if your business is to remain profitable. For that, you need the right mix of web design and development services.

Whether you need a web designer or a web developer, B12 is the perfect resource for your website. Besides being an expert web design and development team, we also utilize AI technology to optimize our processes and deliver quality websites in less than half the time it would take a regular web design agency.

Additionally, we offer various complementary services, including SEO (search engine optimization), copywriting, blogging, social media feeds, and many more. Sign up today and see for yourself how our services can take your business to the next level.

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