Small Business Trends

Web Development vs. Web Design: Which One Do You Need?

By | 8 min read | Published

Learn the difference so you can make the right agency choice for your website.

A website is a necessity for just about every business these days, no matter your size or industry. Just about everyone has internet access via their smartphone and/or computer, and uses it to find the services and products they need every day.

Without a website, your business has little chance of success, or showing up in search results. But knowing you need a website and developing one are two different things.

If you have limited experience with website-building, it’s hard to know where to begin. Who will do the work for you? Do you need a web development agency or a web design agency? And what’s the difference between a web designer and a web developer, anyway?

In this article, we’ll explore web development and web design, and cover their differences so you know which one you need to get your website in front of your customers.

What is web development?

Web development covers the building and maintenance part of developing a website or web application, carried out by web developers. Web developers possess a bevy of technical skills. They must know one or more programming languages, as well as complex coding techniques to get their work done.

Web developers combine the requirements of a website idea with the concepts and design provided by web designers and turn them into a functional website. Web development is where all the planning and meetings transform into something real.

Building a website involves more than one type of technology. The pages you see in your browser are just one part (normally called the front end), and usually depend on services that run on a back-end server and deliver data to the front end, so it can be realized or “rendered.” The data that such services store and retrieve must also have a home, which is usually a database.

What types of web developers are there?

You may need one or more types of web developers to build and finish your website.

1. Front-end developer

The part of a website that an end-user sees and interacts with—the front end or client side of the application—is built by a front-end developer. Because front-end developers build all visual aspects of a website—including navigation menus, colors, buttons, tables, and font styles—they often work more closely with a web designer than back-end web developers.

But front-end development is more than just making a website look good and ensuring that visual elements match the design. Modern websites are interactive, dynamic, and act more like full-fledged applications than websites of the past.

Front-end developers make sure that visitors have a smooth, dynamic experience as they navigate a website. They also ensure that websites look good on any device or browser, no matter the screen size.

The languages used in front-end development are:

  • HTML: The markup language that structures a web page.
  • CSS: The style language that determines colors, sizes, fonts, and more.
  • JavaScript: The programming language that runs in a browser and is responsible for dynamic interactions and fetching data.

2. Back-end developer

The back end is also known as the server side of a web application. It’s where a back-end developer works on the part of a website that users don’t see.

While a front-end developer builds the structure and functionality of the pages that will be rendered by a web browser, a back-end developer is responsible for everything that happens before you see the web page.

Because of this, back-end development can involve more steps. Back-end developers configure and manage the servers for web pages. They also build the API—application programming interface—that serves and modifies the data that is displayed by a website as users navigate it. These developers also cover database development, help ensure website security, and handle user authentication and authorization.

The programming languages used by a back-end developer are often more diverse than those used by front-end developers. To manage databases, they need to know SQL. Depending on the platform, they could write server code in one or more programming languages, including PHP, Python, Node.js, Ruby, and Java.

3. Full-stack developer

A full-stack developer knows both back-end and front-end development. They have a good understanding of how these two parts work together, and can build a complete website. Their full-stack knowledge could extend into DevOps, which can include the website deployment and build process.

What is web design?

Web designers are similar to graphic designers, but instead of working with static print designs, they design the layout, visual details, and user interactive elements on a website.

This is an important part of building a website. A web designer works to ensure visitors find a website visually appealing while providing a good enough user experience to ensure a long stay on the site. Designers also must make sure that the website design they create looks just as good on any screen size, from mobile phones to large monitors.

There is a good reason to invest in this kind of work from a web designer: 83% of consumers will do business with a competitor if the customer experience on a website is poor.[1] Web designers are also often up-to-date with the latest web trends to keep up with user expectations.

What are the primary types of web designers?

While web design involves both designing the visual parts of a website and how the user flow works, these tasks are usually divided into two disciplines.

1. User experience (UX) designer

A UX designer ensures a website is accessible, usable, and enjoyable. They are responsible for a user’s overall satisfaction, and consider the entire website at a high level.

UX designers determine what problems they are trying to solve for a user, and how that process aligns with a brand’s goals. They may conduct user research with prototypes of potential designs to determine which works best and which features are the most important.

After research determines what is important for users, UX designers map out user flow with sitemaps, wireframes, and prototypes. This is where a UI designer gets involved and starts adding visual elements. More user testing at this stage can help determine which elements of a website should stay, and which should change.

2. User interface (UI) designer

A UI designer focuses on the visual elements of a website, and how users will interact with them. These professionals design all pages on a website, and the components on each page.

UI designers follow a UX designer’s lead when it comes to how a user navigates the site and adds visual elements to complete that vision while meeting brand requirements. These visual elements include colors, graphics, typography, spacing, layout, element behavior, animations, and accessibility.

A UI designer may create the style guide for a site as well, which determines the color palette, fonts, and other visual details that are used throughout the site. This gives web developers a quick reference to use if they have questions about the design.

What is the difference between a web designer and a web developer?

Now that you have an idea of the reasons to hire a web designer and/or a web developer, let’s take a look at how the two differ:

Web Designer Web Developer
Web designers are often considered creative. Web developers are often technically inclined.
Web designers contribute to the aesthetic appeal of a website. Web developers make sure that a finished website fulfills all technical requirements.
Web designers turn your brand and ideas into a website design. Web developers turn a website design into a reality.
Web designers are concerned about how a site looks and how visitors use it. Web developers are concerned about how a site functions.
Web designers create the style of a site and use mockup tools and wireframes to display how it will function. Web developers determine how long implementing a design will take and whether it will work technically before work begins.
Web designers often need to know how to use graphic design software, wireframe software, and similar tools. Web developers may use an IDE to manage their code, but mainly work with programming languages such as HTML, JavaScript, CSS, Python, etc.
Hiring a web designer will cost you less than hiring a web developer, on average. Hiring a web developer will cost you more than hiring a web designer, on average.
A web designer is well-versed in graphic design, typography, and other visual topics. A web developer is well-versed in programming languages, how technologies work with each other, and other technical topics.

Do you need a web designer or web developer?

Just like many questions about technology, the answer is “it depends.” Every business is unique and has different needs.

If you are building a website from scratch and want a unique look that fits your branding, you need a web designer to create a design that fits your brand and a web developer to make that design a reality.

If you don’t need a unique design, you may be able to get by with just a web developer and an off-the-shelf website template.

You won’t often need a web designer without also needing a web developer.


  1. Why User Experience Matters to Marketing, WebFX

About the Author

Stephan Miller - Guest Contributor

Stephan Miller - Guest Contributor

Stephan Miller is a freelance writer and software developer specializing in software and programming. He has written two books for Packt Publishing.

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