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

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March 23, 2021
5 minute read

If you're debating the benefits of web design vs. web development, you're in luck. Both careers are on the rise. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the developer and designer workforce is expected to grow by eight percent by 2029—much faster than other career fields. 

While designers and developers are listed together through the BLS, these are two distinct positions with two very different skill sets. While some people certainly market themselves as dev-designers, which can allow for more opportunity, most people specialize in one field and grow their skills in a specific niche. 

This begs the question: which one is right for you? Are you meant for the creative world of web design or do you want to build pages from the ground up as a developer? When you understand the differences between a web designer vs. web developer, you can choose a career path that is both rewarding and lucrative, a key combo for loving what you do every day.

Web designers focus on style and usability

When you navigate a website, consider what your eyes are drawn to, what colors and fonts stand out to you, and how that affects the way you connect with the brand. This is all the work of a web designer, who’s responsible for the style, layout, and feel of a webpage. Here are the skills and areas of focus for web designers.

Creativity based in theory

As a web designer, you need to leverage theories of psychology, color, fonts, and textual hierarchy to keep users on the site while also making sure the experience is appealing and memorable. In many cases, web designers also need to innovate, finding ways to weave animation, video, and other types of multimedia into their overall design plan—all without driving the website visitor away.

Coding and development

While this is a highly visual and creative job, many designers are also required to understand basic coding knowledge like HTML and CSS. Having this knowledge allows web designers to not only create, but also implement those designs and update them as needed without the help of a web developer.

Web design tools

Finally, web designers need to have a working knowledge of a wide variety of tools and software programs where the designs are created and developed. This includes:

  • The Adobe Suite (Photoshop, Illustrator, Sketch, etc.)
  • InDesign
  • ProofHub
  • WordPress and other CMSs

Furthering Your Web Design Career

Web designers who want to advance their careers can become user experience (UX) specialists or consultants. This means that they not only design a website that looks and feels good, but that they also implement strategies that drive website visitors to take a certain action, like clicking a button or buying a product.

A web designer who can do web design and UX strategy are highly sought after for the breadth of knowledge they can bring to their work. With88 percent of consumers being less likely to return to a website after a bad experience, this skillset is invaluable if you want to build your web design career.

You can get a UX design certificate to learn this new skillet and take your web design career to the next level.

Web Developers Create the Website Core

While designers are the visionaries for web layouts and pages, the web developer executes the plans and brings the design to life. They make sure the website is functional and the design can be implemented as intended. If you want to be a web developer, here are two areas of focus to consider:

Front-End Development

Front-end developers work closely with the design team to create apps, features, and aspects of the website that users will see. For example, if a designer wants to create a dynamic animated page, they might work directly with the developer to code it so it looks and feels the way the designer had in mind.

Back-End Development

Back-end developers create the code and technology needed for the website to be able to function as intended. Without back-end developers, front-end developers and designers couldn’t do their jobs. For example, they maintain, test, and debug all new web pages that go live using tools like core application logic, different programming languages, data and application integration, and API.

When a back-end developer does their job well, the average user won’t have any problems with the site, and all data loads accurately and quickly.

Furthering Your Web Development Career

In addition to honing your design skills so you can participate in both aspects of building a website, the third level of web development is full-stack development. The full-stack developer works on both sides, front-end and back-end. Hiring full-stack developers is common among small businesses that can only afford one person. This is also a common career path for solopreneur developers who want to attract a larger client pool.

Make yourself more valuable to a wide variety of businesses, whether you're looking for a job or a client, by honing your front-end and back-end skills.

The Difference Between Web Designer and Web Developer Salaries

If you’re thinking about which career path is more lucrative, it’s important to look at salary averages and freelance rates, and then dig deeper into earnings based on the location, niche, and type of company. Here is an overview of average salaries for these positions based on data from Glassdoor. Use this as a starting point to determine which career route matches your financial expectations and needs.

Web designer average salary: $52,691/year

  • Low: $38K
  • High: $74K

Web developer average salary: $68,524/year

  • Low: $44K
  • High: $111K

Web Design and Web Development Skill Sets Overlap

At first glance, you might be tempted to place web designers and developers into two different siloes: one is more creative and potentially client-facing while the other works on the back-end. However, when considering the skills of a web designer vs. a web developer, you find the two skill sets often overlap.

Web designers need technical website experience, especially if they stay on as webmasters after they design a site. Designers will also need to understand how their pages can be executed, or if their designs are possible before they pitch them to clients.

Web developers will also need the client-facing skills of designers if they’re freelancing or running a business. They also benefit from understanding design basics so they can work with other team members to execute the vision.

Explore Both Career Options

If you aren’t sure whether you want to pursue a career in web design or web development, consider taking introductory classes where you’ll learn foundational skills for both. You can also enroll in design or development courses and boot camps to hone your design and development skills before entering the field. The good news is, there is always an overlap between the skills needed for web designers vs. web developers, so building your knowledge in both areas will benefit you for the duration of your career, no matter which path you choose.

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