These two roles are often substituted for one another, however they both carry their own weight – and rightfully so. After all, they are the two main ingredients in any effective web design process. A web designer focuses on the aesthetics, or the “look and feel” of a website, while web developers concentrate primarily on the functionality, such as what happens when you click a button or submit a contact form. Although there are quite a few people out there who may be able to handle the tasks of both a web designer and a web developer, these two professions typically work together to bring web experiences into existence. This week, I’m going to cover some other characteristics that separate these two important professions.

Design and source code view of a webpage.
Here is an image example showcasing the design view of a website as well the source code view in Google Chrome, one of the most popular web browsers.
Web inspector view of a web page.
Web inspectors allow designers and developers to view the design and code of a website in one browser window. Typically used for troubleshooting purposes.

Let’s Start with Education

Web designers typically attain a 2-4 year degree in a visual arts or graphic design program. They often learn to use a variety of creative suites, as well as several WYSIWYG editors to help them develop the aesthetic look and feel of the websites they create. Although having HTML knowledge is also a major plus for web designers, it isn’t surprising if a majority of them do not have any knowledge of HTML outside of what Adobe Dreamweaver and some other basic web editors.

A web developer’s education, on the other hand, is mainly technical-based. They often attain some type of 2-4 year computer science or programming degree where they will learn programming languages such as HTML, HTML5, Java, JavaScript, CSS3, SQL, PHP, and C++. Having ample knowledge of these languages enables the developer to produce a properly-functioning website. Web developers or programmers may also dabble with Adobe Photoshop to help with simple tasks such as resizing images and color changes, but spend most of their time using various text editors to complete their tasks.

Web page layout in Adobe Photoshop.
Here’s a website template being visually created in Adobe Photoshop using a variety of graphics and layers. Absolutely no coding is required for these layouts.

Software, Tools, and Resources

The software and tools that designers and developers use on a daily basis also differ. A web designer’s software suite would include an image editor like Adobe Photoshop or Gimp, a vector-based program like Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape, and possibly a WYSIWYG web page editor like Adobe Dreamweaver or Kompozer. Other resources a web designer may use are color pickers, on-screen rulers, lorem ipsum text generators, and stock photography websites.

Unlike the web designer whose software collection consists mainly of creative suites, a web developer’s toolkit would most likely include a text editor such as Notepad++, an FTP client like Filezilla, as many internet browsers as possible for testing purposes, and different types of Web (Code) inspectors which are usually built into the browsers themselves. In addition, web developers also tend to use CMS (Content management Systems) platforms such as WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla to help streamline the implementation of content on a website.

Wysiwyg software view of a web page.
Adobe Dreamweaver is a very popular WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) web design program which can also be used to edit HTML and CSS files.
Analyzing code using a text editor.
This image shows what typical HTML code would look like in a text editor; in this case, Sublime Text 2.

As part of the web design process

As mentioned above, web designers and web developers often work together on web design projects. Most initial conversations in the web design process have to do with the aesthetics, or the “look and feel” of a website. Clients will generally have an idea of what they want their website to look like and the audience they are targeting. A graphic designer would then use his creativity, the client’s design principles, and their collection of tools and resources to visually layout design concepts. Once a layout is approved, functionality becomes the focus. This is when the skill set of a web developer is required. Besides developing the website from scratch using one of several coding languages available, a web developer would also work on technical components like databases, online forms and applications (and the actions they require to be submitted), as well as client login portals. Even when the web design project is considered complete and uploaded to the Web, web developers can still spend countless hours troubleshooting issues that arise. Troubleshooting websites and web pages is a continuous process and generally web designers have little or nothing to do with this task.

In Conclusion

With the information provided, hopefully you’ve got a better understanding of what the differences between a web designer and a web developer are. The differences really are like night and day, and their definitions should not be substituted for each other. If you are an individual or a business looking to hire a web designer or a web developer you should know their strengths, but you should also know what their limitations are. This will help you to make the best decision possible in deciding the resources you need moving forward.

What do you think are the biggest differences between web designers and developers? Let us know in the comments!

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