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Web design vs. web development: What’s the difference and why does it matter?

Ashley Gainer's Layout avatar

Ever had a prospect contact you for what they thought was a new web design, when it turned out what they really needed was a developer? Maybe you’ve had the awkward experience of explaining to your copywriter that you’re a developer, not a designer, and that the copy needed to be fixed to make that clear? Or perhaps you’re on the other side, and you do both design and development, and you’ve had to educate clients and prospects about just how valuable that makes you.

Confusing web design with web development is an all-too-common mistake that people make, especially when they’re newbies in this new-fangled thing we call the interwebs. I was a newbie once, too, and I can attest to my own ignorance (and subsequent mistakes and misconceptions) when it comes to design vs. development, so I write all of this without judgement.

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Why the difference matters

That said, there’s a very real difference between web development and web design, and the more we (as creatives) can clarify the difference, the better we’ll serve our markets and the stronger our businesses will be.

After all, when a client sees your site or looks at your portfolio and knows, with supreme confidence, that you are the professional who will best meet his or her needs — or when a web development prospect comes to your site, realizes you’re a designer and not a developer, and moves on without wasting either party’s time – everybody wins.

What web design is (and isn’t)

Web design is the art of designing the “public” part of a website — the page or pages that are live on the web and accessed by visitors and customers. It involves every aspect of how the site appears and functions, taking into account the principles of good visual design as well as a deep understanding of user experience and the client’s needs. “A good web designer makes a site look great and work well for the site user. ”

Web design is primarily a focus on what a site should look like and contain, and less about how to make it happen, i.e. coding or programming. Many (perhaps even most) web designers are not programmers, nor do they need to be — web design itself is primarily visual and organizational, which doesn’t usually require much, if any, coding skills. That said, there are very few designers who know absolutely nothing of common programming languages like Java, HTML, or PHP.

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What web development is (and isn’t)

Web development refers to writing the actual code and scripts that take a web design and bring it to digital life. It’s the “how” behind the “what” of a design. Developers focus on how a site works, how actions can be performed on the site, and how to make all those invisible things that happen on websites actually work.

They may have an eye for design — or at the very least, understand the important role design plays — but generally speaking, it’s not their focus. “A good web developer makes the design happen effectively and without any bugs. ”

Why web developers are an asset to web designers (and vice versa)

Web designers and web developers perform roles that are inextricably connected. There are hybrid designer-developers, but generally speaking, the two jobs are well suited to different types of people. Web designers function in the creative aspect of websites, whereas developers function more in the analytical aspect of things.

The symbiotic relationship between web design and web development makes it a great opportunity for partnerships, especially among freelancers. While it’s possible to build a web design business that delivers websites without the need to learn much code or work with a developer, this might not necessarily be ideal for all projects (or for your long-term business strategy).

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When you’re presented with a bigger or more complex project than you’re used to, link up with one of your developer friends. By outsourcing complex development work that’s beyond your realm, your fantastic project can still happen without making you crazy, and you will learn a thing or two in the process. Just don’t forget to include the additional fees in your proposal!

Want the best of both worlds? Learn more about being a hybrid designer developer.

Final thoughts on design vs. development

Web design and web development are closely related career paths, but they aren’t the same thing. Designers can benefit from knowing some very basic development techniques and developers can enhance their own performance with some basic design education. But ultimately the roles are distinct and there aren’t many people who offer both services in one package.

By forging strong working relationships with developers, you create the opportunity to deliver full website design and implementation services to your clients, even those needing complex websites you don’t necessarily know how to build. Teaming up with a developer or two gives you the chance to refer that work out — and have design work referred to you in return. By providing an all-in-one package, you’ll be able to serve your clients better and your developer can do the same. And as we all know, happy clients are the key to business.

Comments ( 15 )

  1. App developer India

    August 19, 2016

    Many people use the two terms “web design” and “web development” interchangeably, but they really do have two very different meanings. If you’re looking for a new job in the web design industry, or if you are someone looking to hire a web professional to build a website for you or your company, you need to know the difference between these two terms and the skillsets that come with them.
    This is perfect article for both who are looking to solve out there career related confusion. Thank you for sharing such wonderful guide with readers.

  2. Devon Hamilton

    August 19, 2016

    Actually, this article is only partially correct. Web designers such as myself do write code; to say that web designers do not write code is a misconception. Web designers write mark-up code such as HTML, CSS, and XML; and many such as myself have a functional understanding of logic programming languages such as PHP and Javascript.

    Web Designers write mark-up code, Web Developers write programming/logic code

  3. Laura Hudson

    October 31, 2016

    The topic you have chosen is very attractive because most of the people thinks that they both are same. Plus the points you have mentioned in this post are highly valid

    • App Creator

      January 4, 2017

      hello,Thanks for sharing great blog about web design and web development what the difference and why dose it matter. I get fully satisfied your blog..and Get a lots of information from here..

  4. Mudasser Ak

    December 10, 2016

    informative article. Thanks!

  5. Mudasser Ak

    December 22, 2016

    thanks for this great article. it is informative

  6. Shoaib Raza

    April 29, 2017

    I’m working also working on Web Design and Development. It’s difficult to focus on Web Development, all about code. I also want to know how to design Web better, I redesign my site http://www.yourwebschool.com a month ago. it’s took long time if you miss one dot or one alphabet who design will go wrong

  7. Shahid Awan

    July 3, 2017

    Many people are not aware of this they think web designer or web developer both are the same thing but thanks for sharing this article to make them clear about their differences , plus I think that I can become a good designer but not a good developer so I will pursue designing and there is a big scope in web designing too !!

  8. Prasoon Prahaladan

    October 15, 2017

    The most needed knowledge that all should know.
    All should aware of this difference.

  9. Engineer Babu

    April 23, 2018

    I still meet people who have lot of confusions between "web design" and "web development". Next time when I meet them I am gonna refer them to this blog post.

  10. NetSearch

    May 22, 2018

    Many people are not aware of this, they think web designer or web developer both are the same thing but thanks for sharing this article to make them clear about their differences , plus I think that I can become a good designer but not a good developer so I will pursue designing and there is a big scope in web designing too.

  11. Mobile App Developer India

    July 11, 2018

    Awesome Article Post on Website Design and Development. Both the work is challenging in their area and Even both side thinks that their work is though to compare others the truth is both the work is challenging in there end.

    Once again nice post... Keep Posting.

    Thanks

  12. webdesign magazine

    September 23, 2018

    People who are new to this field will definitely confused about the difference between this web design and development. A proper guidance is necessary for them and i think this article gives some important information about it.Keep share more blog like this.

  13. Ariana Johnson

    November 27, 2018

    I would say Your resource is so interesting and informative for me and this article explained everything in detail. You have done a superb job thanks for sharing this kind of info with us.

  14. Steven Parker

    January 28, 2019

    Nice article, web design refers to both the aesthetic portion of the website and it's usability. ... Web Developers on the other hand, take a website design and actually make a functioning website from it.

    A Developer's Job. While aspects of a developer's job may resemble that of a designer, it can be quite different as well. A web developer builds the backbone of websites, typically from the ground up, and knows languages specific to the web. HTML, Javascript, JQuery and CSS are among the tools in their kit.

    Web Design is the raw, mockup, and pre-used design of a website. Web designers used software like Photoshop, Illustrator, etc to design website. Front-End Web Development is the process of developing a website by coding. Web developers code the design of a website using HTML, CSS, and Javascript.

  15. Mobile App Developer India

    September 18, 2019

    Web design and web development both are different things and have their own features, functionality. Web designing is a great way to describe what your site is about, also tell about the things that we can represent by effective design and tools and attract users.
    Web development is the further thing that processed after designing. This article is very useful for those who are looking for a job in web design and web development. Thanks for sharing this useful article.

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