The difference between a web designer and a web developer

Any site is made of of two parts – the design and the code. When you decide you want a new blog design or website, you’ll think about the overall look you want it to have.

You’ll think about the fonts, colours and layout. You’ll then (hopefully) think about the technical things like is it optimised for speed and search engines, is it secure, is it responsive and up to coding standards?

So who do you hire for your new site? Do you need a web designer, a web developer or both? Here’s a general overview…

What does a web designer do?

A Web Designer will take those ideas you have, along with your preferences, goals, problems, their experience and many other things and translate it all into mockups using graphic design software (Photoshop, Illustrator, etc) as a visual concept. They create the graphics of your site, choose the fonts and colours, plan how your site is laid out in order to solve certain issues or achieve certains goals, etc. Then the mockup files (organised using correctly named layers + layer groups) will get sent to a web developer…

What does a web developer do?

The Web Developer will develop those mockups into a live working site using HTML, CSS, Javascript, jQuery, PHP and more. The guidelines they follow and code they use will vary depending on the platform. Their main focus is with functionality and using clean code that complies with web standards. They’ll make sure it loads quickly, make sure your content can be found by optimising it for SEO and correctly using markup. When finished they’ll make sure the site looks like the mockup, behaves the way it’s supposed to and functions properly.

There are different kinds of web developers, some specialise in a CMS (like WordPress for example) or a platform (like apps). Some are front-end developers (responsible for a website’s look and feel) while some are back-end developers (responsible for web server, application and the database). There’s even full-stack developers (who are both front-end and back-end). And so on!

Who do I need to hire?

99.9% of the time you’ll need both! As you can probably tell from the explanation above, they are both needed to create the perfect blog or website. They could be the same person (designer + developer in one) or they could be two separate people – for example Zoe offered development services while Kaye offered design services. I offer both in one package and also offer development services to designers who want to collaborate on a project. Some designers will have a prefered developer, some developers will pair up with a specific designer and some won’t mind too much who they work with, which allows you to choose both people you like.

When you are inquiring about a new project, make sure to check if the price includes only the design or if it is both the design and development. You could also ask if any of the design or development work is outsourced. These two things will give you a better understanding of the process involved, the timeframe and the overall cost of the project.

Why does it matter?

One of my pet peeves is seeing designers code sites for their clients without hiring, partnering with or consulting with a developer. It leads to badly coded sites, causes SEO problems and other issues down the line.

I can’t tell you how many times a designer has come to me AFTER creating a site for a client asking for my help because the client is having problems and they have no idea how to fix it.

Or even worse, a client has come to me with thousands of problems despite “paying a fortune” and I have to explain that the problem is with how the site was coded.

It’s frustrating and I always feel so bad for the client, because unfortunately they just didn’t know any better.


I hope this cleared things up a little bit as I get this question quite a bit. Hopefully it will help you when looking for your next project.

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5 responses to “The difference between a web designer and a web developer”

  1. I am so glad you posted this! So many “designers” have popped up lately in the custom theme area and they’ve been trying to do both – design and develop. It often results in some sketcy/messy coding.

    Definitely need to look into what kind of service you will be getting when purchasing a custom theme.

    1. Thanks Kristie. Definitely important, packages and services vary so much now depending on who you go to!

      That’s a really good point too, I think a lot of new designers don’t understand that it usually is two different roles. When we were taught at college it was two separate classes with two lecturers – a graphic/web designer and a developer/programmer. That made it easier to understand how different the two areas are and what skills were needed. I’m so glad I was able to learn from both!

  2. Ooh I never knew there was a difference – always assumed it was the exact same thing. Good to know! x

  3. Phil

    Hi Elaine, I couldn’t agree more! We’ve had to help a lot of people from the dreaded “etsy nightmare”. It seems there are new “designers” popping up almost every day.

    1. Hey Phil, have definitely noticed a huge jump over the past few years. If only more of them reached out to developers!

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