Web Designer vs Web Developer – What’s the Difference?

Posted on August 1, 2018 by in Resources | 23 comments

Web Designer vs Web Developer – What’s the Difference?

The difference between web designers and web developers is often misunderstood. They both make a living off the same type of business. They contribute to creating websites but their specializations and skill sets are different. Web designers and web developers often work together as well. Instead of being competitive, they are complementary.

In this post, we’ll show you the difference between web designers and web developers. This will help you figure out whether you need to hire a designer or developer for the website you want to create. We’ll start off by defining both professions. Then, we’ll continue by taking a look at how they work together. We’ll also share the average hourly rates you’d need to pay to hire a web designer or developer. And to top it off, we’ll discuss how both professions overlap.

Let’s get to it!

Definition – What’s The Difference in Theory?

web designer vs web developer

Image by Antonov Maxim / shutterstock.com

Web Designer

Web designers keep themselves busy with everything that has to do with the aesthetics of a website. Besides that, usability and user experience while designing are equally as important, if not more important. Web designers don’t just ‘design,’ they have to think about a lot of things during the process. A few of those things are the current trends, the design norms and foremostly, the target audience behavior. It’s not just about what’s appealing to the eye. In most cases, it’s more about what kind of designs will help trigger the right actions from visitors. And when all that is researched and analyzed, the design has to match the branding of the company in question as well.

So, it goes without saying that being a web designer is as much about designing as it is about psychologically understanding what you’re designing and making sure it will do what’s expected from it. It’s an addition to great company branding and helps create another funnel for companies.

A web designer usually handles the first stage of creating a website. They think about what a website needs and how it needs to be set up. This information is vital when being passed on to a web developer.

Web Developer

A web developer contributes to the second stage of creating a website. When the entire structure and expectations are set, a web developer can start putting things into practice. And even here, you can have different types of web developers as well. When hiring or becoming a web developer, you can take your pick between these three options:

  1. Frontend Developer – If you’re hiring a frontend developer, they will take charge of the way your website looks. The main languages that are used by frontend developers are HTML, CSS and Javascript. Some work with CMS platforms as well where they can take care of the frontend of a website using themes and builders. In this case, a lot of the coding work is taken out of hands but knowledge of CSS, in particular, is still required to be able to make tweaks whenever needed.
  2. Backend Developer – A backend developer, on the other hand, takes care of the backend of a website. Making everything work functionally is the main priority. Backend developers have very code-intensive days and need to make everything work with the frontend of a website. Often, this includes making an eCommerce website work or have membership websites up and running.
  3. Full Stack Developer – Full stack developers are the best of both worlds. They take care of both the backend and frontend of a website. In many cases, this makes the workflow easier.

How do They Work Together?

web designer vs web developer

Image by Ico Maker / shutterstock.com

Web designers and developers work closely together. Both specializations contribute to the bigger picture which is having a website up and running that matches the client’s needs. If a web designer and a web developer are working together, they usually start off with a detailed briefing. This briefing is a crucial part of the entire process. If the communication between a web designer and developer isn’t on point, it will lead to misinterpretation and bad UI.

A web designer usually shares the following information with a frontend web developer:

  • Page mockups and/or design files
  • Functionality needs
  • CSS properties of design elements (such as padding, margin, color, spacing and more)

But if you want a web designer and developer to be entirely on the same page, it’s recommended that the developer is somehow involved in the design process. That doesn’t mean you have to involve the developer in every step of the way, though. It can really help to include them in initial brainstorming and design reviews, for instance.

Now, depending on the type of website you create and the budget you have, you might not be able to afford to hire both a web designer and developer for a project. If that’s the case, you might want to go with a so-called ‘hybrid’ designer or developer. These hybrids are involved in both design and development and can help you set up a website from scratch, both design and development wise, in no time. They often work with CMS platforms, such as WordPress, as well. It allows them to finish a website quicker and it can help keep the client within his budget.

How Much Does Hiring a Web Designer or Developer Cost?

web designer vs web developer

Image by serazetdinov / shutterstock.com

If you’re hiring freelancers to create your website, you better do it right from the beginning. If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. Hiring the wrong people for the job can end up costing you a lot more afterwards. A decent web designer charges anywhere between $40 and $75 an hour to design a website. Web developers can go up to $150 an hour.

The price difference between developers and designers has a lot to do with the knowledge and experience someone needs to have to get started. It’s easier to get started as a web designer than it is to become a web developer because of the starting barrier. A web designer will typically need to know his or her way around UI design principles (design), target audience behavior (marketing) and graphics software (such as Photoshop and Illustrator). Although these aren’t easy to become specialized in, they are not as science-oriented as developing is. Being a web developer includes being a pro at solving problems, creating algorithms, coding in multiple languages and more.

Why Understanding how Web Design and Web Development Overlap Matters

It’s important to know why you’re hiring a designer or developer and what you expect from them. Are you willing to hire both to create your most desired outcome? Or are you willing to put all your eggs in one basket and choose someone who does both and uses a CMS platform, such as WordPress, to do it? If you go for the first option, you can entirely have it your way. If you go with the second option, you will definitely pay less.

In bigger companies, the separation still remains. They usually work in teams of designers and developers with each their specialty. This has its benefits. When having a team of specialist in specific areas, everyone can stay up to date with the latest trends and evolvements, leading to a more qualitative end product. But the ‘gap’ between developers and designers has become smaller. More and more, you can notice web designers diving into code and web developers diving into designing. Not necessarily to become a hybrid, but rather to become better at the specialization they already have.

Final Thoughts

When you decide to outsource creating a website and you want to hire freelancers, you’ll most likely wonder if you should hire a web designer or developer. These two professions are often mixed up although they have a completely different skill set. To create a website, you’d technically need both. But there are many people out there that offer both services at the same time. In this post, we’ve handled some of the differences between web designers and developers and gave some thoughts on how they work together. If you have any questions or suggestions, make sure you leave a comment in the comment section below!

Featured Image by Giuseppe_R / shutterstock.com

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23 Comments

  1. with the DIVI builder do you need a web developer?
    Whoever knows WordPress and the Divi Builder well is a web designer or a web developer?

    • If you want it to work correctly for custom jobs, yes, you will need a developer. And if you use Divi you are neither a designer or a developer if you don’t know design principles. Just because you can make a web page doesn’t mean you are a web designer or web developer. It takes experience to be considered one and that is the problem with Divi and all of the other page builders out there. Page builders are no more than the next phase of Microsoft Frontpage.

      • I was deliberately provocative but the reactions were few!

    • Divi expert is a web designer who made the need of the developer almost for nothing. With the increase in page builders offering many modules and pre designed layouts a new role like page builder expert in WordPress community soon going to evolve further.

    • That would be a WordPress implementer. That person is neither designing or developing.

  2. Thank you for the explanation. 🙂 I am a website designer based in Eugene, Oregon. This article will help me price my services for what I am worth. #eugenewebsitedesigner

    I am a DIVI fanatic. I use it 90% of the time.

  3. Nice article, thanks.

    I like to think of myself as a designer, and many of my clients will use ‘designer’ and ‘developer’ interchangeably. I shudder each time somebody calls me a developer – not because I don’t respect what developers do (because I do, hugely) – but because it will often set the wrong expectations for people who do grasp the difference.

    I’m also a Divi fanatic – and that’s probably because it can allow non-developers (or let’s say Designers with some front-end development skills) to deliver a quality project from start to finish.

    And if you’re dealing with small business clients with limited budgets, that’s a big deal.

    Anyway, nice description of the distinction, thanks

  4. Well Jocelyn, you should offer your services to Elegant Themes because they could certainly do with some Web design help. As a Lifetime Member I am constantly infuriated by being bombarded with popups and invitations to join and/or upgrade AFTER logging in.

    • Well see now you’re actually talking about marketing, which is a third piece of the pie not mentioned in this article.

  5. Great explanation! As a one-man show, it sounds like I’m more of a hybrid that does zero coding. I exclusively use Divi and with very few plug-ins for my clients.

  6. Hi Donjete,
    in your second last paragraph you mention two choices: hire both a developer and a designer, or just a designer. But most of my customers don’t want to be involved in – often difficult – conversation with a developer. Most customers are not that web savvy, and a lot of developers have a hard time talking non-technical language to clients.

    Personally, when I offer to create a website, I try to use as much valid WP plugins as possible to get the job done. Only when available plugins won’t do the job, I get in touch with one of my developers and do the ‘dirty talk’ with them. Since there is enough of an overlap in my knowledge and that of my developer, we can have meaningful conversation. Billing for both the developer and I go through me.
    So these types of websites have a mix of prefab plugins, and some tailor-made modules or plugins. And Divi, of course.

    • I agree. I keep my developers behind the scenes as well. Clients have no understanding of coding or development for that matter, and the last thing I want to do is to complicate the planning and design process.

      I hire independent contractors when I need a developer. In some instances I might mention to the client that I’m bringing a developer into the project (paid for by my company) so the client can better understand the dynamics of the team. The client will never have any contact with the developer. I’m the sole point of contact for the client.

  7. Nice post! I’ve worked primarily as a front end designer and have worked with some amazing developers in the past. I’m currently learning development so I can handle more of the project on my own. I also find WP to be a fantastic way to cover all the bases which can help to keep pricing within the budgets of my smaller clients. Thanks for posting this!

  8. Then there’s the audience perception. Many business owners don’t know the difference; in fact, they don’t know much about web design or development. So they’ll search for a web designer regardless.

    • Yeah, this is the same as clients not know the difference between a publisher and a printer, between an editor and a copy editor, an artist and an illustrator.

      If they’re searching for web designers, make sure they can find you, regardless of what you know you are. And once they find you, show them you are the one to help them get exactly the site they want, to do exactly what THEY want it to do.

      Regardless of what they call you.

  9. Excellent article. As an Elegant Themes Customer and as a Web developer I have to say that Elegant themes does a nice work with the pre-made layouts. So my web design is half the way. Thank you Elegant Themes!!

    By the way, Divi is so awesome.

  10. “If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.” It’s my new motto! Thanks, Donjete, the rest of the article is informative as well.

    • Excellent quote .. I’ll have to remember that one.

  11. This is really helpful, i also misunderstood this before thinking it’s also the same thing but different words…Thanks alot

  12. I agree totally that a good web developer can cost up to $150 (and potentially more). The problem is that people are being conditioned by sites like Fiverr and Freelancer that web developers (and designers for that matter) can be sourced for less than $10 per hour. While there are potentially a few good cheap ones out there, you will generally get what you pay for.

  13. I am a full stack developers but I use WP + DIVI for small and affordable projects with very small customization (mostly css).

    Divi simplify thing for me where I don’t need to have lots of plugins.

    I usually use 2/3 plugins with Divi Theme.

    It makes my website fast and small.

    Divi need to improve its menu by giving more cuatomization.

  14. Nice post! I am working as a front-end designer. I’m currently learning development so I can handle the project on my own. I also find WordPress to be a fantastic way to cover all the basics Thanks for posting this!

  15. Great article. Excellent differentiate between web designer and web developer. Thanks for sharing such an valuable article.

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