Untangling web design vs. web development: what’s the difference?

untangling web design vs. web development: what’s the difference?

There are many things to consider when creating a website, and if you are new to it the terminology can be a bit confusing or unclear. A good place to start is looking at web design vs. web development—what’s the difference, how do they work together and which one do you need for your website project. Lucky for you, these are the things we will cover in this article!

Web design is all the visual elements, like color, typography, images and buttons, related to a website. But it goes beyond just good looks. Web design tackles how you layout a web page, making sure it looks good in different screen sizes, keeping web navigation simple and easy, and ensuring the usability of a website flows smoothly.
If web developers are the engineers of building a house, web designers are the architects and interior designers. Considered as the artists or creatives of websites and applications, web designers are responsible for putting together creative elements that are on-brand, aesthetically pleasing and provide value to users.
Web design and web designers used to be a catch-all term for people who design websites. But in recent years, more specialized roles in web design have emerged. These roles are UX (user experience) and UI (user interface) designers.
User experience refers to the overall journey and experience that a person has when exploring your website. This experience can leave a positive or negative impression on users that may impact your brand.
UX designers focus on user behavior and feeling. They learn what makes consumers tick and how to make the customer journey smooth for the consumer to design a positive user experience. UX designers heavily rely on in-depth market research and data analytics to figure out where users might have issues and how to improve them. The key goal of a UX designer is to not only meet the needs of users but also go above and beyond the user’s expectations.
Keynest, a global company that helps Airbnb hosts to co-manage their rental, is an example of a straightforward and simple user journey. The company’s goal is reflected on its website with its simple design and easy-to-follow steps.
Once the flow of the website is developed, it’s time to bring in a UI designer to complete the visualization. UI designers make sure all the visual elements, like colors, typography, buttons and icons, are aesthetically pleasing, make sense and work in symphony.
Whether you hire a web designer or a UX and UI designer you have to keep in mind what your needs are and what goals you want to achieve. Each of those roles will bring something different to the table.

Web development is the creation of a website from the ground up and its ongoing maintenance. Much like building a house, web development is where engineers come in to lay down the foundation and create a solid structure that you can start building on. Usually, web development starts after the web designs have been finalized.
Web developers are the experts in charge of integrating well-written codes to make a website work. They are also responsible for keeping the website fully optimized, resolving errors, and incorporating new features and technology for a seamless user experience.
Simply put, web developers focus on functionality and structure to help deliver a brand’s goals. Because of how broad the discipline is, web developers specialize in front-end and back-end web development.
The front-end of a website refers to what users can see and directly interact with when they visit your site, which is why it’s also called the client-side. Not to be confused with a web designer, front-end developers take care of the codes behind colors, images, texts and other visible elements. They ensure that these display and behave as intended.
To build the website’s front-end layers, front-end developers use the following programming languages:
On the flip side, the back-end is what keeps all components running. It is also sometimes called the server-side, where data and apps are stored. It processes every command or requests you make from the front-end.
For example, when booking a hotel room, customers have access to the front-end of the website. Any data they input regarding their booking, like check-in date, personal information, room type, and requests, like confirmation or checking availability, are handled at the back-end.
That said, back-end developers are in charge of troubleshooting problems, debugging, and developing website or app functionalities for better performance.
Some tools that back-end developers use include:
Sometimes rather than hiring two separate roles, you can hire a hybrid version called full-stack developers.
Full-stack developers display strong competencies in using front-end and back-end web development programming languages and tools. Because of the breadth of their knowledge and skills, they are more in demand than hiring a front-end and a back-end developer.
Keep in mind that hiring a full-stack developer depends on the scale of your project. If you are planning to create a website with more complex functionalities, it might need specialized expertise. In this case, it’s best to seek help from a team of front-end and back-end developers. Doing so ensures that they produce high-quality output.

Statistics show that over 90 percent of consumers make their first impression on a brand’s website alone. With only 50 milliseconds for users to form an opinion of your brand, having a good web design is vital. But that’s easier said than done.
In fact, many websites today still have a cluttered layout, low-resolution photos and videos, or are filled with irrelevant content. Other websites experience high bounce rates where visitors are leaving too quickly because they cannot find content that meets their expectations. Or because the web page is unresponsive. Over time, these can lead to a low conversion rate (i.e. converting a visitor to a purchaser). These are usually clues for when you might need to revisit the designs for your website to make tweaks or do a website refresh.
Start with determining if you need help with your user experience or user interface design, or maybe you don’t need to go into specialized fields yet and you can start with a web designer.
Once you’ve decided, explore web designer portfolios and see if they can match the aesthetic elements and quality of experience that you want. Depending on your website, your needs may vary from a web designer who has a knack for designing portfolio websites or a designer who has experience in e-commerce sites or magazine websites, among others.
The example above from The People vs. Coffee, an Australian coffee shop, features high-quality photos of its coffee beans and its shop interiors with a focus on simplicity in a one-page layout.
There are also some elements of playfulness, like moving coffee beans in the background and an animated car hauling a cargo of coffee across the page, that adds a nice touch to the experience for the user. The minimalist aesthetic, clear messaging and the use of images work together to create a positive experience and feeling for the user that resembles a relaxed and inviting vibe, much like its cozy cafe.
Creating a website is not a one-and-done process. Beyond hiring a web developer to develop a website, or tweak structural elements, there are still more things to consider, like potential hacking risk, 404 error pages and general website optimizations.
Like your business, websites go through several changes and are in constant security threat from hackers, viruses and malware. And even big brands are not immune to them. Facebook made the headlines when over 200 million Facebook profiles were breached and sold for $600 each.
On top of security threats, new technologies are always emerging and consumer behaviors and trends are ever-changing. For example, websites were only previously accessible on desktops and laptops. With the advent of smartphones and other portable devices, websites now need to be responsive to different screen sizes.
Minimize your risks and keep your website healthy and up to date with the help of a web developer. Part of their maintenance checklist is to:
Web development can be tricky to navigate, especially for the uninitiated. That said, a crucial step is to assess how you want your website to function and then align this with your hiring plan.
Strong technical skills are must-haves like fluency in programming languages and troubleshooting. A web developer who can communicate ideas and strategies clearly can make a big difference, as well.
Sometimes, deciding between improving web design vs. web development is not an either-or situation. This is especially true when creating a website from scratch.
Though there are options like website builders, platforms that allow anyone to create a website such as Wix and Squarespace, are great for DIYers or those under budget, and often only need a web designer, they often provide limited functionality and design options.
Whether you are hiring for web design or web development, it really depends on what your team needs and what your goals are. If you only want to hire someone to help with tweaks to improve the bounce rate on your website, then a front-end developer and web designer might be all you need. If you want to get more specific about the flow and journey, then consider hiring a UX designer.
It’s also important to consider the role each person plays in the project and when they should step in. For instance, your web developer should be able to review the suggested web design to see if it is doable or not before finalizing it. And your web designers should have a say on the development process to ensure that the final output looks and functions as intended.
Leverage the skills of web designers and web developers in creating an on-brand website that provides bespoke solutions. With the right professionals on your team, you can gain more control in building a customer-centric website that you know your users will love.
Knowing the nitty-gritty of web design vs. web development can help you assess what you need, who can respond to that need, and when you need them. Adding to that the knowledge of what to look for when hiring gives you an edge in forming a winning web team.
The end result? A website that works, looks beautiful and converts users to buyers.
Whether it is for personal branding or small business, join the many who successfully expanded their market reach and increased their revenue channel with functional and visually pleasing websites.

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Our newsletter is for everyone who loves design! Let us know if you’re a freelance designer (or not) so we can share the most relevant content for you.
By completing this form, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Google Terms of Service apply.
Our newsletter is for everyone who loves design! Let us know if you’re a freelance designer (or not) so we can share the most relevant content for you.
By completing this form, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Google Terms of Service apply.