Web Design vs. Web Development: What Is the Difference?

Learn what makes a Web designer different from a Web developer and how Webflow bridges the gap between them.

With more than 1 billion live pages on the internet, the demand for web designers and web developers is stronger than ever. But what is the difference between them, and how do you choose which path to pursue? We answer all this and how Webflow is changing the future of web design and development.

Table of contents

Web design vs. Web development 101

Web design refers to the visual design of websites. Its goal is to plan and arrange the website content and visuals to enhance the user experience. Web design also refers to adapting a website to be accessible on every screen size and platform. Web designers shape the site structure with the help of functional and aesthetic elements. Web design is not only about creativity, but also emphasizes functionality.  

Web design is a very collaborative process. Designers must go through multiple steps from the initial idea to the final design. They work with tools like Figma or Adobe XD to make wireframes, mockups, color palettes, and design systems. Designers pass on those assets to web developers to continue the work. 

Web developers then use those created wireframes, mockups, and other design assets to build digital products. Development is a process of converting the design into code using programming languages like CSS, HTML, JavaScript, and more. Developers aim to build a smooth-running, well-functioning website. Web development splits into two branches, back-end, and front-end development. Part of the website that users interact with directly is termed as front-end. It includes every part of the website that the user interacts with directly. The back-end is the server side of the website and makes sure the website runs smoothly. It stores and arranges data and is a part of the website user can’t see.

The role of a web designer

There is more than just creative work when it comes to web design. While web designers build a visual brand appearance, their responsibilities do not end only with design. 

The designer's job is to enhance the experience of a visitor. Every designer's goal is to encourage visitors to stay on the page as long as possible. They deal with building website frameworks, the layout structure, and designing web pages and landing pages.

Designers are responsible for creating a consistent brand image throughout all screen sizes. This includes choosing the brand imagery, color palettes, fonts, and other elements that contribute to building a unique brand image.

A big part of the design is conducting research and analyzing data. Designers must understand their audience, their pains, and what they are trying to achieve. The main goal of a great web design is to help users achieve their goals. The design process thus involves interviews with the target audience, studying, and benchmarking the competition. 

A web designer's job is to track and analyze how the users move through the site. This is called flow mapping and helps designers optimize the website experience for users. By designing a user-friendly website, users will be more likely to take the desired actions like filling out a contact form or buying a product.

The next thing is to structure a wireframe that serves as a layout of the content on the website. Wireframes showcase where the text, images, and other elements will be displayed. Designers create wireframes in a collaborative environment like Figma, or sometimes even on a list of paper. 

Lastly, a web designer's job is the actual design itself. This includes everything from designing visual elements, to CTA buttons, logos, and more. 

When the wireframes and visual elements are completed, the designer hand off the assets to developers that convert the designs into code.

Image shows different elements of web design: Idea, website, advertising, logo, product, etc.

Types of web designers

Designers are usually not the jacks of all trades but focus on a different and unique type of design work they do. They can specialize in:

  1. User experience (UX)
  2. User interface (UI)
  3. Visual design
  4. Product design

The 4 disciplines of web design: visual, UI, UX and product

Let's dive deeper to help you understand the difference between those 4 design niches.

User experience designer

The role of a user experience (UX) designer is to optimize the interaction between a website and a visitor. A UX designer ensures that the website is structured in a way, that offers a positive and engaging experience. In simple terms, the role of a UX designer is to make a product enjoyable, usable, and accessible. 

The main goal for a UX designer is not only to understand the brand, but also the user. What are their biggest pains, what problems do they face, and what are their goals?  UX design is thus heavily reliant on research. UX designers will spend a lot of time conducting and analyzing data, before even starting to design. Only data-driven decisions can help them structure a website that 100% aligns with the visitors.

Improving and changing the design to enhance the user experience never ends. Designers will analyze, test, and tweak the website to ensure the best experience for the visitors. 

User interface designer

User interface (UI) designers work closely with UX designers to make the website more interactive. They help improve the website usability by creating a visually appealing website interface. Their focus is on creating an aesthetic, intuitive and easy to use wesbite.  Another important role is to create a visual consistency across website or app.

According to Coursera, UI designers create the elements and layouts that simply your actions. If you are considering to become a UI designer, here are some tasks you will come across:

  • Designing layouts and spacing elements on the page.
  • Improving and modifying design environments.
  • Visualizing interactive elements like buttons, icons, dropdown menus, etc.
  • Ensuring brand consistency throughout the whole webpage or product.
  • Adapting design elements for various screen sizes.

Visual designer

Visual design is a discipline that is often confused with graphic design. Albeit there is a big overlap between the two, the difference is quite big. Visual designers don't focus solely on specific elements but on the whole visual brand of a company. 

Visual designers play a key role in bringing the brand to life and creating a brand identity. They incorporate both UX and UI to design websites that provide a great customer experience. 

Visual design is a new discipline according to Skillcrush. This means visual designers do not yet have a very narrow and specialized array of responsibilities. Their day-to-day job will thus be designing individual elements and building the whole visual brand.

Product designer

As the name already suggests, product designers, focus on designing products. Their role is to oversee the design flow of a product from start to finish. While frequently associated with building digital products like apps, product designers also work on physical products like electronics. The design of physical products is also called industrial design

The key objective of a product designer is to have a more holistic view of the whole design process. Aiming to design a product that completely aligns with user needs, the product designer will conduct a lot of research. The research involves A/B testing, email surveys, UX research, building journey maps, and much more. Being a product designer is quite similar to being a project manager. Thus collaborating across teams is essential. Collaborating with different stakeholders leads to the finished product being aligned with the brand identity. 

The role of a web developer

A great visual design means nothing if a user can't access your website. Here is where web developers come into play! They play a crucial role in building your online presence. 

The main objective for web developers is to build and maintain a functional website. They make sure the website is reliable and user-friendly on all screen sizes and devices. They achieve this by using complex coding languages like HTML, CSS, Python, Java, and others.

Web developers work alongside designers by converting the design into code. As the "construction builder" of the web, they play a major part in bringing ideas and concepts to life.

Web developers are responsible for creating web apps. They develop the back-end, which includes server-side logic and database setup, as well as the front-end, which is the client-side interface and functionalities.

Key responsibilities of a web developer are:

  • Converting designs and wireframes into code.
  • Creating user interfaces and navigation menus.
  • Integrating multimedia content onto a site.
  • Creating a functional and interactive website.
  • Troubleshooting problems with performance or user experience.
  • Collaborating with designers, other developers, and product managers.

Computer programmer illustration

Types of web developers

We already tipped our toes in describing the difference between frontend and backend development. Let us elaborate on this a bit further. Web development branches into:

  • Front-end development
  • Back-end development
  • Full-stack development

Development branches into: front-end, back-end and full-stack.

Front-end developer

Front-end developers work closely with designers to transform the designs into code. They install visual components on a website and keep sure that the website runs smoothly on all devices and screen sizes. They work on a client site of the website and are responsible for how it appears to the users. They use programming languages like HTML, JavaScript, and CSS to enable visitors to interact and comfortably use the website. 

Back-end developer

If front-end developers work on a client-site of the website, back-end developers work on the server side. Their work is not visible to the website users. Back-end developers use complex programming languages like PHP, Java, and Python to integrate databases, servers, and applications. Their goal is to write code that enables websites to send and receive information to and from users. 

Full-stack developer

The last and the most complete development discipline is full stack. Full-stack developers are experts in both backend and frontend development. This means they work on a client-site of the website and on the server side. Full-stack development requires the knowledge of HTML, JavaScript, and CSS, as well as the knowledge of more complex languages like PHP, Java, and Python. This wide array of skills enables them to be versatile and help on different ends throughout the project.

Web design vs. web development as a career

Both web development and web design are crucial disciplines in building an online presence and growing your business. The demand for both professions is sky-rocketing. Reports show that the employment rate for developers and designers is projected to grow 13 percent from 2020 to 2030. This is faster than the average for all occupations.

Bottom line is that whatever path you go, your skills will be in high demand. There is some overlap between both disciplines, yet they are still quite different. So... When choosing between two, what to choose for your career?

There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to answering this. The answer will simply depend on your personal preferences, talents, and ambitions. 

Going down the web design route will allow you to showcase your passion for digital art. This is a great career for more artistic people that do not want to get into the complex world of code. If you like to solve complex problems and explore how computers work, going down the development career path might fit you better. 

What if we tell you there is also a third option? Thanks to Webflow there is!

Webflow is a no-code tool that bridges the gap between development and design. Learning Webflow enables you to build responsive websites without writing a single line of code. The platform itself produces a clean and semantic code while the designer works on a visual canvas.

Illustration shows a man choosing his career.

Conclusion

Not only to build an online presence but to grow a business online, both web development and design play a crucial role. Web designers will help create every visit to your website a pleasant experience where the user will interact with your site and keep coming back. Web developers will make your site reliable, fully functional, and accessible on every platform. 

Web developers and designers further branches out to different disciplines, but all together form an important team in building a brand image. 

Both web design and web development can be excellent career choices to help you be part of the most exciting and fast-growing brands. For more artistic types, web design will allow you to showcase all your talents and creativity by creating unique visuals and websites. Web development will be an exciting challenge if you love solving complex and technical problems.

Finally, you can always turn to Webflow and take a less traditional route. Webflow will allow you to combine the best of both worlds and build beautiful pages fully by yourself. If you need any help in making your Webflow page stand out, Flowout is always here to help! Check out our Webflow agency page and see what we have to offer. We turn your ideas into beautiful interactive websites fast and with no contracts.

FAQ

What is the difference between a web developer and a web designer?

The difference between a web developer and a web designer is, that a web developer converts the designs into code and uses programming languages to build a fully functional website. Web designers create the visual components and wireframes for the website and hand them off to the developer.

How long does it take to learn web development on your own?

How long will it take to learn web development on your own will depend on many factors. It will depend on what languages you want to learn, how much time will you dedicate to your learning, and how tech savvy you are in the first place. 

Does web design involve coding?

Web design does not involve coding, but having a fundamental understanding of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript is very beneficial. Understanding basic coding knowledge will help you understand the basic principles of how to design for the web.

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