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Web Designer vs Web Developer: Which Do You Need?

Web designers and web developers are often thought of as interchangeable. Many people assume that they do roughly the same job. That couldn’t be further from the truth, though. While they both work to make your website look good and perform well, designers and developers have very different roles. 

It can be difficult for business owners just starting out to discern between the two and even more difficult to decide which one they need. Your website is arguably one of the most important digital pieces of your business. Hiring the wrong role or having unclear expectations of what they can do for your website can lead to disaster. 

Before working with a web designer or a web developer for your site, you should know what role each plays in your website’s overall look and function. 

What is a Web Designer? 

A web designer is primarily focused on the visual aspects of a website. They are responsible for designing the layout and visual functions of a site. 

For example, a web designer may decide things like where to put text and how large to make it, or what colors to use for brand representation and readability. Web designers also handle more technical aspects of layout like ensuring content adapts to various screen sizes. 

Designers can specialise in a few different areas of web design – user experience, user interface, and visual. 

As the name suggests, user experience (UX) designers are focused on the experience of users. Is a website easy to use? Does it provide the information customers want? How does it relate to the entire customer journey? UX web designers make sure that customers have a positive experience each and every time they digitally interact with a brand. 

User interface (UI) designers take the overall vision of UX and add more concrete details to bring it to life. User interface is a strictly digital concept that refers to the part of a website a user interacts with, for example, the web pages or ‘shopping cart’. A UI web designer may decide what color combinations to use or where to place navigation buttons. They optimise the website for conversions. 

A visual web designer is a bit of a combination of UX and UI. They put the pieces together to make an interface easy to use, nice to look at, and conducive to a positive experience.  

A web designer can specialise in one of these three areas or can do a combination, depending on their skillset. 

What is a Web Developer? 

A web developer builds and maintains the website so that it functions efficiently. They work with what is known as the “backend” to write code and program the website. Developers take the visual ideas of a designer and bring them to life on a screen. 

For example, a developer may write code that allows a video to play on the homepage of a site. They may program pop-up forms or place navigation buttons in the proper places. Developers also handle any technical issues that arise with the site. If something doesn’t load or a bug affects the site performance, a developer can help. 

There are three main areas in which a developer may choose to focus – front-end, back-end, or full-stack. The front-end of a website refers to the part that users interact with – the pages, buttons, forms, etc. The back-end refers to the database and server of which a website runs. 

A front-end developer works on the front-end of the website. They tell the website how it should look and function. Each button you click, each image that loads is a result of a front-end developer’s work. 

A back-end web developer works with the database and server of the website. Visitors to the site never see this part, but it is critical for proper function. Fast load times and mobile responsiveness are two things you can thank a back-end developer for. 

A full-stack developer works across both the front and back ends of a website. They can program the database and code the homepage so your site functions and looks good, all in one. 

Designer or Developer: Which do you Need?

Now that you know the specific roles both a web designer and a web developer play in creating your website, which do you need? 

It can be tempting to think you need both, and in some cases that may be true. However, depending on the starting condition of your site, your budget, and your goals, you may not. 

Think of a web designer as an architect. They draw up the plans for a house and provide an overall vision of form and function. Think of a web designer as the contractors who actually build the house. What does your house need? 

If you are a new business and don’t have a website at all, you probably want to start with a web designer. Work with them to design a site that will meet your goals and attract customers. Then, bring in a developer to build the site. These two roles will need to work together so it’s probably best to include both from the beginning. This can also be your strategy if you do have an existing site but it needs a full overhaul. 

If you already have a site that is working for you but just need to make a few changes, you can decide to hire one or the other. You may hire a web designer if you want to add unique functionality or visuals on your site. They could also help add clarity and purpose to your site that enhances your overall branding. 

You may hire a web developer if you already know exactly how you want your site to look and function, but personally lack the time and expertise to create it yourself. The more unique and advanced you want your site to be, the more helpful it will be to have a professional developer. 

Of course, both of these decisions depend on your budget and timeline as well. Quality designers and developers can have steep rates so if you are working on a budget, you may not be able to get everything you hope for. 

You’ll also need to factor in a turnaround time. Depending on their workload, web designers and developers can take weeks to create your finished site and the process is often very iterative. Even though you’re hiring someone, you’ll need to have time and resources to devote to the process yourself. 

As you look for professionals to build your website, one of the easiest ways is to work through an agency that specialises in website design and development. For example, Unified Marketing can build and maintain your entire site, or just offer support in the areas you need it the most. Our team seamlessly combines both processes to deliver the best results for you. 

Give us a call today to talk through your website goals and how we can get you there.

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