Web Design and Web Development: Meanings and Differences

Web Design and Web Development: Meanings and Differences
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What’s the difference between a web designer and a web developer? In the early days of the internet, it was simple: Designers handled the look while developers wrote the code. Today, things are more nuanced when you’re developing a new website or updating an established one. Most web designers know some HTML and CSS, and many front-end developers can whip up wireframes.

Despite this overlap, the basic concepts remain distinct. Web designers focus on user experience and visual elements like typography, color schemes, and responsive website design. Web developers handle the technical side, using languages like Java, Python, and PHP to build websites and web apps that function smoothly.

New trends like voice UI design, serverless architectures, and progressive web apps continue to shape how web design and development work together. Let’s explore these two roles and how they build the functioning websites and apps we all love to use.

What is web design?

Web design covers everything related to a website’s visual aesthetics and usability. It involves the color scheme, layout, information flow, and all aspects of UI/UX (user interface and user experience). Essential tools and skills that set web designers apart include:

  • Adobe Creative Cloud. Software like Photoshop and Illustrator help designers create design elements for web pages, such as graphics and logos.
  • Graphic design. Graphic design involves crafting visuals and layouts to make the website visually appealing and enhance the overall web experience.
  • UI/UX design. UI/UX design focuses on creating intuitive user interfaces and seamless user experiences by prioritizing ease of use and navigation.
  • Figma. This browser-based design tool helps designers do collaborative design work and prototyping, as well as create high-fidelity mock-ups.
  • Wireframes and mock-ups. Wireframes and mock-ups help designers plan layouts and the visual structure of a website before any coding begins.
  • Typography and color palettes. Carefully choosing fonts and color palettes helps shape the site’s visual identity and align the website design with branding goals.

Web design focuses on what users see on their computer screens or mobile devices. They bring the digital experience to life through images, typography, and layout. Designers are adapting to new trends like voice UI design, where interfaces need to account for spoken interactions.

To create living mock-ups, many web designers know some HTML, cascading style sheets (CSS), and JavaScript. They often use template services like WordPress to build web pages using themes and plug-ins.

Modern responsive design techniques like using CSS Grid allow designers to create flexible layouts that adapt seamlessly to different screen sizes and devices. Dark mode design, which impacts color schemes and visual aesthetics, is also becoming more important in the field.

Emerging trends in web design

As technology advances, web design trends continually change to meet user needs and expectations. Some of the biggest trends shaping the field include:

  • Voice UI design. Designers are adapting to voice interfaces so that web pages can handle spoken commands and provide a seamless voice user experience.
  • Responsive animations. Designers are incorporating animations that adjust dynamically to different screen sizes, enhancing the visual flow for users on desktops, mobile devices, and tablets.
  • Dark mode design. Dark mode is becoming increasingly popular in web design, impacting color palettes and aesthetics to create a more comfortable viewing experience, especially in low-light environments.
  • Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). These technologies create immersive, interactive experiences for users directly within web browsers.

What is web development?

Web development is the engineering supporting a website that makes sure everything functions smoothly behind the scenes. It’s typically divided into two main areas: front-end (client-side) and back-end (server-side).

Front-end developers focus on what users interact with on the website. They use HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to bring web designs to life. Key tools and technologies include:

They also use on-site search engine optimization (SEO) to make sure the website ranks high in search engine results. While designers provide the visual assets, front-end developers are responsible for integrating these elements into the web pages.

Back-end developers handle the data and server-side functions of web applications. Essential tools and skills include:

Web developers proficient in both back-end and front-end web development are known as full-stack developers. They can handle all aspects of web development, from user interface design to complex server management, making them highly versatile in the tech industry.

Emerging trends in web development

Developers continue to adopt innovative trends as web technologies evolve to improve scalability, performance, and user experience. Key developments include:

  • Serverless architectures. These make back-end development more scalable and cost-effective by abstracting server management. Developers can focus on writing code while the cloud provider handles resource allocation and scaling based on demand.
  • Progressive web apps (PWAs). These are gaining popularity for their ability to function offline and provide app-like experiences, which enhances mobile web usability.
  • WebAssembly (Wasm). This is gaining traction as a way to run high-performance applications in the browser. It enables developers to write code in languages like C++ or Rust that can run alongside JavaScript.

Web designer and web developer differences

Web designers prioritize the site’s visual appeal and usability, focusing on layout, color schemes, and navigation that improve user experience. In contrast, web developers concentrate on the site’s functionality, ensuring it operates correctly across different devices and browsers through technical implementations.

Below, we outline the other primary differences between these two jobs.

Roles and skills

Most web designers aren’t programmers, which means they don’t code. They primarily focus on the visual parts of a website. They use tools like Photoshop or Adobe XD to create images and design high-fidelity mock-ups, as well as app prototyping and animation tools like InVision Studio. Many also use content management systems (CMS) like WordPress and no-code platforms such as Wix to build websites.

Web developers, on the other hand, don’t create assets. Instead, they’re responsible for adding functionality to a website. They code the designer’s wireframes and mock-ups into fully functional web pages using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Cost and value

Hiring web developers usually costs more than hiring web designers. According to data from ZipRecruiter, the average hourly rate for web developers is $45 compared to $35 for web designers. This cost disparity is largely due to the high demand for developers’ technical coding skills.

Web designer and web developer similarities

Now that we’ve established that web design and web development are two distinct disciplines, let’s explore how they share the importance of communication and project management and how they collaborate to create fully functional websites.

Using distinct tools for unified goals

While designers may use tools like Figma to create intuitive user flows, developers might employ Chrome DevTools to debug and optimize the website’s code. Despite using different tools, both aim to improve the website’s functionality and user experience.

Complementary problem-solving strategies

Designers enhance user engagement through visual improvements, while developers resolve technical issues that affect the site’s performance and security. Their cooperative problem-solving is necessary to develop a high-quality, engaging website.

Soft skills

Web designers and web developers both require soft skills to complement their technical abilities. Key soft skills they share include:

  • Communication. Clear communication is vital for translating ideas, discussing project requirements, and coordinating between team members. It helps design align with the development process and client expectations.
  • Problem-solving. The ability to tackle challenges creatively and logically is essential. Designers and developers both face unique issues that require innovative solutions, whether it’s enhancing user engagement or fixing a technical bug.
  • Teamwork. Working harmoniously in multidisciplinary teams enables smooth collaboration between designers, developers, and other stakeholders. This skill helps build strong partnerships and a cohesive workflow.
  • Adaptability. The tech industry constantly evolves, so staying flexible and open to new tools, trends, and technologies is a must. Both designers and developers have to adapt to project changes or client feedback efficiently.
  • Time management. Meeting deadlines is critical in web projects. Being able to prioritize tasks and handle multiple projects or clients simultaneously helps maintain productivity.
  • Attention to detail. Precision is necessary when creating designs and writing code. Catching small inconsistencies or errors ensures that the visual and functional elements are polished and error-free.

Combining the skills of a web developer and web designer

The designer/developer hybrid role is highly sought-after these days. With e-commerce booming, web skills are a must-have.

The job outlook for professionals in these lines of work is projected to grow 16% by 2032—much faster than the national average for other roles (3%). So, being able to offer both these areas of expertise is sure to earn you plenty of work carrying projects from visual mock-ups to functional websites.

If you need a versatile web designer or web developer, Upwork can connect you with top talent. Likewise, if you’re a professional seeking web design jobs or web development jobs, explore the wide range of design and development projects available on Upwork today.

Upwork is not affiliated with and does not sponsor or endorse any of the tools or services discussed in this article. These tools and services are provided only as potential options, and each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situation.

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Author Spotlight

Web Design and Web Development: Meanings and Differences
Yoshitaka Shiotsu
Technical Copywriter & SEO Consultant

Yoshitaka Shiotsu is a project engineer turned technical copywriter and SEO consultant who regularly contributes to the Upwork Resource Center. He specializes in helping tech companies, startups, and entrepreneurs set themselves up as voices of authority within their target industries.

Web Design and Web Development: Meanings and Differences
Technical Copywriter & SEO Consultant

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