What Is the Difference Between Web Design and Web Development?

Published: 
February 24, 2020

55% of users spend fewer than 15 seconds on a webpage.

You know your business needs a killer website. But how do you know who to hire?

Business owners often search for both web development companies and web design companies. Many believe these terms can be used interchangeably.

The truth is, both of these services are distinct parts of the website building process. Web designers and web developers each have unique skill sets and job responsibilities.

It's not uncommon for marketing companies to alternate these terms to describe their services, but it's important to understand the fundamental differences. Keep reading to learn more about the difference between web design and web development. 

The Difference Between Web Design and Web Development

Business owners can easily get confused about the differences between the terms "web design" and "web development" when hiring someone to build their website. While it's possible for one individual to do both, most companies have both website designers and website developers who work individually on your project.

To put it simply, web design is focused on the visual aspect of a website and it's usability. Web designers use special programs to design the layout and visual components of your website.

On the other hand, web developers create a functioning website from that design. They are experts in coding and programmers who turn design ideas into an actual website.

Typically, a web designer would work with you to design your website. Then, they will hand over the design files to the web developer who will use their programming skills to build the website.

Now that you understand the general difference between web design and web development, let's take a closer look at each of these services. 

Web Design

Web design is the first step in the process of building a website. A web designer will work with you to understand your goals for your website.

The web designer will use what is called an information architecture (IA) to set the stage for the design process and determine the website's hierarchy of information. Then, they will create wireframes and start designing the website.

The goal of the web designer is to create a layout for your website that is both aesthetically pleasing and easy to use. There are some basic design principles that web designers use to achieve these goals.

Many web designers are familiar with HTML, CSS, and Javascript. These skills allow them to create the best mockups for developers. They also use template services like WordPress that allow them to create websites without writing code.

Even if web designers can't code, they are digitally savvy. A good web designer is skilled in graphic design, information flow, and color theory. They understand how to use wire-framing software as well as programs like Adobe's Photoshop and Illustrator.

Unity

Web designers must take into account the relationship between all of the parts and components of the website design. The composition must paint a unified picture for the user.

The various parts of the design must go together. This principle of design is based on the Gestalt theory. This theory describes how our brains organize information by grouping it into categories. 

Balance

Web designers must also take into account colors. They consider the proportion of light and heavy elements with the goal of achieving a visually pleasing balance.

Heavy elements are large and use dark colors. Light elements are small and use light colors. The way these elements interact determines how balanced and visually pleasing the website design will be. 

Contrast 

Color can also be purposely used to create contrast and draw attention to certain elements of the website. Color theory is used to choose contrasting colors (ones opposite each other on the color wheel) or the opposite - complementary colors.

Contrast can also be used when it comes to sizes, shapes, and textures to draw the eye to certain areas. 

Consistency

Consistency is one of the most important web design principles. A design that is consistent is one that creates a good user experience.

When websites have a consistent and clean interface, users can easily navigate around. If your website is too confusing, customers aren't likely to spend time trying to figure it out. 

Emphasis

The design principle of emphasis closely relates to the use of contrast. As we mentioned before, web designers use contrast to create emphasis on certain areas of your website. They must be careful though to avoid overemphasizing.

If too much is emphasized, nothing really is at all. Web designers can refer to the information architecture of the website to determine which information really needs to stand out. 

Mobile-First Design

Web design was originally based around desktop computers. These days, most visitors to your website will be using mobile devices.

This has created a web design standard where websites are optimized for mobile devices first. Websites are designed to be viewed on the smallest of display screens first and then increasingly bigger screens from there. 

Wireframing

Web designers create visual maps that lay out the plan for the website. These maps are called wireframes. They help designers and developers visualize how the website will be arranged.

Elements including text, images, videos, menus, graphics, and interactive user forms can be included on the map. Wireframes are useful because they can communicate the designer's plans to clients, test users, and the development team. 

Prototypes

Prototypes are more developed than wireframes. They are used to test a site before it's released.

Prototypes can look different depending on what stage in the development cycle the website is at. For example, a prototype can simply be a sketch on paper or it can be a completely digital model. Using these skills allows web designers to collect valuable feedback from users and shareholders. 

Web Development

You and your web designer have worked together to create a website design that matches your objectives. Now what?

From here the web developer takes over. Web developers are sometimes also called programmers. They have the job of taking the website design and building an actual website.

Web developers are experts in coding and are focused on creating a functional website as opposed to its appearance. There are two parts of website development - the front end and the back end.

Front End Developers

The front end is responsible for how the web designer's ideas are displayed for users. Front end developers have a lot in common with web designers. They are skilled in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. 

The front end is also referred to as the client side. While front end developers don't usually create mock-ups or select fonts and color schemes, they are responsible for bringing these ideas to life.

Front end developers must have some knowledge of UI (User Interface) /UX (User Experience) design so that they can understand what the designer is looking for. The developer will take the mock-ups and use technology to give the designer's ideas the right look and feel. 

Backend Developers

These developers work in special programming languages and frameworks. They also work with databases. The backend is also referred to as the server side.

This side of the application manages data within a database and services it to the front end, where it is displayed for users. 

Full Stack Developers

A full stack developer is one who can work on the front end and the backend. Designer/developer hybrids are becoming more common thanks to the availability of educational resources on the internet.

Because these hybrids understand both sides of the website building process, they are highly desired in the industry. They are sometimes referred to as "unicorns."

While these people can take a website project from start to finish, they are usually still only responsible for one aspect. It's the fact that their skills mean they can communicate across the board that makes them an asset to employers. 

Do You Need Help With Your Website?

We hope that this article has helped explain the difference between web design and web development. While some companies use these terms interchangeably, there are many key differences.

As a business owner who turns to website design and development professionals, it's important to understand these differences and what to expect throughout the process of building your website. When you understand how the process works, you'll be better able to communicate your objectives to the right people.

Whether you need your website re-done or you want to start from scratch, we are here for you. We offer website design and development services including SEO optimization to increase traffic to your site.

Contact us today to get started and learn more about our services. 

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