Web Designer vs. Web Developer

| | Advice

There seems to be a lot of confusion about the difference between a Web Designer and a Web Developer.

  • What does a Web Designer do compared to a Web Developer?
  • Do I need both?
  • Is it offensive to call a Web Designer a Web Developer and vice versa?

Spoiler alert: maybe.

What is the difference between a Web Designer and a Web Developer?

In basic terms, a web designer designs the aesthetic of a website where a web developer builds the actual interface of the website. The difference is much like the distinction between an interior designer and a contractor.

A Web Designer is fluent in design programs like Photoshop and Illustrator; a Web Developer is fluent in web markup and coding languages like HTML, PHP, ASP, JS, and CSS.

Do I need both a Web Designer and a Web Developer?

Assuming that both characters wear a single hat, yes, you need both a Web Designer and a Web Developer. It’s likely that you’ll find them working together as a team, or as a part of a larger team.

This is not to say that Web Designers cannot code and Web Developers cannot design. Some wear both hats, with varying degrees of success—an exceptional combo of the two is referred to as a “unicorn” or hybrid.

Personally, I prefer the roles as two separate silos. This is how we operate at Design & Develop: Paul designs the site and I build it. We both do project management and UI/UX. Before I joined the team, Paul used to code all of the sites he designed (and he did it well).

Is it offensive to call a Web Designer a Web Developer and vice versa?

I’m not sure anyone would be actually offended by being mistitled, but I always correct people when I’m introduced as a Web Designer. I’m uncomfortable with accepting the credit for a job that I cannot, and do not, actually do. I prefer Paul or any other web designer gets the credit they should!

One last thing about Web Designers and Web Developers

A List Apart’s surveys in 2007-2009 show over 80% of the respondents identified as male.

It’s frequently assumed when Paul and I enter a room for a meeting that he is the Web Developer and I am the Web Designer.  Please do not assume a person has a job role simply based on gender or appearance. That is a good way to offend people.

XKCD Comic

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