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What is the difference between web development and web design?

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Anyone looking for a new website or to redesign an existing one will have likely at some point been confused by the terms "web development" and "web design."

Even if you thought you had an idea what they were about, the lines can become so blurred to the point that some even use the terms interchangeably.

It’s true they’re related, with them both referring to aspects of the web creation process. But each is fundamentally different, and you — or the web — wouldn’t get very far with one and not the other. 

Part of the confusion comes from the fact many companies have teams that take care of the whole web building process from start to finish. Within their teams, however, there are often dedicated designers which create the website layout — i.e. do the web design — and dedicated web designers or programmers who take the design files and complete the development stage.

Both web design and web development require unique skill sets and software. Not to mention a common thread and solid communication between the two.

Web dev elopment and design are not one and the same but different and complementary parts

For these reasons, it’s important to know, for one, that they’re different things, and two, what the differences are, so you get what you’re looking for when designing and developing your website.

Here we’re going to point out some of the main differences between web development and web design, showing how they’re not one and the same but different and complementary parts of one whole.

Web design and web development at a glance

As you can imagine, web design has a lot to do with how a website looks. It is chiefly concerned with the aesthetics of a website, including branding, colour palettes, typography, and legibility.

Much like in the design of a building, though, web design is also about how people interact with a website. In the web design world, this is called “usability”, and it involves making sure your website doesn’t just look good but also offers a cohesive and engaging user experience.

You can think about web designers as those who take an idea, a story, or a series of sketches, and turn them into a feasible and visually appealing digital experience. 

A web designer models the layout of your website and a developer then develops it

They do this in the same way an architect would create the plan of a house prior to the building stage. A web designer models the layout of your website, designing how it may look and feel, before passing it to a web developer who then starts developing it.

Web developers work with often static website design files to bring them to life and create a functioning website. To achieve this, they use HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP and other programming languages.

Web designers use various programs like Adobe XD and Illustrator to mock up the layout and visual elements of a website. They use software like Framer or Sketch to build the final layout design of the website.

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A closer look at the web design process

A web designer’s main role and area of expertise is in converting what may be a vague idea or a complex vision into a visual design and usable interface that catches the user’s attention and works.

Thankfully, good web designers have many UX and UI principles such as “user-centred design” at their fingertips to guide them in creating something that is visually and aesthetically pleasing and offers a great user experience.

User-centred design is about making sure the client’s needs, objectives, and feedback are front and centre throughout the whole design process.

Another key framework is “Information Architecture (IA)”. IA helps web designers organise and structure the content of the websites using, for instance, visual hierarchies which help convey the level of importance of elements. 

Other methodologies such as “Material Design” are dedicated to providing a “real” and tactile experience to users. Material Design is inspired by how we interact with materials and adapts such learnings to the use of space, style, shadow, and edges in digital experiences.

Web designers require a combination of individual creative flair with knowledge of universal design principles

Web designers require a combination of individual creative flair with knowledge of universal design principles. In this way, they can design a website environment and interface that is consistent, easy to navigate and use, and is already familiar to the users’ eyes.

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A closer look at web development

A web developer or programmer’s main role is to take designs, which may be interactive or non-interactive images, and from them build a fully functioning website.

To do this, web developers break designs into their component parts and decide the best programming language to achieve them. For instance, they may transform a static layout into a dynamic website by using image and content sliders, active states for links and buttons, and other interactive elements using HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

More advanced web developers may use a “Content Management System (CMS)” such as WordPress or Joomla. CMSs are applications that help users manage and create content, allowing an easy way to maintain and update a website.

Unlike web designers, web developers are often split into two sub-categories: front-end developers and back-end developers. However, if you’re gifted enough, you may fall into both and therefore be a full-stack developer.

A front-end developer is the one who builds the “interface”, in other words, the visible part of a website through which the back-end of the website and the user interact.

Back-end developers are those who create and control the computational side of a website, things like server data and requests. They create components and features that are indirectly accessed by a user through the front-end.

Web design and web development are two fundamentally different parts of the web creation process

Another term you may come across is “full-stack developer”. Full-stack developers are those who have a good knowledge of both back-end and front-end development. This means if a team has a full-stack developer, they should be able to build you a website from scratch, from working with the interface design to dealing with back-end processes and database queries.

Web design and web development are two fundamentally different parts of the web creation process. Each with its own unique and essential roles. Make sure your website project includes them both by working with a team that knows each inside and out.

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