These days, every company needs a website. However, just having one is no longer enough.
As just about every company already has a website, you need to go the extra mile if you want yours to stand out, catch the attention or casual browsers, and offer potential customers the best possible user experience.
In other words, if you want a website that will serve your company’s specific goals, it can’t be just like every other one in your industry.
This is why it’s vital that you know how to hire the professionals who can build you this unique site. Doing so begins with understanding the difference between web design and development.
The Difference Between Web Design and Development
The simplest way to describe the difference between web design and development is to say that the former is focused on the look of your website while the latter is geared more towards its function.
In this sense, a Web Designer is like an architect who designs a house. They need some understanding of how this structure will function (e.g. where plumbing lines and wiring must go), but their main focus is on the aesthetics of the house and how occupants will get around inside.
Web Developers are more like the contractor and their team of professionals. They receive the plans for the home and are then tasked with figuring out how to make it “work” the way the architect planned. As the aesthetics of the home are already taken care of, their job is focusing on functionality.
That said, just as websites and homes aren’t exactly the same, this analogy isn’t perfect.
Therefore, given the importance of what both web developers and designers do – and how much it matters to the success of your company’s site – it will help to better understand what both of their services entail in detail.
What Web Designers Actually Do
Successful web design and development both require considering the client’s objectives for their website. This is especially important to understand about web designers, though.
While their focus may be on aesthetics, the look of a site has a big impact on whether or not it will meet the company’s goals for it.
Utilizing Information Architecture to Realize the Client’s Requirements
As web designers generally begin the process of creating a new site, they’re usually the first ones to sit down with the client and get a sense for what these goals are.
The importance of this initial step cannot be overstated. If it is not correctly carried out, the rest of the build will suffer and large swaths of it may even need to be redone.
Once the designer understands what the client wants from their site, they can begin implementing Information Architecture (IA) to guide the build that will follow. This includes setting the website’s information hierarchy, which refers to organizing and prioritizing the site’s content, so users can begin immediately using the site without requiring some time-consuming effort.
Creating a Wireframe
Next, the web designer creates a wireframe for the website. This is just a visual reference that shows what the website – broken down by page – will eventually look like.
While it serves as a helpful guide for all designers working on the site, it’s also provides a very vital frame of reference for the client. Once they see the wireframe, they can request whatever changes they need to achieve the result they have in mind.
Without an effective wireframe, only clients who had a background in web design would understand what their site would eventually look like and even then, there would most likely be unforeseen issues.
5 Examples of Common Design Principles
Depending on what the client wants from their website, the designer may use any number of principles to achieve their desired outcome.
For example, some principles work especially well for boosting conversions. Others are aimed at creating effective mobile sites.
Here are five examples of some of the most common principles most web designers rely on:
- Balance – A balanced website design is one that effectively utilizes heavy colors (large and dark) and light colors (small and lighter) in the right proportions. Too much of one or the other would hurt its aesthetics and could even make it difficult for visitors to use.
- Contrast – Contrasting colors can be used for similar reasons. Web designers will also utilize contrasting shapes, sizes, and textures to influence where the visitors’ attention is drawn on the site.
- Emphasis – Any element of a website that is “highlighted” will automatically draw the eye. Of course, you can’t draw the eye to everything on a webpage, which is why an effective web designer is adept at understanding what matters most to their client.
- Consistency – A consistent website is a user-friendly website. For example, imagine how difficult it would be to navigate a website if each page had a completely different layout.
- Unity – The overall layout and composition of a website should be unified. Web designers rely on The Gestalt Principle to understand how the visuals they utilize affect the ways in which users understand them.
As we touched earlier – and as you may have noticed from reading that list – web designers do more than just make websites look nice. They also need to understand not just their clients’ objectives but a certain amount of human psychology.
For example, an About Us page and a blog post with an opt-in at the bottom have two completely different goals.
While they still need to be consistent and unified with the rest of the site, a good designer will know how to implement certain aesthetic elements to help each reach their respective aims.
What Web Developers Actually Do
Web design and development involve a certain amount of overlap, but the web developer’s responsibility is to ensure the client’s website functions the want they want.
They take the website design that the client liked and turn it into an actual website with which users can interact. It may also need to interact with other websites or databases.
Therefore, similar to a web designer, a web developer will need to understand the clients’ goals for each page before they can get started.
The Two Different Kinds of Web Developers
Technically, there are countless versions of web designers and developers. Each has their own specialty and unique experiences.
However, unlike web design, development can be split into two distinct groups.
- Back-End Developers – These professionals create web applications for their clients’ sites. Applications can include security features, content management systems, data management tools, and much more.
For example, some companies want to decide which users can see which pages depending on a set of criteria. A back-end developer can create a web application that will allow them this kind of control. Another common job for back-end developers is deciding on a website will interface with the client’s database.
- Front-End Developers – These developers (sometimes referred to as “client-side developers”) are more attuned to creating tools that will offer a better user experience.
A common example of this is when a company wants to implement a specific design concept that must be able to function the same way across multiple types of browsers and computers.
Otherwise, one person using a tablet and a satellite Internet connection might experience something completely different than someone who’s using a desktop.
Back-end web developers will be proficient in languages like:
Front-end web developers will have more experience with:
While many website designers may have a certain amount of competency with front-end computer programming languages like CSS and HTML, and may even some experience using common tools, their grasp will not be nearly as firm as back- and front-end developers.
One of the Most Important Traits for Successful Web Developers
Web developers must be adept at collaboration. Many who have never hired one before fall for the misconception that they’re shy introverts who struggle to come out of their shells.
In reality, a successful web developer needs to work well with the client’s team (which could include everyone from the CEO to those in IT to project managers, and more), the website designers, and even other web developers who may have niche specialties that the client needs to leverage.
Web Design and Development: Which Do You Need?
As you discovered above, there is a great deal of overlap between web design and development, as well. This is why most companies now prefer to rely on teams that can handle both, as opposed to hiring an independent designer and developer and just hoping they’ll work well together.
Ultimately, the option you require will depend on your company’s specific needs.
If you’ve recently added new functionality to your site, you may only need a web developer.
If you’ve decided your site needs to upgrade its visual appeal, a web designer is probably fine.
However, if you don’t yet have a website or your current version needs a significant overhaul, you’ll probably want to choose a team that consists of web design and development professionals.
Otherwise, your site may function well or look great, but it won’t do both.