The Difference Between a Web Designer and a Web Developer

Close-up image of programmer working at his desk in office

Do you hear people refer to themselves as web designers or web developers and think to yourself “What the heck is the difference between a web designer and a web developer?”

A lot of people assume that they’re the same job and often there is a fair amount of overlap. Sometimes, a small company might have one person who is essentially performing both jobs. 

However, they’re different! 

Web designers are responsible for designing attractive, high-converting websites. They’re all about the looks. 

Web developers are responsible for making that website actually work. The code that makes up the website, including things like animations, how the shopping cart works, and where the files are hosted are all the responsibility of the web developer. 

Web developers can be further divided into front-end, back-end, and full stack.

Front-end developers focus on coding the design they’re provided with, and creating on-page functionality with JavaScript and all the associated frameworks and libraries. For example, if clicking a button makes confetti rain from the top of the screen, they’d be the ones making that happen. In some companies, they also create the actual design, so they’re a hybrid designer-developer.

Back-end developers are responsible for making the design and front-end of the website communicate with the server. They write various web services and APIs that front-end developers use.

Web Designers Focus on How the Website Looks

A web designer has an eye for aesthetics. They’re the ones making the cool new designs. 

Many freelancers and small agencies building websites are actually web designers – they’re creating a design using hosted platforms with built-in design tools, like Webflow, Wix and Squarespace. They don’t touch much code, and the code they do touch is fairly simple – things like changing the design of a button with CSS like

.button {

background-color: black;

color: white; 

border-radius: 5px;

}

The average income of a web designer in the US is $49,888 (2022). 

Typical tools: Adobe Creative Suite (mostly XD, Photoshop and Illustrator), Figma, Sketch, WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) site editors like Elementor and Beaver Builder (for WordPress), Wix, Squarespace, and Webflow. 

Web Developers Focus on How the Website Works

Web developers write clean code to create websites and applications that are stable, fast, and function well. They’re responsible for the technical aspects of a website.

They often make a little more money than a designer. Programming can certainly be difficult, and isn’t for everyone. People tend to either hate or love coding when they give it a try. Becoming a professional web developer also has a higher barrier to entry – it takes more time and study to become competent with the various programming languages you need to know than it does to learn a design program like Adobe XD. That said, it pays off!

The average income of a web developer in the US is $67,311/yr (2022). 

Typical tools (front-end): same as a web designer, plus HTML, CSS, and JavaScript (and specifically JS libraries like React). 

Typical tools (back-end): PHP, Python, JavaScript, Laravel, Django, MongoDB, MySQL, Apache

Conclusion

Web designers and web developers are both focused on making the best possible online experiences for internet users and they often work together. 

These are also not formal definitions: in practice there is often a lot of overlap in the skill sets of experienced developers and designers. 

I hope that cleared up some of the confusion regarding the difference between web designers and web developers!

Howdy! I'm the owner of Parrot Digital Marketing, Austin's best-reviewed web design studio.

I've been working full-time as a self-employed web designer and digital marketer for the past few years and and have worked on hundreds of sites across a range of platforms, including Wix, WordPress, WebFlow, Shopify, and Squarespace. I've managed six figures in ad spend across Google, Facebook, and YouTube. I also helped teach a digital marketing bootcamp at the University of Texas at Austin.

In my free time, I read, play the bass, travel, work on creative projects with friends, and watch a lot of documentaries. Recommend me one!

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