When you start researching tech careers and the skills required to build one of your own, you’re bound to notice references to two prominent tech roles: web designers and web developers.
But what IS the difference between a web designer and a web developer? If seeing these two job titles mentioned side-by-side with no explanation has you thoroughly confused, don’t sweat it. We figured it was about time to answer the question once and for all. This handy guide walks you through the details of each role, plus covers some distinctions you may never have considered.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- What is a Web Developer?
- What is a Web Designer?
- Web Developer vs. Web Designer—What’s the Difference?
- Web Developer Skills
- Web Designer Skills
- Web Developer and Web Designer Salaries
- Which Job is Right for You
What is a Web Developer?
Web developers (sometimes called front end developers) are the computer programmers who take the plans and layouts provided by web designers and use coding languages to turn them into live, functioning websites.
What is a Web Designer?
Web Designers are creative, digital professionals who craft the overall vision and plan for a website. Web design is less about using code to bring a website to life, and more about determining a site’s layout, color palette, font sent, and visual themes which can THEN be brought to life with code by (you guessed it!) a web developer.
What’s the Difference Between a Web Developer and Web Designer?
No, these titles aren’t synonyms. Each job is distinct from the other, and while that’s not to say a web developer can’t also dabble in web design or vice versa, both roles calls for specific skills and perform their own unique functions. We’ll break down each job’s skillset in detail below, but basically: web designers are to architects as web developers are to construction companies. One thinks about how a website should look and drafts up a resulting visual plan (like an architect’s blueprint), the other builds that website based on that plan.
What Skills Do You Need to Be a Web Developer?
While a web designer skill set is. . .well, design heavy, the skills you need to be a web developer are more specific to traditional computer programming. Some of the core skills associated with web development include:
If you’re considering a job in web development, HTML and CSS are two computer languages you need to learn right off the bat.
- HTML (which stands for HyperText Markup Language) is used to define the parts of individual web pages. HTML tells web browsers which part of the page is a header, which is a footer, where paragraphs belong, and where images, graphics, and videos are placed so everything displays properly on the user’s phone, tablet, or computer screen.
- CSS (an acronym for Cascading Style Sheets) is a sister language to HTML. While HTML controls page layouts, CSS is used to (surprise!) STYLE those formatted pages. CSS defines things like a page’s fonts, background colors, and paragraph formatting.
These two languages alone are enough start coding basic, static, websites—which can put you on the road to doing your first paid development work.
This means that someone with zero coding skills can put together a WordPress site with premade WordPress themes and templates. However, if with languages like HTML and CSS, you can create your own themes and modify existing ones, turning WordPress into a powerful tool for website customization – you’re a WordPress Developer an equivalent of Web Developer.
While coding sites from scratch ultimately provides the greatest level of web development freedom (you’re limited only by what you know how to code, versus WordPress sites which are confined to what the WordPress platform allows).
WordPress sites are a popular alternative for clients who don’t need a site built from the ground up, or who want to be able to update content on their own later on (something the WordPress platform makes very easy to do).
WordPress Designer skill is covered at length in JoWeb’s Web Design Course. If you’re ready to dive into web development once and for all, sign up for our live courses and let us show you the way.
What Skills Do You Need to Be a Web Designer?
To start a career as a web designer, you’ll need a working knowledge of digital design practices and the tools to implement them. Here are a few of the elements.
1. LAYOUT & NAVIGATION PRINCIPLES
Just like with print design, the layout of a website is as important as the content it presents. You need to arrange the website’s images, text, video, and menu options in a way that allows for efficient navigation by users.
Familiarizing yourself with best layout and navigation principles, like those illustrated in this UX Booth article, is key to successful web design.
2. COLOR & TYPOGRAPHY
In addition to layout and navigation, color and typography play a deciding role in effective web design. Even the world’s most brilliant layout can vanish courtesy of clashing colors and unreadable text.
Certain color and typography choices are a subjective part of the design process, but there’s a whole science of color choice that can (and should) inform web design. Hence why your toolkit should include color theory if you’re interested in seriously pursuing web design work either full-time or as a freelancer.
Similarly, you can’t just wing it with web typography In addition to making web pages easier to read and more appealing to users, the right font size and style choices can directly affect the ability of search engines to index and rank your website.
3. MOBILE FIRST DESIGN
In the early days of web design, most of us were looking at sites from our desktop computers. Fast forward to 2018, and 52 percent of all website traffic is now served to mobile phones, making “mobile first design” the web design standard. This means creating your website designs with the smallest display screens in mind, and working outward to bigger screens from there.
Our curriculum team uses water in a glass as an example. When you pour water into a glass, the liquid conforms itself to the size and shape of the glass being used—which is the whole aim of mobile first design. A website that looks spectacular on your phone’s screen should seamlessly expand into a spectacular experience on your desktop, and vice versa.
This UX Pin article gives a look at the kind of specifics that go into mobile first design—a skill you’ll need if you’re interested in working as a web designer.
4. WIREFRAMING AND PROTOTYPING
Yep, wireframes and prototypes are two more critical web design tools.
- A website wireframe is a visual map that lays out the skeleton of a website. By creating wireframes, web designers are able to visualize and plan out the way a site will be arranged, including placement of text, images, menus, videos, animated graphics, and interactive user forms. A wireframe also allows web designers to share their site plans and progress with developer teams, clients, test users, and other stakeholders.
- A prototype is a more developed website model than a wireframe. Prototypes can be used for site testing before a site’s final release. Based on where a site is in its development cycle, a website prototype can consist of anything from a mockup sketch on paper to a fully functioning digital model.
Knowing how to create wireframes and prototypes, as well as how to use them to collect user and shareholder feedback is another key component of web design. This article from Smashing Magazine gives a rundown on the benefits of each kind of model.
Web Designer and Web Developer Salaries: What’s the Average?
And now the question everyone’s been waiting for: if web design and web development are two different roles, what’s the difference between a web designer and developer salary?
According to My Salary Scale website, The average net salary for Web Developer Intern in Nigeria is ₦77K. Salary estimated from 4 employees.
Keep in mind that it will vary according to certain elements—location, experience, expertise, etc. To determine what you can reasonably expect to make, My Salary Scale Know Your Worth tool is a great way to plug in specific details about your own circumstances to calculate a likely salary (and the right number to give when asked your salary requirements).
The truth of the matter is that web developers on average do make more money than web designers. But if you’re a creative looking for a financially stable career, shifting into tech as a web designer is a smart move long-term.
Putting in the effort to pick up those programming languages and developer skills will boost the sum of your paycheck without sacrificing your hankering for creativity.
Which Job is Right For You?
So how do you know which of these paths is the right one for you? It all comes down to your own career interests. If you’re a creative person who’s drawn to things like fashion, art, and architecture, or if you already have background in print design, web design might be a perfect career pivot for you.
And if you’re someone who loves problem solving, research, and implementing design plans, you could do a lot worse than in web development as a way to pay the bills.
Finally, don’t forget that it’s totally possible to blend these two paths. There’s nothing to say that a web designer can’t learn HTML and CSS, and add development capabilities to their arsenal, just like there’s no hard and fast rule that developers can’t work on their design skills and offer a full suite of design and development options to their clients. It’s all up to you and where you want your tech career to go.