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Web Designer or Web Developer? What’s the Difference?

When you need a website, two words get used interchangeably: web designer and web developer. Same thing, right? Nope.

OK. Wait. Don’t freak out.

We’ll talk about the differences so you know what to look for.

Web design sketches, what's a web designer
A web designer takes your business vision and creates sketches and colorful, branded designs so you can review the the look and feel before the website is developed.

What does a Web Designer do?

Web designers create the look and feel of a website. Think of a web designer as the person who handles everything you see (color schemes, buttons, pictures) and how users interact with the website (usability).

Programs web designers may use: Photoshop, Hotjar, Pingdom, Juicy Studio

Web designers concern themselves with what happens when a customer arrives on your website. Is it difficult to make a purchase? Book an appointment? Can the customer easily contact you? Is the website performing quickly or slowly? Is branding clear and consistent?

Code on screen. What's a Web Developer?
A web developer takes the static designs created by a web designer and transforms it into a functioning website.

What does a Web Developer do?

Web developers (AKA programmers) use the web designer’s work (a static design) to build the website.

Web developers use a variety of programming languages and tools.

A web developer may also use a content management system (CMS) to make it easier for clients to edit the website after it goes live. Common CMSs include: WordPress, Joomla or Drupal. (A web designer is more likely to use a CMS that doesn’t require a lot of coding, like Squarespace, Weebly, or Wix.)

One of the most important questions you can ask a web developer is for work samples that use the features you’re looking for.

Unless you have a lot of web knowledge, it might not matter if the developer knows Bootstrap, Ruby or PHP. What does matter is that they can show you their work.

Web developers concern themselves with transforming a static design into a functioning website with buttons, sliders, blogs, ecommerce, etc.

Do you need a web designer or web developer?

It depends.

Larger, more complex projects may need to go to firms using specialists working in web design and web development. In this case, the web designer hands off a static design to a web developer.

Smaller projects may be handled by someone able to do both web design and development.

Having a clear understanding of the roles helps you set expectations.

Once you decide what type of professional to hire, please check out these resources to help guide your hiring process: Three Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Web Developer and Three Signs you’ve Found a Rockstar Developer.

If you’re not sure what you need, schedule a free Technology Breakthrough Session. As a small business technology strategist, I help you create a technology plan to support your business vision that can save you thousands of dollars in the long run.

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