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What’s the Difference Between a Web Designer and a Developer?

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As a growing number of freelancers look to widen their skill sets, several roles have started to overlap – including those of web designers and web developers. These roles may appear similar at first, as they both involve working with websites to produce a desired result, and they both require similar skills. But, before you declare your prowess as a web designer, or hire one yourself, you must understand just how the role differs from that of a freelance web developer, so you don’t over-promise what you can deliver to a client, or hire someone who doesn’t know their stuff.

The Basics

Let’s start by breaking down the definitions of the two terms:

A web designer is the person who brings the design and concept of the website to life based on the client’s brief. They control the flow of information across the site, and in some cases, may also be responsible for the website analytics. Designers can be divided into three main types: User Experience (UX), User Interface (UI) and Visual.

UX Designers

The job of a UX designer is to ensure that the structure and layout of the website are engaging and enticing to visitors and that they have a positive experience while on the site. They will gather and analyze data to inform their choices, creating human-centric designs.

UI Designers

UI designers are responsible for taking care of the interactions occurring on the site and ensure that it is optimized to maximize conversions.

Visual Designers

Visual designers combine elements of UX and UI – they work with both the overall layout, and the visual elements of the site, while focusing on building an aesthetically pleasing site with good usability.

Where Does a Web Developer Come In?

A web developer will then take these designs, and code them to create a fully functional website. There are three main branches for web developers: front-end web developers, back-end web developers, and full stack web developers. In some cases, these roles may all be carried out by one person, and in other situations, three separate people may work on their own stages. 

While a web designer may also have the skills and abilities to work as a web developer and vice versa, these two roles are not the same. There are a few key differences to bear in mind, which are explained below.

Software and Tools

Web designers and developers will use different types of design and editing software to create their end results. A web designer will use a wireframing software, along with Adobe Photoshop, image compression tools, and stock photographs, to create the graphic which outlines the design of the website.

Developers, on the other hand, will use one of the web programming languages, such as CSS, JavaScript, or HTML, to turn this design into a fully functional website or application. They are likely to also use other languages to perform specific tasks, such as command line interface, text editors, or version control systems to allow them to set up user authentication, email services, and databases.


Web designers and developers will also have a different focus. The former is primarily concerned with the design of the website. Rather than making the site work, they ensure that it’s aesthetically appealing for the user. The latter is concerned with the overall functionality of the site, making sure that each section works as it should, and that there are no bugs or errors which the user may encounter.


The skills required in each role are also slightly different, especially when it comes to coding. The only way that developers can work is through the use of code, so this is an essential requirement. For designers, coding is less important, as they work predominantly with graphic design software. The same is true in reverse; while developers do not need to be skilled at Photoshop, it is a core skill for designers.


The other major difference is cost – as a rule, the cost of a freelance web developer will be higher than that of a designer, due to the more technical nature of the job.

The Process

In many cases, web designers and developers will work together to bring the site to life and will play different parts in the process. In most cases, their jobs and roles will overlap, with a typical process playing out as follows:

  1. The client sends a brief to the web designer, who will create a concept for the outline of the website.
  2. The designer will then use software to build the structure and framework of each of the pages and the website as a whole. Once this is approved, the relevant software is used to create colors, fonts, and images – with the entire site being replicated in a graphic.
  3. This is where the web developer comes into play. They will use web programming skills to bring the graphic to life on the website, using coding to build a user interface for the site. This is known as the front-end of the website and is the part that visitors will see.
  4. Once this is complete, the back-end of the site becomes the focus – this can be done by a separate back-end developer or the original front-end developer who has the skills, which would actually classify them as a full-stack developer. Here, the developer creates a database and uses scripts to build the website which not only serves data to the user, but collects and stores it in return.
  5. The website is published and goes live.

So, Which Do I Pick?

Ultimately, the choice between a developer and a designer will depend on your needs, and in most cases, you will need to consult both to complete your project and launch your site. You can find both freelance web designers and developers here on Guru – the freelance platform of choice for millions around the world.

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