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Web Designer vs. Web Developer: What’s the Difference?

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Web designers and developers work together to create websites that users like you interact with every day. The key difference between a web designer vs. web developer is which area they work on in the website creation process. While web developers build sites from scratch, writing code on the back end and crafting layouts on the front end, web designers focus on how the website looks, including the images, colors, and fonts. 

What Is a Web Designer?

Web designers create the look and feel of websites, including layouts, color schemes, images, and fonts. 

“I’ll usually have one website project on the go at any given time, and that will take up a sizable chunk of my day,” says Garry West, creative director at Imagefix. 

The rest of the day-to-day job involves balancing client communication, giving and receiving project input, and editing in Photoshop. 

Creating a website’s design from start to finish takes around two weeks, says West, but a big part of this process is understanding the client’s needs and wants. 

“For me, web design is as much about getting a feel for the business I’m designing for,” West explains. “There’s a different energy to each business I work with, and I find it helps to experience that energy as well as to understand their business model and long-term aims.”

In companies like Imagefix, all designers handle the various aspects of web design together. However, designers can specialize in specific areas of design. 

“There are now UX designers who focus on the user experience; UI (user interface design), which is mostly gaming, and visual designers who specialize in graphic design, branding and data visualization,” says West. 

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What Is a Web Developer?

A web developer is responsible for building websites, creating web applications, and helping to influence the look and feel of a web page. Many web developers are also software engineers

There are three main types of web developers: front-end, back-end, and full-stack. 

Back-end developers build the server side of websites or the part that users don’t see. The back-end infrastructure for a website keeps the page running smoothly. Front-end developers handle the features of the page users do see, including widgets, clickable elements, layouts, and design elements. In some instances, a front-end developer takes on the responsibilities of a web designer. In other cases, a designer and developer will work together to design and implement visual plans. Lastly, full-stack developers are skilled in both front- and back-end development. 

>>MORE: Learn the difference between full-stack developers and software engineers

Hayk Shirinyan, founder and lead developer at Developer Partners, uses Apple as an example to help explain how the different parts of web development work together to create a seamless browser experience: 

“When you visit Apple’s website, your browser sends a request to Apple’s web server [back-end] and asks for the data of their home page. The server prepares the data and visuals and sends them to the browser. Then, the browser [front-end] renders the data received from the server. That’s how you see all the banners, images, products, etc., on Apple’s website or on any other web application.”

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Web Developer vs. Web Designer Salaries

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, web developers make an average of $87,580 per year, while web and digital interface designers have average annual salaries of $101,740. These are rapidly growing careers, too. Employment of web developers and designers is estimated to grow 23% over the next decade. 

However, with technical careers, salary depends heavily on skills and experience. As a web designer progresses through their career, they may eventually become senior designers or managers of web design. Glassdoor estimates that senior managers of web design have an annual salary range of $164,000 to $271,000. The progression is similar for web developers, with senior directors of web development having an estimated salary range of $205,000 to $345,000 per year. 

How to Become a Web Designer vs. Web Developer

Education and Background

In highly-technical careers, your skills are more important than any degree or certification. 

“In my experience, a college degree doesn’t matter in web development or in software development in general,” says Shirinyan. 

The same can be said for web design. However, a degree in computer science, computer programming, or other STEM areas can help you build a foundation for learning the more specialized skills required in web development and design. 

Shirinyan recommends using resources like coding bootcamps, books, and online study sites to learn fundamental web development skills. Knowing how to learn new things and self-teach is vital for this career since you “never stop learning in this profession,” Shirinyan adds. 

Web designers can also use online bootcamps and books to gain experience in specific areas of design, like UX, UI, and graphic design principles. 

>>MORE: Check out our picks for the best coding bootcamps for 2024


Hard Skills

Successful web designers need technical skills like: 

  • Wireframing
  • User research and testing
  • Research
  • Using design tools (e.g., Figma, Adobe programs, InVision)
  • Essential design principles 
  • Color theory
  • Responsive design

The technical skills web developers use every day include:

  • Programming languages (e.g., HTML, CSS, JavaScript, C++, SQL, Ruby, Python)
  • Back-end frameworks 
  • Database architecture 
  • Application programming interfaces (APIs)
  • Troubleshooting and code testing
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Soft Skills

While web design and development are technical careers, these roles involve a lot of teamwork and collaboration: It takes a village to build a visually stunning and technically intuitive website. 

Both web developers and designers also need strong organization and time management skills.

“As a web designer, you may be working on a main project, but there are multiple calls on your time,” says West. “As a result, you get used to being pulled out of one job to focus on another. This needs to happen without you losing focus or momentum, and virtually every job you do needs absolute concentration and attention to detail.”

Other vital interpersonal and soft skills for web developers and designers include: 

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What STEM Careers Are Right for Me? Quiz

Web designer, web developer, or something else? What STEM careers are right for you? Take this quiz to find out. It’s completely free — you’ll just need to sign up to get your results!

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Bottom Line: What’s the Difference?

The main difference between web designers vs. web developers is the part they play in the website creation process:

  • Web developers build sites from the ground up 
  • Web designers create the visual aspects of sites
Web Designer
Web Developer
Primary FunctionCreate the look and feel of a website, including site navigation, layout, color scheme, and imagesBuild a website, including the back-end code that makes the page stable and usable, and front-end elements that allow users to interact with the site
Average Salary
Education and BackgroundSTEM background, bolstered by bootcamps, apprenticeships, or internshipsSTEM background, bolstered by coding bootcamps, online courses, and books 
Technical SkillsDesign principles
User testing
Programming languages
Soft SkillsAttention to detail
Active listening

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McKayla Girardin is a NYC-based writer with Forage. She is experienced at transforming complex concepts into easily digestible articles to help anyone better understand the world we live in.

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