If you are planning a project to create a new website - whether that be for personal use or business - but you do not have the skills to make the website yourself, what sort of experts do you require? Do you need a website designer or developer (or both)?
Both require a particular and very different set of skills. However, when most people want a website made, they will automatically search Google for a ‘web designer’ rather than a ‘web developer’. In reality, you will require both when starting the design and build of a new website.
Let’s start by explaining the roles of each.
What is a Web Designer and what do they do?
A web designer is someone who plans and designs the pages of a website. They are the first stage of a web design and development project, that is being started from the very beginning. On this page of my own website, I list the process for creating a new website from start to finish.
A web designer has to consider the visual and interactivity elements of a web design/development project. They will be creative and adept at using design software.
The considerations a web designer will take into account are:
- Colour scheme.
- Colour contrast.
- Layout of components.
- Whitespace (Spacing).
- The rule of thirds.
- Font choices.
- Above the fold placement and content (Where your business tagline would appear for maximum impact).
- Text content (placement and relevancy to SEO).
- Image/photography creation and relevancy.
- User interaction.
- User experience.
Usually these elements will be brought together to make a sitemap, wireframe and mock-up.
What is a Website Sitemap?
A sitemap is a hierarchical representation of your website that clearly shows how you webpages are linked to each other. It should make clear the path that you will guide a user on through your various website pages.
What is a Website Wireframe?
A website wireframe is a simplistic ‘wireframe’ outline of components that will be on each webpage. It shows the placement of components such as image, contact forms, text boxes, etc, without actually having the actual final visuals of the components in the wireframe.
What is a Website Mock-up?
A website mock-up is a graphical representation of what your final website will look like. It would be created in a graphics package, such as Affinity Photo/Designer, Adobe Photoshop, or Adobe XD. This is the most relevant part of the design process from a client point of view, as it allows them to see for the first time how their finished website will look.
When you consider that all these elements have to be thoughtfully designed for each page on your website and also for the varying screen sizes that everyone now uses, you can see that is a substantial body of work just to ‘simply’ design a website before we even get to building it.
Is a Web Designer the same as a Graphics Designer?
There is some overlap in the skill-set of a website designer and a graphics designer. Both will use the same or similar design tools to create a visual representation of your website that is non-interactive but gives you an idea of how the final website will look. However, a graphics designer is perhaps someone who has illustration and art skills rather than webpage layout and UI/UX skills.
A graphics designer would be a great choice for making logos, vector drawings, and perhaps even digital paintings. That would be their main areas of expertise. A web designer is more focused on page layout and how you, the end-user, interacts with the webpage(s).
There is also some cross-over between a web designer and a desktop publisher, who would perhaps normally work in the magazine industry. The clear influence of desktop publishing can be seen on some websites. The designer has taken those layouts associated with desktop publishing and transformed them into a digital medium. However, they have added the cherry on top and considered the user experience and user interactivity to create a modern style website.
Some clients require elaborate creative work that can only be completed by a graphics designer but it is almost impossible to find one person who can do graphics design, website design and development. I personally cover web design and development. I can do some simple graphics work but anything that requires outstanding artistic and illustration skills, I pass to an expert as an outsourced contract job. Or I ask clients to arrange a contractor and allow them to come back to me with the artwork, which I can then integrate into the website.
I am also happy to take full web designs provided by clients and translate them into websites. The reason for doing this is simple. The best designer and developer for any particular job is not always the same person. It’s not always a question of talent either. Everyone has a style that can influence all their work and that may not be compatible with what a client may want. It’s perfectly normal to hire a graphics designer for complex illustration work, or a web designer that has a body of work that matches your style preference, and then hire a developer/coder to translate that vision into a website.
What is a Web Developer and what do they do?
In simple terms, a web developer codes the website. They will take the mock-up design and sitemap and create the website components programmatically.
It is common practice to use a content management system for creating websites. WordPress is the most well-known and popular CMS available today. However, many people (non-website developers) have the misconception that a website can be made without any programming skills. Perhaps via the use of a drag-and-drop website builder. To an extent, this is true, but not if you have an elaborate design that you want to make into a pixel-perfect reality.
It’s a bit like me saying “I don’t need a house builder. I can make a dwelling”. Then I pitch a tent in a field. I might have somewhere to lay down but it’s not a house. Similarly, any website you make with a website builder is going to be a cut-down, poor implementation of a website. It’s unlikely to look professional, perform sluggishly, and it certainly will not look anything like the design you paid good money for.
It gets even worse if you just slapped the website together without any design to base the build on. This approach tells your potential business customers that you are an amateur. Serious business people don’t skimp on the essential marketing tool of a website.
Besides, you will likely pay a monthly fee to the website builder to host this inferior website that is substantially more costly than traditional web hosting pricing.
What is a Front-end and Back-end Developer?
A website developer will code both the front-end and the back-end of your website. Some web developers will only perform one or the other. What’s the difference between those? A front-end developer works on how a website appears to the end-user and its interactivity. So this will be setting the layout of components and integrating all the other aspects of the design phase.
A back-end developer will work on elements that have to be run on the webserver. For example, a contact form has to be coded in such a way that is sends inputted data to the web server, validates the data and then sends a copy of the contact form to your email address.
Another backend developer task is to add functionality to WordPress (I’m assuming you want a WordPress site for this example) that allows them to add custom fields to the admin area. For example, if you were making jewellery and were making a portfolio of items you had made. A back-end developer could create a section in the admin area of WordPress titled ‘Jewellery projects’ where you could upload a photo and give the item a title and description. Then click a ‘submit’ button and your new jewellery piece would appear on your website without you having to know how to code.
WordPress plugins also utilise the front-end and the back-end. I create WordPress plugins to perform specific tasks. For example, a contact form. It makes it easier for me to create new forms for clients. I can quickly identify where to find the code if a problem arises. Also, it gives clients the peace of mind that the developer isn’t installing random plugins from the WordPress repository that they have no control over. Such plugins can be a security risk or they may simply stop working after an update.
I hope you now have an understanding of the various unique roles designers and developers play in creating a new website project. The legacy terminology we use, like ‘web designer’ doesn’t adequately make clear just what skills are required to make a modern website. Creating a website certainly requires more than a designer.
When I first thought about how to market myself when I started offering website building services, I had to decide if I would call myself a ‘web designer’ or ‘web developer’. I could never quite decide as I performed both roles. In the end, I chose to call myself a web developer. My thinking was that people would understand that I was more than just a designer. Years later, I am still not sure if I made the correct decision as people generally search more for a web designer than a developer, but it’s how I am recognised now, so I have to stick with it. Perhaps we need a new catch-all title for a web designer and developer. A ‘website technologist’ or ‘website creator’. But until we have a new name, I hope I have explained the difference between both a website designer and a website developer in this article.