Web Designer or Web Developer?

What on earth is the difference between a web designer and a web developer? Is there any difference at all? The answer is actually a bit mirky.

Historically, web designers focused mainly on using a graphic design program like photoshop to create beautiful layouts for websites. Then, web developers took those layouts and actually turned them into a functioning websites. The designers were mainly graphics experts, while the developers for more the gearheads who understood back end code, plugins and the like.

Mixing Together

It’s still true that you can study to become mainly a designer or mainly a developer. But if you search degree or certificate programs at a lot of schools these days, you’ll tend to come across a lot of programs with names like “Web Design and Internet” or “Web Design and Development.” That’s because in many ways, web designers now need to understand more of the development process than they used to.

More Than Good Looks

A key reason is that website or mobile app design is not just about looking pretty any more. Website owners increasingly have very clear business goals, and they need sites that attract very specific types of people and get them to take specific actions on the website. Someone selling umbrellas online, for example, will nowadays judge the success of a website based on how high a percentage of the people who visited the home page actually clicked through to shopping pages and then completed the purchase of an umbrella. The site’s design can’t just look nice, it’s got to produce certain behaviors in the people who visit it.

If you look at a web design or a web development degree (or certificate) program, the choice of your school will affect whether you study more graphic design or technology. Typical course in each type of program include:
More Design Focused Programs:

  • Visual Design Fundamentals
  • Digital Imaging
  • Web Design – which usually includes introduction to tools like WYSIWYG editors and stylesheet writing with CSS.
  • Responsive Web Design – Focus on creating sites that work on mobile devices.
  • Information Design – Understanding how design affects the user experience.

Some design programs will prepare you for a “Certified Associate” exam offered by Adobe, the maker of Photoshop and other major design programs.
More Development-Focused Programs – will include many of the courses above, but also involve study of:

  • HTML, XML, CSS and possibly other coding languages including JavaScript.
  • E-commerce principles.
  • WordPress theme and plugin development.
  • Database principles.
  • Project management.

Web design remains a skill in high demand, though it’s safe to say the a wider array of projects and jobs may be available to you if you also have at least a basic understanding of development.

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