What’s the Difference Between A Web Designer and a Web Developer?
Deciding if you need a web designer or a web developer will become more clear upon reflecting on the needs of your business. Learn more about the key differences between the two service providers.
Your website is your brand’s most important marketing tool. It lies at the heart of your digital real estate as both your virtual lobby and a platform for engagement with existing and potential clients alike. Your digital flagship must also act as your brand representative, greeting and guiding visitors to more information about your products or services or your online content.
So whether you’re a new startup or looking for a website refresh, chances are you’re going to need to bring aboard a service provider to pull off an amazing website that helps your organization achieve its goals.
Whether you need a web designer or a web developer will become more clear upon reflecting on the needs of your business. eCommerce websites, for example, have different development needs than company pages.
Chances are you need both, and we’re going to break down what each professional would be responsible for in building your website, and why both roles together would be necessary to create a fully functional website for your brand.
What Are the Skill Sets of a Web Designer?
We started this conversation with the metaphor that your website is your digital flagship for your brand that lies at the center of your online real estate. Imagine your brand as a campus, with various buildings to visit across the web such as social media platforms, directories, industry listings, and other places where you’ve contributed content or maintain a presence.
All of these listings, articles, and other media should in some way point back to your brand’s website, placing your website at the center of your presence. In order to build that website, you’ll need to establish the framework upon which to subsequently hang functionality and house the content you create. Creating the visual aspects and usability of your website is the purview of a web designer.
Designers use best practices and current design trends to create the look and feel of the site that aligns with the brand’s vision and theme. They are concerned with imagery that supports the mission and vision put forth by leadership and creating a website style guide to keep subsequent additions in line with the core design decisions made at the outset. They might have graphic design experience in design software like Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator.
Ultimately web designers are concerned with three primary aspects of the website: the user experience, the user interface, and the visuals of the website.
Creating the User Experience (UX)
Informed by the strategies the business has put into place for the buyer’s journey, web designers are responsible for translating the intended journey into the user experience, or UX, of the site.
These decisions are largely data-driven and based on extensive research into how users navigate different types of sites and how to effectively guide them through the buyer’s journey. Testing of different interfaces and menu structures informs the design decisions made at this level.
Translating the Intended Experience Into A Suitable User Interface
Once the designers have worked out the pathing that needs to be visualized, the user interface designers go to work optimizing the interface and creating the interactions that will take place to interconnect pages and act as the navigation structure for the site. With conversions a primary goal, the interface needs to enhance the final design of the website and provide a clear path for visitors to follow.
Visual Designers Tie UX and UI to Branding
While UI and UX designers provide a mix of visual and conceptual solutions to the website’s final design, the visual designers bring all of it together into a tangible layout using wireframe and prototyping tools. These mockups can then be tested throughout the development process down the line.
Tools and Skills of the Trade
Web designers as a whole need to be able to use and understand HTML and CSS programming languages to create prototypes and basic frameworks for websites. They can execute the code on various design and programming integrated development environments (IDE) using the knowledge they’ve gained studying web design principles and accessibility standards.
In addition to the customer journey mapping and wireframing discussed above, web designers are also familiar with responsive design in modern environments to make websites adaptive to multiple mobile devices. They also must integrate color theory, typography, and concepts around branding and conversion optimization.
What Is a Web Developer?
If the designers are creating the frame of the virtual building where your website will live, then the developers are responsible for building out and filling that framework with the core operational structures that drive the website functionalities.
There are three levels of web development services that professionals provide: front end, back end, and full-stack.
They can also leverage existing content management systems such as the popular platforms WordPress or Wix. They work directly with the client-side of the interface and often work extremely closely with a web design professional or team.
In order to provide the functionality like user management, memberships, customer records, and other data-driven functions, websites need to be able to access and store information across databases and servers. Using database languages to manage the information flow such as SQL, Ruby, and C#, back-end developers are concerned with functionality and ensuring the website has the software in place to drive the interface on the client side.
For projects where you need a full, end-to-end service provider, you seek out a full-stack developer. These individuals can build out front- and back-end systems and they are also versed in configuring servers and creating application programming interfaces (APIs), which allow websites to pull data and information from other online sources across the web.
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Which Do I Need For My Business?
It should be clear now that if you need a website built or modified, you’re still going to need to involve both designers and developers at some point. While this might be clear for a new site build, it’s also necessary for changing or updating your website because of how the various layers interact and work together to bring your website to life for the user.
That said, you can take a modular approach to building your site or find an agency that handles the whole process, depending upon your needs and budget. There are four general levels of service providers you can engage in the building or modification of your website:
Small Business Web Design Agencies
These agencies often specialize in a single industry or a specific type of service, and generally keep costs low by utilizing a content management system (CMS) in order to allow them to focus only on the design while automating the development through the CMS tool.
This is a good option for small businesses or organizations that have a limited budget but need to get a website up and live in order to engage with customers.
Web Development Agencies
Alternatively, you have small agencies that have the resources and skilled workers on hand to create custom website solutions. This is a better solution when a CMS platform cannot create a website that meets your business’s needs and you have the capital to create a customized website.
Rather than clients recognizing the theme or layout from your competitors who are all using a CMS-based solution, your website will stand out as unique and be able to anticipate and manage buyer journey needs throughout the user experience in ways that will stand out and give you an advantage over similar service providers. These agencies are still appropriate for small business engagements but can also meet the needs of larger, more established businesses as well.
If you’re looking to align your website functionality to your overall marketing strategy, then a full-service marketing agency is your best-fit and overall affordable solution. These agencies tend to match best to the needs of mid-sized organizations looking to scale and grow their business.
They will be active participants in the design and development of your site and work to align your entire workflow and inbound lead conversion strategy around the buyers’ journey and interfaces they create.
A one-stop solution for large Fortune 500 companies that need competitive branding and imaging in order to remain relevant in their industry. They tend to build out full user experiences that are well researched and tested in order to improve the overall final website. Their goal is to design a website that is fully integrated with the branding of the client and supports the advertising, commercials, and user applications that make up their clients’ digital real estate.
If You Build An Effective Website, the Leads Will Convert
If you’re just getting your legs under you as a business, you might be asking yourself whether you should be trying to bring in the talent to design and launch a website or if you should explore your outsourcing options.
If you take a quick look around at what the competition is doing, or what businesses in most industries are doing, you’ll quickly see that unless web design and development are already in their wheelhouse of service offerings to their own clients, that very few if any businesses are taking on such projects in-house. Instead, they are allowing their staff to focus on increasing sales while contracting the website build and design to outside services.
And that’s exactly why it’s important to be active in a community of B2B services providers. Creating a synergy of resources between companies is the only way to advance your brand and become a leader amongst your competitors.
Find a service provider to handle the strategic design and implementation of your website and over time you will find that your lead conversions will increase and, because you focused on growing your business, your ability to meet the needs of your clients in unique and exciting ways will set you apart as a preferred solutions provider in your industry.