Web Designer vs. Web Developer

[Opinion, with a little fact thrown in]

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#1 BetaWar  Icon User is online

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Web Designer vs. Web Developer

Post icon  Posted 04 August 2009 - 03:40 PM

Before we start what will likely become a debate letís get a few definitions down so when I use a term you understand what I am talking about or referring to.

Definitions
Web developer Ė A web developer is a person who develops websites from the ground up. They know the languages (given that HTML stands for Hypertext Markup Language we will classify it a language) they are using (including, but not limited to HTML, Javascript), as well as the style sheets. They may use fancy syntax highlighters, but they donít require them to successfully create a site.

Web designer Ė A web designer is a person who uses graphics programs such as Photoshop, Gimp, Fireworks and the like to create website skins (layouts) and then use another program (such as Dreamweaver or Visual Web Developer) to make their design come to life for the web. They almost solely rely on the design views the program they use provides.

Why do we need to address the difference?
While the difference between web designer and web developer may not be overly significant to many it becomes one of the most frustrating things webmasters have to worry about, especially if they are attempting to get a job as a freelance professional or from someone without the knowledge of a difference.

This may not appear to be that big of a deal, but when you are talking pay it becomes important. The high end salary for a web designer is between $52,000 and $79,000. Now, again we have defined a web designer as someone who uses programs like Dreamweaver in design view to put together a skin they created in a program like Photoshop, but the real-world defines their job as the following:
ďA web designer usually has some experience with graphic design and with actually building a web page; research into user experience and effective testing strategies can also be beneficial to the art of web design.Ē
Now, look at the pay grade for a web developer. They earn (on the high end again) between $66,000 and $94,000, and their real-world definition looks like so:
ď Write, modify, and debug software for web sites. Write code to generate web pages, access databases and business logic servers. Work with designers and content producers. Test and document software for web sites.Ē

Now, donít try to tell me there isnít a difference between a web designer and a web developer. They are completely different jobs!

The common webmaster
Just because web developer and web designer is defined as different jobs and has a different pay grade really doesnít tell us what we want to know: Which category do I fall into? There is a simple answer to that, you either fall clearly into one of the definitions I placed above, or you are a hybrid of the two. This ladder is becoming more and more common in todayís age as people need to be able to offer their employer more than the next guy to get a job.

I, for instance, love to design website skins (as you may have noticed if you look at some of my work), but that isnít to say I dislike programming web sites. On the contrary, I design only in the prospect of programming the backend of a site. I understand, as a web user, what I like and donít like when I go to a site, and I attempt to pass that on in my work (though, like everything, having an outside opinion is invaluable Ė if only to make sure you are accomplishing what you set out to do).

So, what is wrong with being a web designer?
In short, nothing is wrong with being a web designer. The problem lies with those people who say they are that which they arenít. I am talking about people claiming to be web developers who donít know any backend (server side) programming languages and have never had to deal with modifying a database in their careers. These are the people who drive down the pay the real web developers can expect for their toils.

Relying on a program is something that should never happen to a web developer; they should use what is available, but accomplish their task no matter the programs available.

Wrapping Up
Now, I understand that this article is a little short, but I think I have got my point across and don't see a reason to make a total fool out of myself. This is, after all, meant to be a discussion of sorts, so please feel free to chime in with your opinions on the matter, but lets not flame.

Salary statistics taken from http://www.payscale.com/

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Replies To: Web Designer vs. Web Developer

#2 SixOfEleven  Icon User is offline

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Re: Web Designer vs. Web Developer

Posted 04 August 2009 - 06:28 PM

I would have to say that a web designer, according to your definition, may in fact do what you suggested to the pay scale for a web developer. Personally, I am more of a developer than a designer. Any of you who have looked at my sites know that I have a real problem when it comes to the skin of a site. I would have to say that I do not have the artistic skills to be considered a designer. I know what I like when viewing a site but when it comes to replicating or creating a skin from scratch, I really need to rely on the opinions of others if the skin looks good. I am more than capable of creating a site to follow a skin though and do server-side programming and client-side scripting. The programming of a site and a style sheet to make the site work is much easier for me than creating a skin, though I do like to try.

And I agree, there is nothing wrong with being a web designer. I have a high opinion of graphics artists, and artists in general for that matter. The ability to create attractive, eye catching skins is important in today's market. Just don't say that you can, for example, add in database support or if it something that you can't do.
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#3 Arenlor  Icon User is offline

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Re: Web Designer vs. Web Developer

Posted 04 August 2009 - 07:38 PM

I'm so not a designer, but if you give me a picture of what you want it to look like, or the graphics you want used, I can put it together exactly. Really it's just creating that I suck at. I really think the problem is that people don't know exactly what a webmaster is. I see it as not just building the site, but I can maintain a Linux/BSD/Micro$oft build. That's why I call myself a webmaster and not just a web developer. I also can hand tweak code, which web designers tend not to. They also tend not to realize that their site breaks in Browser X. They also tend to not to realize that people with disabilities (say blind people) have trouble with it. Actually, other than making the site pretty (which they do great at) most designers have trouble.

On to what you said about languages, HTML is obviously a language, no one would argue with you on that, the big argument is do you program it. I say no, don't feel like arguing religion about it, but I don't think anyone would argue that it's a language.

As for code highlighters, except for certain times I think everyone uses them, as it makes it easier to see if everything is closed correctly etc.
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#4 gregwhitworth  Icon User is offline

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Re: Web Designer vs. Web Developer

Posted 04 August 2009 - 08:28 PM

I am lucky enough to do pretty well at both. Started off as a designer for 4 years, and then became a "developer" which I kind of disagree with you on your definition - because I developed web sites for years before picking up a server side language. Anyways, no need to belabor the point - but I have to work harder on the programming side of things but I really love the challenge. Nice article.
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#5 evinrows  Icon User is offline

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Re: Web Designer vs. Web Developer

Posted 04 August 2009 - 10:01 PM

View Postgregwhitworth, on 4 Aug, 2009 - 07:28 PM, said:

I am lucky enough to do pretty well at both. Started off as a designer for 4 years, and then became a "developer" which I kind of disagree with you on your definition - because I developed web sites for years before picking up a server side language. Anyways, no need to belabor the point - but I have to work harder on the programming side of things but I really love the challenge. Nice article.

While I see your point, I have to disagree. I'll assume accreditation towards Wikipedia when I quote "A web developer is a software developer or software engineer who is specifically engaged in the development of World Wide Web applications, or distributed network applications that are run over the HTTP protocol from a web server to a web browser." That definition of a web developer requires the person to be well acquainted with at least one server side processing language.

I can understand where BetaWar is coming from with his rant, as there should be a clear distinction from a web developer and a web designer. Otherwise, how do you determine the pay scale off the bat for specific career paths?
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#6 gregwhitworth  Icon User is offline

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Re: Web Designer vs. Web Developer

Posted 04 August 2009 - 10:15 PM

Quote

I can understand where BetaWar is coming from with his rant, as there should be a clear distinction from a web developer and a web designer. Otherwise, how do you determine the pay scale off the bat for specific career paths?


I'll give on this one - but then we need to come up with a new term. I by no means am stating that someone doing HTML/CSS should receive the same pay as someone doing a server side script, but at the same time you guys also need to recognize the difference between design and the actual "development" of the site.

I consider the design phase - exactly such - when you are DESIGNING the site in a photo editor, that is why the people that use these products day in and out are called Graphic Designers.

Then the design stage continues into the nav layout and the site architecture.

Then we enter the development stage, much like an architect passes the ball off to the developer of a sub-division in the same manner the code, albeit of a simpler nature, is still code and a language. Thus, the "development" has begun.

We can call this building, but I still consider it a very important part of developing.

And in keeping with your definition an html page by its very core is utilizing the HTTP request to distribute the pages "from a web server to a web browser."

So I still deem it part of the development process. What you need to do is market yourself and business to make note of the complexity of database design and server side languages.

This post has been edited by gregwhitworth: 04 August 2009 - 10:16 PM

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#7 CamoDeveloper  Icon User is offline

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Re: Web Designer vs. Web Developer

Posted 04 August 2009 - 11:01 PM

Very nice article with some interesting points.

Here's a question, based on the definitions what are we limiting a web designer to? Would a web designer only be limited to the graphic images, colors, style of a site? Or would that include the actual layout of a site? Ex: using tables, divs, etc to format the look of a site.

The reason for this question is because according to Beta's definitions, which I don't disagree with, a web developer uses HTML to "develop" a site, while a web designer makes the layouts. I'm just curious more than anything to know what we are defining layouts to.

I, myself, am a web developer since I create and maintain code that keeps a site functioning and also create database code if the site requires it. I agree with gregwhitworth on his points, that's how we do it at my company. We Design, Develop, Deploy. Although there are many steps in between these, ex: making proofs to send to the client for approval, those are our three main steps.

That's all I have for now, will check back later.

~Camo
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#8 shafishstix  Icon User is offline

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Re: Web Designer vs. Web Developer

Posted 04 August 2009 - 11:07 PM

I think the same could be said for some developers though. Some may know how to use graphics/web applications and claim that they can design as well as develop. But to truly know design you need to know typography, layout, visual theory, usability/navigation front end design/patterns, etc.

Salary should depend on the skill and speed of the designer. But for the average designer to claim the title of "web developer" for the sake of higher pay grade without earning that title, is just shrewd marketing by the individual.
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#9 Ace26  Icon User is offline

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Re: Web Designer vs. Web Developer

Posted 05 August 2009 - 03:35 AM

Quote

And in keeping with your definition an html page by its very core is utilizing the HTTP request to distribute the pages "from a web server to a web browser."


Still that doesnt make html a server-side or client side scripting language! It's just a MARK UP language. Besides I think there is a fine inarguable line between a web developer and a web designer going by all the definitions given and in my opinion the former do more relevant work than the latter.Or imagine a scenario where a web site/web page has an attractive GUI whereas it doesnt yield the behaviour and functionality expected of it?? If the scenario were vice versa (not-so attractive GUI but very functional and meeting expecting behaviour), which scenario would you prefer?

but this is not to undermine the importance of web designers. never!
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#10 Nykc  Icon User is offline

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Re: Web Designer vs. Web Developer

Posted 05 August 2009 - 06:16 AM

I would fall in the category of web developer. I am graphically retarded in the sense of creating visually sexy websites and have no desire to do so. I always have been more of a sucker for functional versus pretty. With that said, Designers play an important role and I think the two trades really fall hand in hand.

Most companies I worked for expect you to be both a designer and developer which I think can be undermining the full potential of the site. A designer can and should focus on the look and feel of the site whereas the developer can bring the work of art to life. 2-3 minds are always better than one IMHO.
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#11 gregwhitworth  Icon User is offline

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Re: Web Designer vs. Web Developer

Posted 05 August 2009 - 07:36 AM

Very interesting debate indeed betaWar!

And yes Ace - it is indeed a markup language, but the very basis of the site is utilizing an http request to get information from the server to the browser. I think your guys' point is that the HTML/CSS writer is writing the server side script that deploys the HTTP request that the browser makes, am I right?

In any case, and any field, you have the problem of separating yourself from the field - and in the end your work will speak for itself.

Quote

If the scenario were vice versa (not-so attractive GUI but very functional and meeting expecting behaviour), which scenario would you prefer?


That's a great point, and I would have to say that the website, whether "developed" or "created" no matter the term you use needs everything to make it a success. So when you have other people touting that they ARE a web developer, the truth will come out in the pudding. When their site is hacked and broken, you can calmly pick up the pieces and show them what a REAL web developer is.


Quote

I think the same could be said for some developers though. Some may know how to use graphics/web applications and claim that they can design as well as develop. But to truly know design you need to know typography, layout, visual theory, usability/navigation front end design/patterns, etc.


Another excellent point. I think this is far more rampant than the developers situation is. Every man, woman, or child that owns a copy of Photoshop walks around saying I'm a graphic designer.

Good debate guys.

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Greg
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#12 TechWar  Icon User is offline

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Re: Web Designer vs. Web Developer

Posted 05 August 2009 - 08:14 AM

Damn Beta, this may be one of my favorite discussions so far :D
I'll have to say though, that, though I can program javascript, PHP, classic asp, I do still use Dreamweaver.
I like it's simplicity - it takes a lot of work off my shoulders. I do, however use the scripting window as much(if not more) than the design window.
Like others, the artistic part comes a little harder to me, but with Dreamweaver I can usually squeeze out something that I like to look at :P .

But, you still hit it pretty much on the head, I just consider myself somewhere in the middle of the 2.

Anyway, awesome topic :^:
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#13 c0mrade  Icon User is offline

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Re: Web Designer vs. Web Developer

Posted 05 August 2009 - 02:55 PM

I think the problem is that there are really no clear boundaries in web development. There are multiple roles which all seem to overlap. Don't forget also that these are roles, not people. One person can fill multiple roles, and multiple people can fill one role.

I'll describe what I feel are the major roles and what they mean to me.

Graphic Artist: This role creates graphics. The images in the site. Development of the final product involves lot's of research into target markets, many mock ups, and lot's of revisions. The final product is raw image files.

Web Designer: The web designer role is all about the visual and usability aspects of the site. This is not so much about creating images, that is the job of the graphic artist, but is more about the layout and experience as a whole. Usability and screen flows also fall under this role. The final product from the designer is a detailed visual mock-up of both what the site should look like, and how it should behave.

Web Developer: This is a front end developer specializing in web interfaces. The primary job of this role is to make the designers mock-up a reality. The web developer will write css, javascript, and (if needed) some server side user interface code. Note that the web developer does not write code implementing business logic, that is the job of the software developer. The final product from the web developer is the user interface layer of the system (commonly known in this case as a web site).

Software Developer: The software developer role is all about implementing the underlying business logic backing up the web site. Does the system need to send emails? Process batch jobs? Talk to other systems? This all falls under the software developers role. The software developer may work with the web developer to integrate the user interface into the system, but this is not their main responsibility. The final product coming from the software developer ranges from a simple set of scripts talking to a database to a complex system of separate applications all working together to support the website, as well as any other user interfaces that are needed.

That's my view on things - does anyone think differently?

This post has been edited by c0mrade: 05 August 2009 - 02:58 PM

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#14 CamoDeveloper  Icon User is offline

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Re: Web Designer vs. Web Developer

Posted 05 August 2009 - 03:47 PM

I believe you hit the nail on the head with that one c0mrade.

~Camo
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#15 gregwhitworth  Icon User is offline

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Re: Web Designer vs. Web Developer

Posted 05 August 2009 - 06:09 PM

Quote

That's my view on things - does anyone think differently?


Nope. Amen! New roles have been developed by DIC - pass 'em around!!

Seriously man - I don't know why any of us didn't just do what he did, props c0mrade!

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Greg
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