What is the difference between a web designer and a web developer?

We had to stop development on a project yesterday. The client was not happy with the design skills of one of our web developers. That confused me since the scope did not contain any design work, so I decided to clarify the differences between web developers and web designers as I see them.

Web Designer

Creative worker who sketches out ideas on paper, probably works with Photoshop, Pixelmator, Sketch or similar software to bring the sketches to life. Thinks a lot about the UI and hopefully about the UX.

A modern web designer probably has good knowledge of HTML, CSS and maybe some JavaScript.

Priority one for a web designer is to make the app look good. Then it should work. Then it should be easy to use.

Web Developer

A web developer focuses on bringing the design to life by coding it using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP, Ruby, Python, C# or any other languages/tools that actually take the design from a picture to a working web app/web site. The CSS skills of a web designer is probably better than the CSS skills of a web developer.

Priority one for a web developer is to get the app working. Then it should be easy to use. Then it should look good.

Some people are skilled in both areas, but they usually comes from either coding or design and has their strength there.

Difference in deliverables

So, depending on who you hire, you will probably get the work delivered with a big difference in timing. If you are used to working with web designers and you get a first delivery on a new site from a web developer it will probably look like something the dog found in your backyard.

Similarly, if you are used to work with a web developer and get a finished design first, you probably expect it to work and get irritated with the buttons don’t do anything.

Everyone has their way of working

I’m generalizing above, but as a customer you should be aware of the differences between a web developer and a web designer so you have the right expectations from the beginning. Ideally, find two people who are masters of design and development respectively, or find a hybrid web worker that can do both design and development.

The client mentioned above? Yeah, it was a small confusing with the wording in the contract. They were really looking for help with web design, not web programming/development. So, we can just hand it off to one of our other people who have a stronger design profile - no worries. :)