The Difference Between Web Design and Web Development

Posted / 13 October, 2015

Author / Enginess

programming on computer screen

Web design and web development are two terms that often get used interchangeably, but mean very different things. Here’s a quick guide so you know what’s what when you’re planning your digital foray.

Web design and web development are two terms that often get used interchangeably, but mean very different things. Here’s a quick guide so you know what’s what when you’re planning your digital foray.  

Web design

First, web design.  

Web design is really the front window of your website. It’s what people see and interact with. The interface. It’s everything that your customer will touch.

For example, web design would include the fonts and colour schemes of a website, because those are things that the customer will see. However, they won’t see the analytics on a website, so those are often left to web developers.

The idea of web design is to make your website both pleasant to look at and easy to use. TransferWise is one site that does this really well.


It’s not as flashy or as creative as some other sites, but it’s clear and simple. It looks nice enough to make the user want to stay there, and it does a great job of making the user’s life easier.

But web design, like all design, doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There are significant overlaps with other schools of design, and one in particular is worth mentioning.  


User experience design

It started as a subset of information architecture and human factors, but user experience design, or UX design, has become a field in its own right. UX design is designing the actual experience for the user. It’s stepping back and thinking ‘ok, so what’s going to be best for the user?’

For example, a web designer might want to make all the fonts light grey because they look good, but a UX designer might say ‘no, that’s too hard to read and it’s going to be a worse experience for the user.’ Another example might be a web or graphics designer wanting to realign the layout of a homepage. The UX designer might admire the piece of creativity, but after user testing with real people, decide to nix the idea due to poor performance.

That’s not to say that UX designers are the killjoy of the design table. More so, they tend to advocate for the end user harder than other disciplines of design. A web designer might do something because the end result fits well with company branding, whereas a UX designer will always be asking: ‘what would the user want?’ Both roles are important to any successful digital design project.

Of course, these roles are so interconnected that many web designers are UX designers as well, and UX designers often come from web backgrounds. With regards to web design, the line rapidly blurs. But let’s leave the convoluted taxonomy of design and move onto development.  


Web Development

web development

Web development, sometimes called ‘programming’ or 'back end', is everything going on behind the scenes of a website.

Web developers are concerned less with how a website looks and more concerned with making sure it runs well, it runs fast, and the code is clean. Basically, a web designer will create an image for what the website is going to look like, a web developer is going to turn that idea into a reality.

It’s a little like the relationship between an architect and a builder. Only instead of the builder using hammers and nails and tools, the web developer uses code.  


What is code?

Code is really a term used to describe the commands a person issues a computer so the computer knows what to do in a given situation. For example, a piece of code might be written so the computer knows that when you click on a link, it will open the link in a new window. That’s code at work. It’s how we build computer programs, and everything from MS Windows to Minesweeper is written in code.

Anything you see on a computer has code going on behind it to make it look and behave the way that it does. Web developers write code to make websites look and behave the way that they do. They’ll work with a designer to decide what that should be, but they’re the ones who make it happen.

But not all code is the same.

Just like there are lots of different languages all over the world, there are lots of different coding languages for computers. You might have heard web developers throw around acronyms like PHP, .NET, or HTML. These are different languages that you can write code in.

The same way that you can write the same letter in English or Greek, for example. So code comes in lots of different shapes and sizes, and it’s the tool that developers use to create all the stuff that makes the designer’s ideas a reality.



Both the designer and the developer have important roles, but they are very different. Designers are interested in how the website looks and how the end user is going to experience it.

Is it pleasant to look at? Is it easy to read? Do the various interactions all go where the user thinks that they will? These are the questions that a web designer works to answer.

Web developers are responsible for turning those ideas into reality. They write the code that actually makes the website look the way it does, or behave a certain way. They’re interested in changing things that the end user often never sees, to make the site run faster, or track users better, or even offer better security.

Both roles are absolutely essential for their respective jobs, and as time goes on more and more these roles are collaborating together, or even merging into one. Better coding programs and more savvy developers are all creating a much more collaborative design/development atmosphere.

At this rate, bad websites might yet be a thing of the past (well, we can dream anyways.)

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