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Developer v. Designer

You’ll probably find the titles “Web Designer” and “Web Developer” used interchangeably, but this isn’t accurate. Designing a Web site is actually very different from developing one. Understanding this can help avoid misunderstandings when discussing cost issues, especially when using a “Web Designer” who is also a “Web Developer.

There are two major components to designing a Web site: the “front end” and the “back end.” While there can be quite a bit of crossover, for the most part design refers to the front end, development to the back end.

Front end and design

The front end is what the customers sees: the “pages” that display the graphics, the images, and the text on a web site. Web Designers concentrate on the front end, choosing appropriate images and fonts and determining how images and text should be arranged.

A Web Designer’s strength is his or her appreciation for aesthetics. A designer doesn’t have to be a technical whiz. But one should at least have a strong understanding of what will work visually on a computer screen and what the technical limitations are in designing for the Web.

A good Web Designer will also have experience in collaborating with a Web developer.

Back end and development

Developers are part of a new breed of Internet professionals who can help you build your Web site. Web Developers work on the back end, making a site work. This side of the process is not visible to visitors, but it is essential to enhancing the visitor’s experience. Most customers don’t realize how time intensive this back end work really is and tend to dismiss it’s value. Without it a web site would not run.

Back end functions include making images change or move, allowing visitors to view different pages or enter data about themselves, or performing sales transactions. If you’re hiring a Web developer, learn to speak the language. Make sure the resumes of those you are considering include the following skills:

  • HTML for the text and layout framework of a Web page
  • Web Imaging to create and compress images for the Web
  • JavaScript to write programs that run as part of Web pages and to do tasks like validating form fields before submitting a form
  • ASP to customize a Web page for a particular user on the server before it is sent down to the user
  • Java/C++ to write programs that are embedded within a Web page – to do things that Web pages alone cannot do, such as playing a game within a Web page

Ok what now?

Can an individual be both a Web designer and a Web developer? Most certainly! There are plenty of talented individuals who are adept at both. And for the sake of convenience, not to mention your budget, you may prefer to work with these hybrids.

If your heart is set on a snazzy design that puts your competitors to visual shame, however, your best bet is to hire a separate designer with strong graphic experience.

Or say you want to include complex e-commerce transactions that require special programming skills. In this case, you may want to go with a top-notch Web Developer even if they have no interest or experience in graphic design.

Often times it is more beneficial, especially if you are starting out, to hire a “hybrid” rather than trying to find a designer and developer who will work together.