What’s the difference between a web designer and a web developer – and which one do you need?

Starting a business can be daunting, there are so many things to sort out, the legal stuff and accounts, structure, name – the list seems endless. Crucially, you need customers and to get customers, you must be visible.  Nowadays, a website is an essential part of any business plan for an SME and something that must reflect both you and your business. So, how should you go about making sure you get an effective, visible, professional website? Do you need a web designer, or a web developer? Is there a difference?

As far as you’re concerned, as a business owner, all you need is a functional, easy-to-navigate site that does what your customers and potential customers need, quickly and easily. You’ll want it to be visually appealing, interesting, and secure. You will need it to attract website traffic and be appealing to search engines such as Google, bringing visitors to your landing page. Ultimately, once you have people viewing your site, you need to encourage them to buy from you; converting them from visitor to customer.

A good website will help you to establish expertise and knowledge, capture leads, encourage repeat visits, demonstrate that you provide a quality service, etc. Your business advisor will have told you that 80% of your turnover will come from 20% of your customer base, so you’ll be making sure your products and services are valuable and targeted appropriately.

The content is where you do that. The function and look of your website, that’s down to the developer or designer… So, who does what?

Let’s begin with the Web Developer…

A web developer speaks the languages of Code; this is their expertise, or super-power. They will make strings of seemingly random letters, numbers and symbols do magical things.

You will hear them talk of HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Flash, Java, PHP, Python and Ruby, amongst others… They are, quite literally, completely different languages.

The web developer writes the programmes, creates the website infrastructure and any specific applications or widgets that will enhance the performance and service offered by your online ‘shop window’.  They will build the foundations – the parts that run in the background to make sure everything works as it should and is connected properly with servers and the www. This is the back-end. They also build the façade, the bit your visitors will see and use, when they hit your landing page. This is the front-end.

The back-end and front-end need to communicate properly with one another to make sure your site visitors have the best experience possible and the correct functions and images are presented to the user when they click on the relevant link or button.

This is achieved by the construction of a database, which sits on the hosting server and stores everything necessary for the website to work properly. This includes code for structure and functions, files, images, and data. They are controlled by specific scripts, which the web developer embeds into the website. This ensures that the correct piece of information, data or function is presented when summoned by the user.

Some web developers do it all, whilst others specialise in front-end or back-end development. For major website projects, a team of web developers will work on specialised tasks to each build just one part of the finished site.

A web developer can make a website that is finely tuned to your needs, rather than a one-size fits all template from an online platform. It’s the difference between an off-the-peg suit from Next, which fits okay, looks nice and does what it’s supposed to do, and a tailored suit, which fits perfectly and looks great.

So, what does the Web Designer do?

A web designer speaks the language of creativity, they have expertise in graphic design, logo and theme creation. They will make art and beauty from a collection of shapes, colours and your less-than-average photography skills.

As well as how it looks, the character of your website will be all down to the design. The web designer will style everything from the colour scheme, fonts used, images and how the various elements fit together on the page. This will give your website its own ‘personality’, which will reflect you and your business. This is what makes visitors feel welcome and want to hang around on your site.

This doesn’t mean the web designer’s job doesn’t require them to know and understand the technical aspects of building a website though. They will also usually ‘speak’ the code languages used in front-end development, such as JavaScript and HTML. This helps them to balance the design and character with the function and technical requirements.  Sometimes, a graphic designer will develop the look of a site and a web designer will write the appropriate code to bring it to life.

For those big projects we mentioned when discussing what the web developers do, a web designer will also work alongside them, as part of the wider team. Both web designers and web developers need to have a good understanding of what the other does.

The benefit of getting someone else to build the website, is that it allows you to get on with the job of running the business.  Even if, when you first begin trading, you decide to get a bog-standard, basic site, at some point you may decide that it’s time to get a more tailored fit. Upgrading your website can usually be done without downtime, making the transition from High Street to High End stress-free and easy.

High end, doesn’t have to mean high cost. At MXMG, we cover both development and design in one, with the focus always on the user-experience. This makes doing business the easy part for you and your customers. Check out our portfolio and contact us for more information.