Ask Global Wire Associates: Web Designers vs. Web Developers


I want to rebuild a website for a charity I am relaunching this year.  I built the first website by myself a couple of years ago, but I wasn’t satisfied by how it looked and my website designing skills are limited.  I need to hire someone to redo the website, but I don’t know where to start.  I was told that I need to hire both a web designer and a web developer.  My question is do I need to hire both and what is the difference between the two?

-Miracle Shuman
St.George’s, Grenada

Web designers and web developers serve two very distinct, but important roles in making a website.  Let’s first define what the two do.  A web designer is responsible for the design and layout of the website, or the client/user side of the site.  Good web designers not only know about the basic principles of web design and typography, but also a good understanding of user experience design (UX), content strategy, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery and computer networking.  A web developer is responsible for programming the code in the back-end of the website.  They build and maintain the website’s databases and other applications in the web server.  Experienced web developers should have advanced knowledge in many server side scripting programs like Java, ASP .NET, Perl, PHP, MySQL, Python etc.

To put it into a different context, let’s think of a car.  Web designers are in charge of how the car looks and feels, such as the color and design inside and outside, the shape and comfort of the car seats, the texture and use of the steering wheel and even the smell of the car.  Web developers deal with how the car functions, like making sure the engine works in relation to the steering wheel, brakes and the gas tank, fixing a bad muffler and even making sure the radio works.

In today’s competitive job market, most web designers and developers have to be well-rounded and know how to do a little of everything.  It is not hard to find designers who can code Ruby on Rails or developers who can make graphics in Photoshop.  The line has blurred so much that many job descriptions in the wanted ads these days are looking for “web designer/developer.”  In most design firms, designers and developers are working together on building sites for customers.  The designer will come up with the site’s concept and layout and then give it over to the developer to build the server framework for it.  For bigger projects, the designer and the developer might work with a graphic designer and a project manager for added support.  In larger companies, there may be a whole department of designers and developers who are in charge of running the organization’s web presence.

However, most small businesses and nonprofits don’t usually have the funds to employ a whole staff of web professionals, so they outsource their website projects to either a design firm or a freelance web designer or developer.  Sometimes freelance designers and developers work on projects together to compensate for the other’s lack of skill in a particular area in building the site.  With that said, before you hire a web professional to build your site, you need to know what you want the website to do for you and your organization.  Will you be selling goods and/or services (e-commerce) or fundraising on the site?  Do you want people to be able to sign up for events on the site?  Do you need a website that self-hosts multimedia tools for photography, graphics, audio or video?  Do you want a website that easily enhances your brand with a search engine optimization (SEO) strategy?  Do you want a website that integrates with a social media strategy?  Do you want a website that you can do basic maintenance with after it’s built, or do you want to keep on the designer/developer that you pay to do regular maintenance long term?  Do you need a website that looks great on both a desktop and a mobile device?

Once you know what you want in a website, it makes it easier to search for the right person to build your site.  When you interview prospective hires, ask them if they have the abilities and skills to create the website you want.  Ask to see their portfolio.  Do they have examples of websites they built that you would like to emulate in your website?  A good sign that you are hiring the right person for the job is by not only seeing their previous client work, but also how their own website looks.  Does their website look well maintained and professional?  You should also ask for references and take into consideration how much you are willing to spend on building the website.  Keep in mind that the more complicated your website is, such as having dynamic multimedia or e-commerce, the more money you’ll need to spend.  Such applications can take up a lot of time to build, and a designer or developer will want to be compensated appropriately.

Got a question for us? Send it to info(at)globalwireonline(dot)org with “Ask Global Wire Associates” in the subject line.

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