The differences between web design and web development

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When you are reading about creating websites, you will often come across the terms “web design” and “web development”. These two phrases can be easily confused because people seem to use them in the same way, which might make you question the difference between web design and development.

While the terms “design” and “development” are often used interchangeably when talking about creating websites, they are actually two different fields of expertise.

Understanding what each means and how they work (in a general sense) can help you when hiring someone to create your own site, or if you are looking to get involved in the field yourself.

In this post, we will explain both web design and web development, including the difference and the relationship between them.

Web design and development: a basic introduction.

First, we should reiterate the point that the terms “design” and “development” have specific meanings in the context of building a website, and are not always used correctly. Knowing the distinction will help you communicate more effectively about your site. It will also make it easy to spot when they are being used in the wrong context.

Let’s start with some very basic definitions. There are two main tasks involved in the process of creating a website:

  • Web development: this refers to building the architecture of the website: using code to create a functional site and making everything work properly. That is the key point: web developers focus primarily on converting an existing design into the right code.
  • Design: In contrast, web design is about determining how the website looks and how users interact with it. Designers may also work with some code (along with many other tools), but designers focus more on appearance, layout and usability.

If you are familiar with WordPress, you may think of this as similar to the differences between plugins and themes. Both make changes that affect your site in significant ways. However, plugins (developers) add features and functionality, while themes (designers) adjust their appearance. This is a simplistic way of looking at it, but it can help you quickly understand the key distinctions.

How web design and development work together

For almost any website, both web design and development work are necessary to get off the ground. These are not two isolated fields of work, but are intimately connected. This is a big part of the reason why they are so often confused.

In fact, the two concepts are broad enough that the way they interact to result in a website can vary according to personal preferences and specific needs. However, the most fundamental process for building a website looks like this:

1. Information gathering and planning.

This is when the person (or team) creating the website gathers information from the client about what is needed in the final product. They then begin to plan the scope of the site. This includes the features it will need to contain, the main sections or pages it will include, and other basics.

2. Web design

In general, most of the design work comes before development. The look, structure, etc. of the website is mapped out, either on paper or as some kind of basic mock-up. The client will then either approve the design, or request changes. The latter is much more common, which is an important reason why this phase comes first. It is much easier to make changes to the design or functionality of a mock-up than it would be to redo an already coded website.

3. Web development

Once there is a solid mock-up or prototype in place, developers can get to work. They build the website itself, either starting completely from scratch or using some kind of framework to start the process. Often, they first build the basic structure of the site. Then they will add specific functions and features as needed.

4. Testing

Websites are complex, and there are likely to be many things that have gone wrong in the first three phases. This is why a testing phase is usually in order. It is crucial to finish the project and make sure that everything works correctly.

Again, this process is very flexible. A small, simple site may not require as many steps, while a large e-commerce company may deserve a detailed approach to ensure that nothing goes wrong. However, this should give you an idea of how web design and development work together.

What does all this mean to you?

All this information may seem a bit abstract. However, understanding how web design and development differ can be useful in a number of ways. Let’s look at two of the most likely applications.

1. Hire someone to help you build a website

First of all, knowing what it takes to create a website is important when you are looking for someone else to create a site for you. Going in without knowing what to expect can result in hiring the wrong people or not communicating your needs properly.

If you want to outsource your website, you should first consider how many people you want to hire. After all, some people focus only on web design or development, while others are interested in both. There are advantages and disadvantages to be gained from hiring an individual freelancer or a dedicated team:

Looking for a combination developer/designer is much cheaper, and you won’t have to worry about communication mix-ups between various people working on the site. This can be a good approach for smaller sites or those that don’t need a lot of features.

However, there is some truth in the saying: “jack of all trades, master of none”. One person may not have the skills necessary to create a site that is both visually impressive and functionally complex.

Bringing at least one developer and one designer onto the team is more expensive, but it means you will have access to an expert on both sides of the process. Each will be able to focus all their attention on getting one aspect of the final product right.

Communication can be more challenging in this scenario, but the problem can be mitigated by hiring a company that employs both developers and designers. This is the more expensive option, but you are more likely to get exactly the site you want.

2. Get involved in the industry yourself.

On the other hand, what if you are not looking to hire, but want to dabble in creating websites yourself? At this point, the decision you need to make should be clear: should you focus on learning web design or web development?

Ultimately, you can learn both. However, your best bet is to start by focusing on the one that best suits your interests and skills. If you are a creative and visually focused person with an eye for style, web design is probably the path for you. On the other hand, if you are technically minded and like the idea of tinkering with the fundamental code of a site, development is the way to go.

Conclusion

It probably comes as no surprise that creating a website is a fairly complex task. What you may not realise is that it is also a multi-stage process, requiring at least two different sets of skills.

Whether you’re looking to build a website or you plan to do it yourself, understanding the distinction between web design and development will come in handy. Just remember that there is a lot of overlap involved, and some people do both. Also, the two should work together seamlessly if the end goal is an attractive and highly functional site.

What should I do now?

If you have more questions and want to know how we work, contact us and one of our consultants will contact you for advice.

For further information on this and many other topics you can check out other articles in our blog where you will find references on this, and many more topics.

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