Nick Roberts

Full Stack Web Developer

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Nick Roberts

Web Designers vs Web Developers vs Graphic Designers: The Common Misconception

16th March 2017

There’s a common misconception among the industry regarding what the various different job titles actually involve. There are many significant differences between the roles, and some similarities among them also. This post runs through the differences and cross-overs between the roles, and why it’s easy to get confused between them.

Web Designers

Web Designers are highly skilled in using Web technologies such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. These are the skills needed to build the ‘public’ part of a website, that the user will see. A Web Developer would work with the Web Designer to add the back-end functionality to the site. Web Designers use software packages like Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe Illustrator to create the graphics that will be used on websites, which involves resizing and saving the images for use on the Web.

Web Designers create the layout structure of the website, and implement a colour scheme on the website using the Web technologies mentioned. They focus on the aesthetics of the design, as well as any interactive elements of the page, but don’t go into such detail with the back-end functionality.

Web Designers must also have an exceptional knowledge of the W3C Web Standards, which cover over 90 topics about User Experience, User Interaction, Usability, Accessibility, Web Semantics, and Web Architecture. These are important skills and knowledge that ensure the websites created by Web Designers are usable and accessible to all users regardless of how they access the Web, and that the websites they build follow the best coding practices, as well as being built semantically correct in terms of code structure, class naming conventions, and file types.

Web Designers share some skills with Web Developers, however, as they focus on the front-end of a website, they may only have a basic understanding of back-end technologies. Web Designers do not ‘design’ a website in Adobe Photoshop, as many in the industry perceive. They may use it to create rough layout guides, or wireframes but will not use it to design the whole website.

Web Developers

Web Developers are highly skilled in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, as Web Designers are, but are also highly skilled in back-end Web technologies such as PHP, and MySQL. Web Developers build fully functional websites with a usable and accessible front-end website, which follows all best coding practices and Web Standards, as well as back-end functions that users would not see, that allow the website to perform complex operations, such as saving and retrieving data from a database.

It is also important for Web Developers to have a solid knowledge of Web Standards, as with Web Designers. Many Web Developers are self-taught, often picking up bad habits from unreliable sources which leads to badly coded websites. They often see a ‘cool’ new framework built by someone to ‘solve’ a ‘problem’ the developer had. These ‘problems’ are more issues that they had with a website caused by not following Web Standards or best coding practices. The poor coding practice of these frameworks causes other developers, who are none the wiser, to take up these bad practices.

Most skills of a Web Developer cross over with Web Designers, but Web Developers have far more technical skills in back-end coding languages which allow the website to become more dynamic.

Web Developers share many skills of front-end Web Development with Web Designers. They have a more in-depth knowledge of back-end coding languages to add more functionality to a website. Web Developers who have a thorough knowledge of both front-end and back-end coding languages are often referred to as Full Stack Developers. These Web Developers are also more likely to have a solid knowledge of Web Standards, and best coding practices, allowing them to build fully functional, standards compliant, easy to maintain, professional websites that are accessible and usable to all users.

Graphic Designers

Graphic Designers work purely in Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator, with little or no coding experience. Graphic Designers typically have no knowledge of Web Standards, or how important they are to the Web. They often add visual / textual items that go against basic Web Standards to their designs, and when passed to a Web Developer who also has very little knowledge of Web Standards, these can be added into websites, which cause issues in accessibility for some users.

Some Graphic Designers design websites in Adobe Photoshop, creating the visual aspect of a website including the layout and colour scheme. Many of these designers call themselves ‘Web Designers’ because they ‘design a website’. This is not the case, as they have not written a single line of code, as mentioned above. This sore of Graphic Designer is referred to as a Digital Graphic Designer, because what they design is for digital usage.

The Confusion

It’s important to not get the terms ‘Graphic Design’ and ‘Web Design’ confused, as they are both very different job roles, mostly involving the skill of being able to build a basic website from scratch using HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

There is also different terms within Web for the level of skill a person has, whether that be a Web Designer, with skills front-end coding languages; Web Developer, with skills in back-end languages; or Full Stack Web Developers, with a vast array of skills in both front-end and back-end coding languages.

Categories General Workflow