Web design? Web development? What’s the difference? And, you might wonder, “who cares as long as I get my website?” For non-designers and developers, the lines between the two can be blurry. However, these are two very different disciplines that work on different aspects of a website and solve problems that are not connected.

The best-looking, most well-built websites are usually developed by a collaborative team of designers and developers that each brings their expertise to the table. It’s truly the best of both worlds.

This article will explain why it’s essential to understand the distinction between these two fields and why it will affect your project.

What is web design?

When most people think of web design, they only use creativity to create aesthetically pleasing website pages. However, web design is so much more than just creating pretty website pages.

Yes, any web design service’s end product should still feature attractive, modern, and fitting designs that attract and engage your target audience. This also involves picking relevant and engaging images and videos to use throughout your website, as well as coherent and pleasing color palettes. But that’s just one-half of it.

Designing the actual look-and-feel of your website pages and individual elements, such as buttons, forms, menus, etc., is what’s often referred to as UI (User Interface) design. However, fewer people know about its equally important brother UX (User Experience) design.

User experience designers think about how users are going to use a website or application. They try to develop layouts and site hierarchies that guide users through specific user journeys or user stories based on the website’s goal. User journeys are a step-by-step breakdown of how users interact with an application to perform a particular action.

This demands looking at the website holistically, not only how individual pages look but also how they link to each other and come together as a whole. For example, a UX designer may develop specific user journeys for an e-commerce website that guide users to buy the products on offer.

Professional designers or design teams are skilled in both these disciplines. This leads to not only websites that look good but that are also effective for their intended purpose. For example, selling products for an e-commerce store, landing subscribers for a blog, converting signups for an online service.

Designers might be able to complete standard website projects alone using no-code platforms, such as WordPress. However, you’ll be limited in terms of customizing your style and functionality.

Designers also typically know the basics of the underlying frontend languages, such as HTML and CSS, to understand the technical possibilities and limitations of the field they work in. That being said, even CSS styling can grow in scale and complexity to the point where it requires a highly technically skilled developer to work some magic.

For example, it’s easy to see how a typical CSS file such as this for a popular WordPress theme can be overwhelming for a designer. It will require analytic skills and access to a development environment with debugging tools to modify or add to.

However, even with WordPress, you might require some customized development for advanced or unique designs and functionality. For example, WordPress itself is built on PHP, a language most designers are not intimately familiar with. Many advanced features will also require working with a database, which falls under a web developer’s purview.

What is web development?

Web development is a broad field that involves several disciplines:

  • Planning the architecture of a website/web application
  • Choosing the optimal, best-fit technologies to use for the back and frontend
  • Using these technologies to create the actual nuts-and-bolts of the application that makes it function the way it’s supposed to
  • Testing the website or application for bugs or errors and correcting them

For example, a designer might decide where a call-to-action button should be placed and how it should look. However, if the button invokes an action, such as submitting a form to the database, running an in-browser app, etc., it’s a developer who will create that functionality.

Developing back and frontend web applications spans many possible technologies and programming languages. For example, a web development team in Toronto may consist of many individuals, each with a different specialization or skillset.

For example, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript are three commonly used languages to create website frontends’ layout and functionality. For the backend, languages or frameworks like .NET, Python, or C++ are often used in conjunction with various database technologies, such as SQL.

A programmer that might be skilled and experienced in one set of these languages may not be particularly comfortable working with others.

So, what does this mean for you?

The chances are that any website that requires more than superficial functionality will require “web development.” It’s a common misperception for clients to think that their project can be completed purely by a designer and then to be surprised when it’s much more involved than expected. If you require any of the following, it’s a good indication that you will probably need some Toronto web development services:

  • Customized styling – While simple CSS styling for basic websites might be doable for a designer, completely novel designs can quickly grow beyond that scope. Website builders and CMSs have complex code-bases that require developer expertise to unravel.
  • User interactivity – Usually involves the website changing or responding to user actions, such as drag-and-dropping, changing what’s displayed on the website by clicking or selecting certain items, searching for information, etc.
  • Account creation and management – The ability for visitors to create accounts and then manage a personalized profile. This almost certainly requires a custom database to be made and the ability to communicate with it.
  • E-commerce or online payments – The ability to create products, conduct advanced search or filtering, cart, and checkout functionality, and securely processing payments are all advanced features requiring custom development.
  • Integration with third-party or enterprise software – Business software or third-party programs may be written in entirely different languages or demand custom code to communicate.

Because it is a highly-skilled job that takes a lot of time and effort to execute, projects that require custom development can be considerably more expensive. However, as with all things, you get what you pay for.

Clients often don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. This creates the opportunity for cheap development services to rip them off or deliver work of questionable quality. Clients will only realize something’s wrong once they start running into problems down the road and have another professional look at it.

Testing websites for potential errors or security weaknesses, for example, is very time-consuming. However, it can affect your website’s aspects, from its uptime to user satisfaction to your financial security.

Because developers have a highly technical job that may be unfamiliar to non-programmers, they are not typically the ones that directly interface with clients. Usually, it’s project managers, consultants, or designers who sit with clients and figure out their needs and what the website should be capable of. They will then communicate these requirements to the developers, who will find a way to implement them.

Conclusion

As you can see, while they might have the same end goal of delivering a functional and attractive website, designers and developers work in two very different fields.

For designers, empathy and aesthetic creativity are paramount, while for web developers in Toronto, it’s technical know-how and problem-solving. In itself, both these disciplines are wide-ranging fields with many sub-disciplines. As such, both parties already have their hands full when it comes to pulling off their end of the project with success.

While working with a multi-disciplined team of designers and developers may be more expensive, it usually pays off in terms of a higher quality end product that does what it’s supposed to and does it well.

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