Web Designer, Web Developer, Graphic Designer – What's The Difference?

Web Developer vs. Web Designer vs. Graphic Designer

Who should you choose to lead your website project? Can’t anyone build a website these days? Err, no.

Unless you actively build websites daily it’s easy to be confused as to who does what in the build process. If you plan on building and launching your own website, then you’ll need to be competent in all these roles! But, if you contract out the process (and if you’re a business then you probably should…) it’s helpful to know who does what.

The Web Designer

These folks specialise in the look and ‘feel’ of a website. Obviously, elements like fonts, colours, content-spacing and imagery come under this job role, but sometimes some coding too.

Website coding comes in two forms: front-end and back-end. ‘Front-end’ coding relates to the look of each page and is the domain of a website designer. How the site will look on different devices (desktop vs. mobile etc) is also a ‘front-end’ responsibility, as is the interactivity of elements like forms before they are submitted.

There’s a lot involved in a web designer’s job including skills in at least three different programming languages (HTML, CSS and Javascript are typical). If you’re developing a unique look for your website (as opposed to using a commercial template without modification) then you need a web designer.

The Web Developer

A website’s ‘back-end’ usually centres around a Content Management System. Often referred to as a ‘CMS’, a Content Management System is the software that allows a website owner to create, edit and delete pages and other site content on a daily basis, without the need for a web designer or developer.

A web developer will often have some front-end skills, (particularly in the interactive parts of a website), but their main job will be in back-end programming.

Once the front-end design and coding process is complete (and page templates have been created) it falls to a web developer to integrate these into the CMS and build it such that all the content is easily editable.

In addition, the web developer will manage server processes like the handling of contact forms, (emails to website owner and user, etc), server security, traffic management and server load, etc.

A web developer will normally understand server languages like PHP and/or .net but also some server configuration language plus DNS, caching and many other disciplines.

Graphic Designer

This role has been around since long before websites even came into being! Graphic design is an artistic endeavour and grew out of the growth in the need for print materials.

A typical graphic designer will work on brochures, business cards, signage, exhibition stands and all sorts of other collateral that make up a company’s traditional marketing communications. However, graphic designers are also called in to generate digital assets. These can range from email templates and email signature images to social media content and avatars.

In more recent years many graphic designers have learnt some front-end coding and can rightfully be called web developers. However, website design is a much more dynamic environment than many other forms of graphic design and this brings new challenges and the requirement for new thinking. Mobile ‘responsive’ web design being a good example of this.

Brand Consultant

Mention the word ‘brand’ to most people and the first thing they will think of is the company logo. However, branding is a far wider-reaching discipline than just a logo.

A company’s brand will be made up of every single interaction between the company and its customers, suppliers, and other contacts. Fonts, colours, and other marketing communication elements are included, but so are customer support procedures, telephone manner and social media posts.

In short, a Brand Consultant advises a company on how to generate the right image to the rest of the world, mostly at a strategic level.

Can a person be more than one thing?

You bet they can! Many small web agencies cover more than one of these disciplines. I would classify myself as a ‘full stack’ developer, which means I undertake the work of both a web designer and web developer - although I’m also asked to occasionally look at wider branding questions or design non-website collateral.

If you have a website already but it needs work, then I hope the above information will help you decide which it is you need. The assumption of many companies is that a web designer builds websites - they do in part, but, without a proper web development process, that glossy website design might soon become unmanageable, un-editable or insecure.

Geoff Meads

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