Many people do not realize that there is a difference between the skills, training and experience necessary to be a web designer versus a Web developer. Even though the titles are sometimes used interchangeably, the focus and requirements for each is distinctly different. Here’s an overview to help you decide which you will need for your Web site project.
A Web Site Designer’s Skills
A web site designer is primarily a graphic designer. This is the person who creates a look-and-feel for your web site that includes pleasing colors, interesting images, and a design the best conveys the visual message you wish to present to your web site visitors. The web designer works with the User Interface (UI) aspects of a Web site.
Although some Web designers can read and write HTML code, most do not. It is not a necessary part of what they do. Web designers typically rely on WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) tools that generate the Web page code. The top-of-the-line WYSIWYG design tool is Dreamweaver. This tool has a reputation for developing very clean HTML code, and clean code is much easier to optimize for search engines.
A Web Site Developer’s Skills
A web site developer is primarily a programmer. Programmers are trained to understand how to "talk" to computers and browsers. Web developers must also know how to work with a wide range of databases. These types of skills are an absolute necessity if you wish to develop a dynamic web site or one with advanced or interactive features.
A web developer’s skills tend to be very specialized and focused on one or two Web development technologies and databases. You therefore want to make sure that you choose a Web developer that is experienced with your chosen technologies.
Which should you use for your Web site project?
This really depends upon what you want to accomplish with your site. If the project requires the use of static web pages (file names ending in .htm, .html, .shtml), then a Web designer will be able to do the job. If you need a dynamic site (file names ending in .asp, .aspx, .cfm, .jsp, .php and others), then you need a web developer. If you require interaction with a database, a developer is an absolute necessity. For dynamic sites, I advise clients to use a Web designer first to develop the UI (user interface). The design is then turned over to the developer so that he or she can add the functional and interactive features.
There are a few—but not many—web professionals that have both skill sets. Web designers tend to be more creative or right-brain thinkers, while developers tend to be more logical or left-brain thinkers. Web designers frequently are perplexed by complex server code such as Java, C#, PHP, VBScript, Perl and other interactive dunamic languages. On the other hand, developers sometimes refer to themselves as “graphically challenged”. Each is best at what they do best, and it behooves you to select a good blend of talent when you initiate a serious Web site project.
What about search engine optimization?
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a specialized skill that is not necessarily mastered by either a designer or developer unless they have made a substantial effort to learn these skills. SEO is not part of the formalized training for either a designer or a developer. Although many designers and developers know something about SEO, their knowledge about search engines is frequently outdated and sometimes useless in today’s volatile SEO environment. This does not denigrate the typical web designer or web developer—it is just not their area of focus or expertise.
If you are embarking on a new Web site project, it’s best to assemble a team of professionals that can work together to complete your project. This may include a web designer, a web developer and an SEO professional.