You may have noticed that there’s still a great deal of confusion surrounding the job roles ‘web developer’ and ‘web designer’. If you’re thinking about becoming a web developer it can be hard to know where to start. To help clear things up a bit, in this article I’m going to define each role, look at the tools and resources needed for each and tear down the personality types which suit one or the other. By the end of this post you should know not only the difference between web developer and web designer (and believe me, there are big differences!) but which career choice is the right one for you.
Let’s start off by framing the comparison through something we all know by imagining a web developer and a web designer getting together to build a car.
A web developer would be responsible for using various components like the engine, transmission, wheels, etc. to construct a fully-functional car that is error-free in its technical aspects.
A web designer would be responsible for the aesthetic design of the car (the comfort of the seats, the layout of the dashboard, etc.) as well as the convenience in driving and riding in the car.
Makes sense, right?
Just as ostriches and zebras travel together in nature to survive, web developers and designers have a symbiotic relationship in working together to create an amazing product. In this article, I’ll outline these two career choices in an article that you can read as you enjoy a cup of coffee.
The big question: money. According to PayScale.com, the 2015 median annual pay for web developers is $56K, while the median annual pay for web designers is around $46K.
Robert Half Technology offers a more optimistic outlook, citing 2014 survey results to determine a $70-110K annual salary for web developers and $60-$99k annual salary for web designers.
However, this is subject to many variables including location, experience, skillsets, and maybe even what you wear for that job interview. Just know there isn’t much salary discrepancy between the two web careers.
Web designers are not primarily responsible for knowing how the code works – but making sure it’s aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly for website visitors. They will utilize graphics design software – including products like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Inkscape (an excellent alternative to Photoshop), and GIMP. Ultimately, they will design the layout of the website through constructing prototypes and wireframes. Designers control the flow of information and can even be responsible for website analytics.
A portfolio is very important – whether you’re a developer or designer. Unlike that disclaimer you see on your stock investments, past performance is a pretty good indicator of future performance. A good developer and designer will showcase their skillsets and experience for future employers and clients, but may make use of different services to do this.
Developers will primarily rely on GitHub.com to display their awesome repositories of coding work. It’ll demonstrate how well the developer can refactor and abstract their code to be elegant and readable to other developers. Cloud-based website-hosting services like AWS (Amazon) and Heroku.com can be used at times to display static websites and web applications that developers have created.
Designers have their own options to show off their ingenuity through websites like Behance.com and Dribble.com. These websites offer the ability to present designers’ expertise in color schemes, graphic design ability, and creativity.
Even more important than utilizing these resources is creating a personal portfolio site that you can showcase your work. By creating a personalized website, you have control over how your information is presented and received, without inviting the interference that comes up at times by hosting your content on a third-party website. Nevertheless, don’t neglect these other resources and make sure they are utilized in some capacity.
Right-Brained Vs. Left-Brained
When drawing the comparison between developers and designers, the “right-brained” (imaginative) vs “left-brained” (logical) comparison is occasionally made.
It is said that people who think more linearly and logically are left-brain dominant and will enjoy and be more comfortable with web development, while people who enjoy creativity and possess an artistic nature are right-brain dominant and will flourish in web design.
However, there have been studies done that show people don’t have a dominant part of their brain – as Neil deGrasse Tyson put it, “Don’t call me left brained, right brained. Call me human.” Don’t think you’re predisposed to do better in one area than another – an artist can be as proficient at web development as a mathematician can be as creatively skilled at web design. This segues excellently into my final point.
Which Career Is For You?
Referring back to my example of a symbiotic relationship, an ostrich cannot become a zebra as much as a zebra can become an ostrich. The ostrich must rely on the zebra’s hearing as much as the zebra must rely on the ostrich’s eyesight. However, you’re in luck, as a web developer can be a web designer as much as a designer can choose to be a developer.
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I must admit – I did go down the web development route with CareerFoundry track and it was an amazing experience that laid a solid foundation for me. I built a portfolio website and an e-commerce site from scratch – I didn’t know anything about coding or web development before I started. I enjoyed their course structure, community of mentors and students, and experience so much that I am also looking to go through their web design program. However, I wasn’t paid to recommend CareerFoundry and this isn’t an endorsement hiding in the disguise of an article for their program – I strongly recommend doing your own research before making a decision.
Just remember, you don’t have to choose to be an ostrich or zebra. You can be both - an “ostribra” or a “zebrich.” You choose.