6 web designs in a grid layout

Web design vs. web development: What’s the difference?

Reading time: 6 minutes

Website creation is an exciting venture filled with possibilities, and a great starting point is to explore the distinctions and synergies between web design and web development. Understanding what each involves, how they work together and which one you’ll need for your project helps bring your website vision to reality, all while saving you a great deal of money and time. 

In this article, we explain web design and web development and equip you with the knowledge to navigate your website creation or project successfully.

What is web design?

Web design is where creativity meets functionality on your website. Think of it as the art of making everything look appealing — from the splash of colors and elegant fonts to the snappy images and clickable buttons. 

But there’s more to it than just eye candy.

Website design project

Luxury living website design by Alex Capellan. via 99designs by Vista

Effective web design is also about laying out your digital storefront so it looks great on any device, from desktops to smartphones. It ensures your visitors find their way around effortlessly, making every click and scroll smooth and intuitive. 

In short, good web design doesn’t just catch the eye — it makes the whole browsing experience a breeze.

The role of web designers in the website creation process

In the world of website creation, web designers are like the architects and interior designers of digital spaces. They are the creative minds that make sure a website not only looks great but also aligns perfectly with the brand’s image and meets user needs. They combine colors, fonts and layouts to create an appealing and functional online presence and make your customers trust you through design.

HDgov website design and branding

HDgov website design by DSKY via 99designs by Vista

Over time, web design has evolved into more specialized roles. Today, there are specific positions like UX (User Experience) designers and UI (User Interface) designers, focusing on making websites easy and enjoyable to use. These specialists dive deep into the user’s journey, ensuring every interaction on the site feels natural and intuitive.

UX designers vs. UI designers

UX designers and UI designers each have distinct roles in shaping a website, yet both are crucial for creating a memorable digital experience. 

UX (User Experience) designers delve into the emotional and functional experience users have on your site. They analyze user behaviors and preferences to craft a journey that’s not only smooth but also intuitively aligns with user expectations. By utilizing thorough market research and data analysis, UX designers pinpoint potential stumbling blocks and refine the user journey to surpass ordinary satisfaction levels.

For instance, consider a company like Keynest, which has streamlined the user experience to make navigation simple and direct, reflecting its goal of efficient service through a user-friendly website layout.

Keynest website UX design

A screenshot of Keynest’s step-by-step process via Keynest

Keynest homepage with hover over signup button

Screenshot of Keynest’s homepage via Keynest

Once the framework of user interaction is established, it’s time for the UI (User Interface) designers to step in. UI designers focus on the visual aspects of a website — everything the user sees, such as the color schemes, typography, buttons and icons. Their job is to ensure these elements are visually appealing and function cohesively to support easy navigation.

In today’s competitive market, it’s increasingly common for web designers to wear both hats, mastering UX and UI design skills. This versatility enables them to provide a comprehensive design perspective that can meet broader business objectives.

What is web development?

Web development is essentially the construction phase of a website. It involves building the website from scratch and ensuring its continual upkeep. Like constructing a building, web development involves setting up a sturdy foundation and framework. This stage typically kicks off once the website’s design plans are set in stone.

In the website creation timeline, web development is where the plans and visual concepts become functional realities. Developers take the blueprint provided by the designers and turn it into a working website, coding the structure, functionality and interactive features needed for the site to operate smoothly on the internet.

Illustrated, abstract interpretation of web development with two hands working at machine and shapes

A creative interpretation of web development processes by artist Lena Vargas via Dribbble 

The role of web developers in the website creation process

Web developers are pivotal in transforming design concepts into fully functional websites. They are the technical wizards who write clean, efficient code that brings the website to life. Beyond initial construction, these developers are also tasked with ongoing optimization, troubleshooting issues and integrating cutting-edge features and technologies to ensure users enjoy a seamless experience.

In essence, web developers concentrate on the website’s core functionality and structure, aligning their efforts with the overarching goals of the brand. 

The field of web development is diverse, typically divided into front-end development, which focuses on what users interact with, and back-end development, which handles the server-side processes and database interactions.

Front-end web developers vs. Back-end web developers

Front-end web developers focus on the user-facing part of websites. They create the interface that users interact with, ensuring it’s appealing and functional. 

These developers use HTML, CSS and JavaScript to build everything you see on a website — layouts, buttons, images and navigation links. They also ensure the site appears correctly across browsers and devices, optimizing for speed and responsiveness.

Back-end web developers handle the server side of web development. Their work is invisible to users but essential for the website’s functionality. Back-end developers manage the servers, databases and applications that power the site. They use languages like Python, Ruby, Java and PHP, along with tools such as MySQL, Oracle and SQL Server, to ensure data flows correctly from the server to the user and back and that transactions are processed securely.

Abstract, illustrated interpretation of back-end developers’ work

A creative interpretation of back-end developers’ work, illustration by OrangeCrush via 99designs by Vista

Additionally, full-stack web developers are versatile experts who manage both front-end and back-end tasks. Hiring a full-stack developer can be highly efficient for projects requiring a broad range of development skills, allowing for seamless integration between a website’s server and client sides. This makes them especially valuable in teams that need to develop and deploy both aspects of web applications rapidly.

When do you need web design vs. web development?

When running a small business, it’s crucial to understand when you might need the expertise of a web designer versus a web developer. Each professional focuses on different aspects of creating and maintaining a website, and recognizing when to engage each significantly impacts your online presence and operational efficiency. 

When to hire a web designer?

  • Branding and initial setup: When you’re establishing your business’s online presence and need a visually appealing design that reflects your brand identity.
  • User experience improvements: If your website needs a better layout or more intuitive navigation to enhance the user experience.
  • Visual updates: When updating the look of your site to stay modern or to align with new branding elements, such as logos and color schemes.
  • Mobile optimization: Ensuring your website looks good and functions well on smartphones and tablets.

When to hire a web developer?

  • Building the website: When you need to turn the designs into a working website, especially if it requires custom functionalities.
  • Adding e-commerce features: Implementing shopping carts, payment processing and other e-commerce solutions.
  • Integrating third-party services: If your site needs to integrate with other platforms like social media, email marketing tools or customer relationship management systems.
  • Maintenance and security: Regular updates to keep the website secure from vulnerabilities and to ensure it runs smoothly with minimal downtime.

Understanding these distinctions helps you decide which professional to engage for a robust, attractive and functional website tailored to your business requirements.

The takeaway

​​Understanding the nuances between web design and web development is crucial for assembling a stellar web team. Now you know who is best suited to meet your specific needs and can determine the best time to bring these professionals on board.

What’s the payoff? A website that not only looks stunning but also functions flawlessly, converting visitors into customers.

Whether you’re boosting your personal brand or expanding a small business, broaden your market reach and amplify your revenue streams through website design and development.

Or if you are unable to hire web designers and web developers —  use online web builders like Vista x Wix and manage your website yourself.