Web Developer vs Web Designer — A Tutorial Guide

There is a blurred line between a web developer and a web designer, and probably that’s why you’d want to read this article!

I’ve concocted a helpful quiz for you below, near the ending of this article, should you wish to try it out!


Web developers, well — develop — whilst web designers create mockups through Photoshop or Illustrator or Sketch, right?

Not so easy, considering that Web Developers know Photoshop as well, and Web Designers know how to use Git.

So, it must be that one or the other delve deeper into their technical sides.

But first, both have in common the following:

  • Website Standards e.g. Responsive Design, Accessibility
  • UX/UI Principles
  • Understanding of HTML, CSS, and possibly JavaScript
  • Web Hosting & FTP Setup
  • Basic Understanding of the terminal, like Git, and SSH
  • Understanding of how an API works
  • Photoshop/Sketch/mockups skills
  • Basic digital analytics skills

Web Developer vs Web Designer — A Tutorial Guide

How to choose between a web developer or web designer

The above are qualities and skills that are present in both a web developer and a web designer. Since working in a web or digital company, both of these roles are interchangeable, but sooner or later one will have to take a route on which they feel more comfortable with.

Web Designer

The web designer will feel more comfortable with getting the whole picture of visual and interactive design in good working order — pixel perfection — as soon as they get a good grasp of how a website functions.

Web Designer: This Twitter feed found in the footer should update itself in realtime, instead of the user having to refresh their browser to see the latest tweets, please.

Web Developer: Sure, I’m going to add this to the to-do list of that website. I can implement this in 20 minutes!

Web Designer: Nice.

You will realise in the conversation above that both designer and developer understand how the Twitter feed works. Yet, one of them was responsible for thinking of putting the Twitter feed there in a design layout, and another one is responsible for making it happen on a real website.

As a Web Designer, you’ll love putting out amazing works of art, that thousands of people use and will make their day even better as they interact with your art.

There’s somewhat a special feeling of knowing that:

  • Your interactive design has been of great service to people
  • It’s a joy to behold a fluid design, and can even make someone smile
  • If it makes you smile with joy, then surely it will make the audience smile as well!
  • It makes the audience feel special and loved, and you designed that visually for them
  • You make people’s lives much easier
  • You put your heart and mind into it. Period.

If that’s enticing enough for you to become a web designer, what more could you ask? Yes, you could even work as a team of web designers who perform handiworks to brainstorm designs creatively, which is absolutely fun!

Web Developer

The web developer, however, is the person who loves to hold the nitty and gritty info, make it simple to understand, and convey it to people so that the discussion doesn’t go way too far off on the developer side. This is an attribute of Mastery, which we will discuss below.

The 4M’s of motivation

There’s a great mnemonic called the 4M’s of motivation, which are:

  • Money
  • Mastery
  • Material
  • Mating

I’m sure you tick all the boxes for what gets you driven or motivated — that could include Mating — but if you think deep enough or what gets your attention the most, what would it be?

Because as a Web Developer, one of you heartfelt M’s of motivation would be Mastery and/or Material.

Like, who wouldn’t want to have the shiniest and greatest technology? That’s Material.

Or, who wouldn’t want to be their own boss, keeping their actions intentional, and owning their agenda? That’s Mastery.

And as web developers, it is easy to be code monkeys of the 21st century, but I know that as you read this article, you understand to stay away from being a code monkey. It isn’t nice in the first place!

Am I a web designer or a web developer?

I have a quiz below which should help guide you on whether you would love being either a web developer or a web designer, even if you are either one already!

Take the Web Developer vs Web Designer Quiz

Are you a Web Developer or a Web Designer?

Are you a Web Developer or a Web Designer?

Web Developer vs Web Designer — A Tutorial Guide

So I asked the Pros themselves

If you still feel like you need proofing before you get out into the field and plot your route even firmer, see the quotes below.

I’ve gathered these quotes from a sample size of professionals of web design and web development themselves on how they specify the differences between a Web Developer and a Web Designer:

Web Development pro messages

All web developers are masters of the art of semantics. They have to be detailed-oriented and passionate about structure and semantics.
Ray Villalobos, Web Development Instructor

A Web Developer to me is someone who understands how a website needs to integrate with a backend service whether it be a database, flat file, service API endpoint.
— Clarice Bouwer, Web/Software Developer

Web Design pro messages

A great web/graphics designer Knows the perfect balance between usability and beautiful graphics. He/She also knows the design process is always user-centred and not ego-centred.
Cristina Morisson, Web + Graphics Designer

A Web Designer to me is someone who understands how a website is put together. They are able to take resources (images, scripts, stylesheets, documents) and create or configure the markup to produce an end result.
— Clarice Bouwer, Web/Software Developer

Key Takeaways

Both web developers and designers have things in common, but one or the other is responsible for more technical work on their side.

They both look up to each other as having similar knowledge, so that the ties between technical conversations are clearly understood.

But with that said it’s very common for them to flip around their job roles, but at the end of the day it’s up to them to decide what profession describes them more — on a personal level as well.

Finding out which one you may be is a simple decision, but a tough one. Where you’ll have to ask a question to yourself on which one suits you better. However, this isn’t a black-or-white decision but instead a weighted decision.

The bottom line is: choose what you’re more comfortable with, and stick with that. If it doesn’t fare as much, you can always nudge a little to the opposite side and see how things go well for you. Sooner or later you’ll get a good understanding of your own likings, and choose what fits best for you!