Web Developer vs Web Designer: What’s The Difference & Which Do You Need To Hire?

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Building a website requires the cooperation of many people. But do you know who you need to make it happen?

Do you need a web developer? A web designer? Both? What’s the difference?

In most cases, both will be involved. But if you haven’t spent time in web development, you might not know why. Here’s everything you need to know.

What’s The Difference Between A Web Developer And A Web Designer?

Put simply, a web developer makes websites work, while a web designer makes websites look great.

There are two kinds of web developers: front-end and back-end.

Front-end developers create the interface that users see when they visit your website using programming languages like Javascript or PHP. They might make sure your online shopping tool is working or design an application that recommends a specific service based on a visitor’s answers to a few questions with exceptional user experience.

Back-end developers create things that users never see, even if they make use of them. If you have a membership program and you need to store email addresses, passwords, and other information, a back-end developer can create the database to store all of that information. Popular programming and/or coding languages for back-end developers include C#, Ruby, Java or Python.

Full-stack developers have combined front-end and back-end skillsets and are accomplished in both.

A web designer, on the other hand, works on the creative side of the website design. They design the user interface that users see when they come to your site. They’ll choose the typography, style, brand color palettes, and graphics that go on your page. They have skills and experience with graphic design and may also be an illustrator. They’ll work with a front-end developer to make sure web apps are easy to use. And they’ll ensure consistent branding across your website. Often, a web designer will know basic HTML and CSS on their website along with mastery of design software, like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. The front-end developer will ensure that vision comes to life and connects to the back-end and that the functionality is working.

For a full-featured website or web application, you’ll need the help of both a developer (if not several) and a designer.

Which do you need for your web project?

Now that you know the difference between a web developer and a web designer, you should have a good idea of which you need for your project.

If you need someone to make sure your website looks great, hire a designer. If you need someone to make sure your website works great, hire a developer.

In most cases, you’ll need both. Unless you have a designer or developer on staff, you can’t hire just one, or you’ll be stuck with a great design and no way to implement it — or a team full of people waiting for a design that isn’t coming.

Understanding your website project requirements and scope

That means you need to understand both your requirements and your scope.

A project’s requirements are all of the things you need to deliver at the end. If you’re reading this article, your project requirements might be as simple as “create and deploy a great-looking website.”

Of course, if you have something specific in mind, you’ll need to include more detail. You might say, for example, that you need to create and deploy a website that can accept user registration and deliver specific information or tools to those users.

The more specific you are, the better. If you create a bulleted list that includes every requirement you have for your project, your web designers and web developers will be able to much more efficiently create the site that you want.

Don’t be afraid of being too detailed here. Include as much information as you possibly can so that your designer knows exactly what to create.

A project’s scope includes all everything needed to meet those requirements. You may be able to define much of the scope as you’re writing the requirements. But unless you’ve done some development or design in the past, you probably won’t know what you’re getting into.

Because of this, outlining the project scope should be part of the bid process of your project. If a designer and a developer can tell you exactly what they’ll need to do to create the site you’ve outlined, you’ll have a much better idea of what you’ll pay, how long it will take, and what resources you’ll need to provide.

How To Hire A Web Designer Or Web Developer

How do you actually go about starting the process of hiring?

There are three basic steps:

  1. Post a job description with the right skills and expertise for each
  2. Find several candidates (three to five is a good place to start)
  3. Review portfolios
  4. Negotiate salary and/or rates

Remember, though, that portfolios only show you part of how people work. "The right fit has to do with more than just design," says Diekmann. "Finding a designer you can communicate well with is just as important as design."

But how do you find the web designers or web developers in the first place?

Your best bet is to visit a freelance marketplace. These sites make it easy to browse designers, check out their portfolios, ask for bids, manage your payments, and do everything else you’ll need to do to complete your project.

Not sure where to start? Here are some great options:

  • Toptal — if you're looking for top-quality web developers, this is your best bet. You'll only find the top 3% of verified designers and developers here, so you don't have to worry about someone inflating their skill set.

  • Upwork — one of the largest freelance marketplaces around. For this reason, it can be hard to find top-quality candidates. But there are millions of freelancers with lots of potential on the platform.

  • Stack Overflow — this is where designers, developers, and other technical professionals hang out. That makes it a great place to find people who are experienced and know what they’re doing.

  • GitHub Jobs — especially good for developers, as they often use GitHub as one of the core tools of their profession. Because this is a newer platform than some of the other options, you may find less competition.

  • People Per Hour — much like Upwork, this is a huge platform where you can find a huge number of freelance professionals that can help with your project. But freelancers can post hourly rates for different projects that can help give you an idea of what you might pay for your design or development job.

Once you’ve used one of these sites to create a shortlist of developers or designers (probably based on their posted samples and portfolios), it’s time to ask for bids.

You might also dig a bit deeper, as Randall Degges suggests. Degges recommends asking in-depth questions about current and past projects that will give you a good idea of how that developer works. You can also ask about a developer's favorite project.

"I often have them walk me through [their favorite project]," Degges told Techerati, "what they liked about it, and what they disliked. This is a great way to figure out not only what the candidate knows, but also the types of projects they enjoy working on."

Because a lot of freelance work comes down to price, it’s a good idea to know what your budget is and whether it’s reasonable.

What Is The Salary Of A Web Designer?

According to PayScale.com, web designers make, on average, around $50,000 a year. Of course, that varies with experience, so it’s reasonable to expect anything between $40,000 and $75,000.

But if you’re looking for a freelance web designer, you’re probably more interested in their average hourly rate. Unfortunately, there’s even more variability here, and much of it depends on the experience of your freelancer.

For example, you probably won’t have much trouble finding a designer that will work for $40 an hour. But if you want a high-quality job, you’d be better off paying $75 or even $100 for an experienced designer.

Finding a balance between what you can afford to pay and what an experienced freelancer charges can be tough. But with a bit of practice, you’ll come to find the sweet spot where you get the most value for your money.

What Is The Salary Of A Web Developer?

So what do web developers get paid? The answer is similar — there’s a wide variety of salaries and hourly rates for developers. Salaries range from under $50,000 to almost $100,000.

What about hourly rates for developers? You’ll find even more variation here, with some companies reporting as low as $25 per hour and others estimating closer to $80 per hour.

Again, the amount you pay depends on your project and the experience of the person you’re hiring. Don’t forget that front- and back-end developers may have different rates, too. A complicated back-end project can be more time- and effort-intensive than a quick reskin or implementation of a design, so keep that in mind.

Conclusion: What To Consider When Hiring A Web Designer Or Developer

The most important thing to remember when you’re hiring a freelance designer or developer is the requirements and scope of your project.

One of the most common reasons for going over budget on design and development projects is not knowing exactly what you need from your freelancer. They won’t be able to give you an accurate bid, and in cases like that, there’s a good chance that they’ll undershoot it.

It might seem like overkill, but the more time you spend figuring out exactly what you need, the better your project will turn out.

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