Beginner Guide: Web Design vs. Web Development

Beginner Guide: Web Design vs. Web Development

It is hard to keep track the way technology is evolving, and it is even harder to keep up with all the terms popping up in relation to technology. One such case is that of Web Design and Web Development. With the substantial rise of the Internet, we find companies using the terms ‘web design’ and ‘web development’ extensively while even sometimes substituting one for the other. However, no matter how fine, but there is a line that exists and separates these two fields which themselves have a significant presence of their own, i.e. clouded by the alternating use in the context of the Internet.

So, how does web design differs from web development?

Well, to simply state, web design is the design, or say, the visual aspect of the web. It focuses on how a particular web element looks or is represented to the users. A user only cares about content or information that is in an acknowledgeable form. There is a specific way to present content on the Internet so that it gets understood by the users. And this is the forte of web design. Web design is the thing that stands between a well-defined content and content that misses the point. Alternatively, Web Development is about the functioning aspect of the web. It is the work that goes behind the scene to liven up the visual elements of the Internet (specifically, websites and web pages) to make the domain of World Wide Web appealing to people. You can say, web development is the thing that makes the Internet work. Without web development, everything on the Internet would be static and worthless.

Now enough with the introduction. Let’s get a magnifying glass and look closer at both ends of the comparison.

Web Design

Upon breaking the term Web Design, we get two terms – Web and Design. Web refers to the Internet (i.e. network within a network) or World Wide Web. Design implies outline, shape or visual aspect of any element. So, web design infers the way any web element appears on the web. There is no coding wizardry involved.

Web Design is also known as front-end or client-side design. Front-end in the sense that it is the face. The part of the website or webpage that the user directly sees and interacts with at any point in time. It does the job of engaging the user to the content. Web design is a vast discipline and further branches to specializations like web graphic design, interface design, UX design, and SEO. Logos, icons and illustrations are things that come under graphic design. Interface and UX design deal with some visual element; however, it is more about the presentation. UX/UI design controls how an end-user perceives and interacts with the content. The total concentration of the web design is upon the end-experience of a user with the content. So, there are some pointers to take into consideration associated with the design of web elements.

For the sake of simplicity, there are two aspects of web design – Appearance and Layout.

Let’s start with appearance.

So, what about appearance? Appearance suggests how an element feels in a visual sense. It is about the identity of the entity itself. In the real world, appearance is the first thing anyone notices about an object. So is the case in the virtual world, in fact, the degree of reliance based on the appearance of objects is even higher. Hence, web designers have to take a lot of care while designing web elements. The appearance of an element is one thing and how it visualizes concerning its surroundings is other. What design aspect I’m talking about is the layout. A layout tells about information structure and categorization. It talks about the relation between placements of various elements within a particular space. Even good content will struggle to make an impact if it is a part of a bad layout. A good layout is key having harmony between elements in a space.

Critical aspects of good design:

In addition to being eye-pleasing, good web design needs to keep check of some other points. The following are some of the critical aspects of good web design:

Focus on objective

Web designs are purely based on achieving an intended target. Be it in the form of capturing leads, engagement of users to content, web designs should let users understand the intent of the web content and on top of that be able to help achieve that content target. A good design is visually pleasing and content-centric. Hence, there should be any extra information or feature that cause a distraction and make the user go astray. Design should be such that the user’s focus is only directed towards the content.

Awareness of usability

As discussed earlier, a good design should project focus on content other than anything else. However, in pursuit of this goal, there is a risk of compromising usability. Imagine going through a company’s website where you unable to find their contact or services page. That would not exactly be appealing, would it? Presenting content on the web is one end of the design balance. Along with the presentation, there is the weight of content navigation on the other end of the balance. A good design should make accessing information and resources easy for the user.

There are numerous ways in which a good design takes care of these two aspects. Responsive and Adaptive design. As of June 2018, more than 50% of the world population has access to the Internet. This percentage is ever growing with the internet being increasingly accessed from various devices ranging from mobiles phones, tablets to laptops and desktops. Hence, any web design created in this day must be able to conform to the different screen sizes of devices. There are two types of design which help web contents in this – responsive design and adaptive design. Responsive design allows for dynamic movement of content while the adaptive design has web content fixed in the layout corresponding to some common screen sizes.

Marketing and communication design. This design aspect helps in the aesthetics of overall design of a site so that there is no contradiction to clarity and accuracy of content i.e., it helps keep the focus on the objective. A marketing and communication design might be about promoting a product or service that new to the market.

UX design and interactive design. UX/UI design looks after the usability aspect of the web design. This design aspect aims for the design of content structure based on how a user thinks a website should work. Based on user perception of how a site works, UX/UI design process aims to create a user interactive web design.

All web designs go around elements like layouts, instructions, and labeling on website, typography, motion graphics and generated content (static and dynamic websites). The list of factors could be endless. But one thing is for sure; web designs are what make the world of the Internet exciting for the users.

Web Development

Let’s simplify web development. Web and development. Web, as you know, is the Internet or network with a network. Development is the progression. Together, web development means the progress of the Internet. Progress in this context indicates to web function; how a web element works. Be it you clicking on the news feed to get updates on Facebook, or selecting the ‘Upload’ button on Instagram to share your latest birthday pictures, every web function is a result of web development. Without web development, web design is obsolete. Web development is what enables you to get likes on Facebook and Instagram.

Web development deals with all the functionality aspect of the web (or say web design). While web design interacts with the user, thousands of codes and scripts contribute to put life into web design and make them interactive. Web development is underrated in the sense that a lot of work that goes into web development stays behind the curtains. It hides behind the visual aspect of the web.

Upon classifying, there are three types of web development – front-end, back-end, and full-stack development.

In developer terms, a front-end developer works on the code that is responsible for enabling functionality to web content that the user/clients view on their browsers. He/she takes assurance of the hands-on experience of the website. A back-end developer, however, looks after the inner workings, the behind-the-scenes mechanics of the site. Unlike a front-end developer who works on features like button functions, a back-end developer writes codes for things like collecting data. A full-stack developer has their work cut out in the sense that they have to design a whole self-sustaining web platform based on smaller software subsystems.

Let’s go a bit in-depth.

Client-side scripting or front-end development. This aspect of web development directly handles the visual aspects of web contents, i.e., it helps build the look and feel of a website. This scripting puts functionalities into the button, menus, and other browsing and navigating aspects of a site, which directly interact with the client/user. It is more straightforward from the two development types as it only involves enabling functions to the design elements of a webpage or website. Program languages like HTML, CSS, Javascript help in front-end development.

Server-side scripting or back-end development. Back-end in the sense that anything that happens stays in the background, hidden from the user. Back-end codes are the elements that help a website run properly on limited storage of the web browser. When someone accesses a website, he/she does not receive the whole site as a package on to their computer. Instead, the website resides in a server, and a part of it is sent to the user’s computer to access. Server-side scripting helps create a framework that allows for hosting of files and images of a website to work on a server which is accessible on user request. Programming languages like C, Java, PHP aid in back-end development.

Database technology is the system that lets a website run smoothly over a web server. A site needs a database to store codes, images, files, and other data. In short, a database contains all the components for full-functioning of a website. Databases are content banks that store content and information and allow access to these resources when there is a data request. One can create databases of sites with the help of programming languages likes Oracle, Apache, Microsoft SQL server and MongoDB.

The advantage of ground up web design and development is that one can build their web content based on their custom requirements and features. For a unique and interactive user-experience, the Internet needs the help of both web design and web development, as both of these aspects of web engineering are different. So remember, web design and web development are two ends of a discussion and play a significant part in how we perceive and utilize the Internet.

author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is an experienced executive who has spent a number of years in Silicon Valley hiring and coaching some of the world’s most valuable technology teams. Patrick has been a source for Human Resources and career related insights for Forbes, Glassdoor, Entrepreneur,, SparkHire, and many more.


Help us by spreading the word