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Great question. First, on behalf of ZipBooks, we're glad you're here! If you're reading this, it's likely that you're looking to create or an improve a website and you're not sure who or what is the best option. This short guide is an attempt to help you understand what your options are.
The question "what do web designers and developers do" is an important one to ask: the 2018 version of a web designer or developer looks pretty different than the 10-years-ago version. Skill sets have changed just as fast as the technology has advanced over the past decade. Let’s start with the basics.
Whether you’re looking for a web designer or a web developer depends on what you need.
As the name implies, web designers “design” — they’ll be able to consult with you, understand your needs and desires, get in touch with your brand, and produce options for you to choose from.
On the other hand, web developers "develop" — meaning they are doing the engineering work required to actually bring a designer to life. If you already have a web design, meaning you've produced one on your own, had one designed, or bought a template, then you may need just a web developer.
Often, you'll be lucky enough to find these two skillsets in the same person or firm, though that's not always the case.
One caveat that's important to mention here: even if you think your design is all set, there will often be many more design choices to make once you actually start the implementation/development of your website. For example, your web design may have a beautiful, elegant lead form designed and ready for implementation; but have you (or your designer) thought about what happens when that form is submitted? Do you have submission validation planned for? Error handling? Success states and other alerts? If you're not careful, that may be left up to the discretion of a developer whom you never intended to do any design, and you could end up creating a jarring user experience at the most pivotal moments leading up to conversion.
So with that background, let's get more in depth on what a web designer or developer actually does.
If you’re looking for a unique, beautiful website for your business or organization, a web designer is right up your alley.
Often, web designers have design skills outside of the web; they may also be able to design apps, print materials like business cards, or logos. Because of this broad array of skills, a web designer may be one of the first people you want to talk to when you’re starting up your business: they can give your business an immediate identity that will be important when you’re first starting to find clients and customers.
They’ll also usually take into account modern design trends that are important: for example, it’s no longer ok for a website to just look good on a desktop browser. It has to be mobile-optimized, both so you have a better user experience and so that Google — which as of the last couple years, takes mobile usability as a very important ranking factor — will be willing to index and rank your pages.
That means that when you're working with a high-quality web designer, you'll almost always get back more than just a static image reflecting what your website will look like; you'll get back multiple versions that at least reflect what it will look like on desktop on mobile, if not more widths in between (tablet, etc.).
It's important to note that while a custom web design, from a web designer, may be the absolute ideal situation for your business, there are also very affordable non-custom options that you might be wise to consider.
One thing business owners are often not aware of is that the proliferation of content management platforms like Wordpress, Squarespace, and Shopify, have completely changed the face of the web. Not only do these platforms allow you to manage the content of your website from an easy-to-use interface on the back end, they also have literally thousands of themes to choose from (give or take, depending on the platform).
While the themes, yes, aren't completely "custom" to you, there are so many that it's very unlikely that if you choose one, you'll ever run across a website (of the millions and millions on the web) that uses the same one. So from the perspective of a visitor to your website, it's really just as custom as anything else you could come up with (and pay much more for). They are often high quality, mobile responsive, and well thought out. It's an option worth considering.
That said, a great web designer can make a huge difference for your business, even if you do come theme-in-hand. That's because, as mentioned above, the web designer can often do much more than just "design a website." And that's where web development comes in.
A web designer can also be a web developer. A web developer can actually handle the implementation of a website, taking it from just an idea, or a design, to a fully-functioning website that you can put on your very own domain.
With those skills, the web developer can take a design and actually create functioning websites: content, images, links, and everything else.
They'll also be well-versed in DNS (domain name system), which is essentially the reason you can type "zipbooks.com" or any other domain name into your browser, and it knows which server (computer) to talk to! DNS can be simple or complicated, depending on your requirements, but a web developer will know how to set it up correctly so you're getting the web traffic you deserve.
But what about the platforms mentioned above? Wordpress, Squarespace, etc.? Do they eliminate the need for a web developer?
Well, that depends. Certainly the goal of some of those platforms is to bypass the web developer. And the platforms are certainly getting easier to use even for non-technical businesspeople and consumers.
Where a web developer will still almost always be necessary is when you need a custom programmatic component to your website. As an example, taking a "pricing slider." Let's say, in this example, that you'd like to give a price for your product or service on a per-user basis. What you'd like your website visitor to be able to do is click-and-drag a slider up or down, indicating the number of users they'd bring. Your website would then programmatically calculate a price for them.
Sounds cool, right? It is! And it's likely the kind of thing that is custom enough that it's not going to come "built-in" with a theme or platform you've chosen to host your website on.
And that's where a website designer comes in. This is just the kind of thing that they'll be really good at: taking an idea or a design and turning it into something that actually works for your business.
You might be asking yourself if you can mix and match some of these ideas: for example, can you use Wordpress, buy a theme, have a designer tweak it, and a developer implement a custom component (like our pricing slider)?
The answer is yes. Often, a web developer will be the one to project manage all of this. They can make the purchases necessary, and wire everything together so it works just right. In 2018, that's very often the job of the web developer, is putting the most cost-effective components in place so you have a great-looking and functioning website, all with the minimum spend possible.
I hope that this guide has given you some understanding of the difference between web designers and developers, and what you might need for your project. Like I mentioned, often, web designers and developers will come together in the same person! Check out our Pros above (you can even search by zip code, if you'd like to hire a local Pro) to find one that might work for you.
Check out some of the Pros that have joined ZipBooks to manage and grow their businesses. You can join, too — it's free!