We're hiring! Check out open positions

What's the Difference Between a Web Developer, Website Programmer and Web Designer

Tim Davidson
6 min read

website programmer working the dark

Do you know the difference between a web developer, web programmer and web designer? Most people use those words interchangeably, but they actually have different meanings.

web development mind map

Web development is largely accepted to be the umbrella term that incorporates all the other specialities. It's the activities involved in developing a website.

coding cartoon image

Programming or coding is writing logic-based code to execute actions and automate tasks, which is the magic that makes websites interactive.

Figma design screenshot

Web design is focused on the visual appearance of a website and makes sure it looks good. Design usually happens separately from development and programming and doesn't involve any coding.

Web Developers vs Web Programmers vs Web Designers

combined images of designer, programmer and developer

Let's break it down:

  • Developers are people who can build a website from start to finish.
  • Programmers focus on code and can write custom scripts or applications for the web.
  • Designers create the look, layout, and feel of a website.

The three roles are often combined—most designers know at least some basic code (even if it's just simple HTML and CSS), and most developers have an eye for design.

But in general, designing requires less coding knowledge than programming, and programming requires less design knowledge than developing.

What's the difference between development and programming?

Web development is a broad term that can refer to coding, but also includes other activities such as planning, managing projects, etc. It's the process of building something from start to finish.

In contrast, programming specifically refers to writing code.

This is the confusing part. If a programmer can write the code that runs a website, doesn't that mean they are also a developer?

The short answer is no, because there are different kinds of code that combine to run a website. The two areas of code are referred to as front end development and back end development.

Front end development vs backend development

front end back end coding cartoon

Front end code is processed by your browser and displays the content you're looking at right now. Back end code runs on the server, talks to the database and performs dynamic logic.

Coming back to our point - a programmer can focus on writing back end code. They may not have the skills (or usually the desire) to become a front end developer. Or, they may know how to write the frontend code but don't have a clue how to create logic to retrieve information from the database.

My company specialise in building applications and our team is made up of guys who are very experienced at writing code. Half of them love programming back end logic, and the others enjoy the visual frontend code.

What does a web developer do?

Write a paragraph about what web developers do including the keywords software programs, web applications, computer science and web technologies

Web developers are responsible for the coding, design and layout of a website. They can also be involved in the maintenance and improvement of an existing site.

When creating a new website or application, web developers will work with graphic designers and content writers to create a user-friendly site that looks good and is easy to navigate.

In order to do this they need to have a strong understanding of computer science and web technologies.

Web developers use various programming languages (such as PHP, ASP or SQL) to create software programs known as web applications. These applications allow users to perform specific tasks on a website, such as search for products or login to their account.

What is a full stack web developer?

full stack developer cartoon

There's a special breed of developer referred to as full stack. They're comfortable doing everything. They can write code for the server, create database queries, build user interfaces and make sure everything works well together.

Full stack web developer are typically more experienced because they've spent the time learning front end and back end development.

The advantage to working with a full stack web developer is that they can take on any project and see it through from start to finish.

The disadvantage is that they may not be as expert in any one area as a specialist.

What does a web designer do?

Web design happens in Figma, Sketch, Adobe XD, or even Photoshop (if you're stuck in 2006). Design involved creating static images and shapes to show what the web page will look like.

You can think of it as creating the blueprint for a house. You can see what the house will look like and can start making decision about where doors will go, and how the furniture will be arranged.

But the blueprint isn't functional. It doesn't do anything until the builders put everything together.

Developing is actually building the house.

When you're designing, you're not thinking about how all the pieces will come together and work as one. That's what developers do - they take all the parts (database, frontend code, backend code) and make them work together to create a functioning website or application.

Designers don't need to know how to code (although it certainly helps), but developers need to have at least some design sense.

What’s the difference between web design company and web development agency?

A web design company focuses on the visual aspects of a website, such as the layout, colors, and fonts. A web development agency focuses on creating the functionality of a website.

Both types of companies can create websites from scratch or work on improving an existing website.

It is not uncommon for a web design company to have a team of developers or for a web development agency to have a team of designers.

The key difference is that a web design company will focus more on the aesthetics of the site while a web development agency will focus more on the functionality of the site.

Should I work with a web design company or web development agency?

The answer to this question depends on your needs.

If you need a website that is primarily visual in nature, then you will want to work with a web design company.

We've noticed that most web design companies use low-code page building tools like Wix, Squarespace or Webflow.

These platforms get the job done quickly, but they're typically bloated and end up preventing your website from reaching the same heights as a framework like WordPress or Gatsby.

If you need a website that is highly functional and interactive, then you will want to work with a web development agency. It's simply not possible to build complex functionality with the tools I mentioned above. The backend code isn't made available to customers, since the code is the intellectual property of the company.

In some cases, you may want to work with both types of companies in order to get the best of both worlds. Working with a web design agency will get you a great looking site, and then you can tag in a development company to do the heavy technical development.

We're hiring

If you're a frontend developer or have a technical friend that's looking to join a relaxed, fully remote workplace where we encourage part-time hours and a flexible lifestyle, then let them know we're expanding our team!

Tim Davidson
Tim Davidson
Tim is the face of the company. When you want to kick off a new project, or an update on your existing project, Tim is your man. With a background in project management, Tim specialises in managing the chaos around the company.

Have an idea you want to discuss?

We’re based in Canberra, Australia and we LOVE working with locals… but we work with clients all around the world.

From the U.S. to the U.K. From Norway to New Zealand. Where there’s a problem to solve, we’ll be there!

More insights from us

Custom Software vs Off The Shelf - What To Consider Before Committing
Project Management

Custom Software vs Off The Shelf - What To Consider Before Committing

If you can find an off-the-shelf (OTS) software solution that does exactly what you need, there's no reason to build…
Tim Davidson
Tim Davidson
9 min read
JavaScript vs TypeScript - Why We Use TypeScript

JavaScript vs TypeScript - Why We Use TypeScript

Typescript vs JavaScript In 2022, TypeScript has rocketed up the charts and, according to the annual Stack Overflow…
Tim Davidson
Tim Davidson
4 min read
Shopify Lite Headless

Shopify Lite Headless

Shopify pushes the idea that if you want to create a headless store, you must upgrade to their $2,000 a month Pro plan…
Tim Davidson
Tim Davidson
6 min read