The difference between a Web Designer and Web Developer
What you need to know when hiring a Web Designer.
If you’re looking to hire a web designer, you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed. There are millions of website design services – how do you make sure you don’t get scammed or end up with a designer who sucks?
Several friends have told me they don’t know what questions to ask when talking with potential designers. One in particular summed up her experience this way:
I have no idea what to ask, but more important, even if someone gave me a list of questions, I wouldn’t know if the answers were the “right” answers or even made any sense. If I understood this stuff, I wouldn’t need to hire someone!
Based on my conversations with clients and designers, that’s a common feeling, but one you can definitely work around. Armed with a little more information about the qualities you should look for, you’ll be able to find a web designer who can meet your needs without losing your mind in the process.
A few distinctions
Before we talk about what to look for in a designer, let’s talk about the differences between a designer, a developer, and an implementer. These labels aren’t set in stone, but knowing them can help you decide what type of professional you actually need.
In general, a web designer is someone who creates the look and feel of your website. A designer will work with you to choose colors, construct branding/logos if needed, discuss layouts for your website’s pages, and create mockups (which are pictures of how the actual website will look). Web design is more than just making pretty pictures; a designer should be knowledgable about concepts like calls to action, organizing your site’s content, and setting up layouts that will meet your goals for the site.
A web developer is someone who uses a designer’s mockups to build a functional website. If your website will be built on WordPress (here’s why it should be), the developer may customize an existing theme or template to match the mockups, or s/he may build a completely custom theme. Developers may also add functionality to an existing website or help with things like troubleshooting.
An implementer (props Tom McFarlin and WP Valet) may fall somewhere between a designer and developer in terms of what s/he can do. This person might work with you to find a theme you like, install the theme along with any needed plugins, and teach you how to manage your site once it’s finished. Hiring an implementer is often cheaper than working with both a designer and developer, though your project may require things an implementer can’t provide. Working with an implementer is not automatically a bad decision – it just depends on what you need and what type of budget you have available.
Why this matters
Often, people think they should hire a web designer when they may need a developer or implementer (or some combination of the three) instead. Before you start searching, it’s important to decide exactly what services and skills are necessary for your project.
For example, let’s say I am opening a pet grooming business. I need a website that will do the following:
- Tell people what my business offers
- Allow customers to schedule appointments
- Encourage people to sign up for my mailing list so I can send information (discounts, etc.) to pet owners in the area
- Allow people to contact me if they have questions
That’s a pretty average list of needs, and I could choose to work with either a design/development team or an implementer to get the job done. There are plenty of WordPress plugins that allow appointment scheduling, email opt-ins, and contact forms, so it’s unlikely that I need a super custom website.
Another example: I have my pet grooming business, but I’d like to start selling products (shampoo, treats, toys, etc.) on my website and taking registration for obedience classes. I’ll need to add the following new features:
- Ecommerce and SSL with a payment gateway
- Inventory management that syncs between the physical store and the online store
- More advanced scheduling that allows for both (1) grooming appointments and (2) obedience classes with a limited number of registrations per class
- Different levels of access for employees or team members who may need to log into the website to process orders
Suddenly my project has become more complicated. There may be existing solutions that can do the job, but I might also need something created especially for my site. In this case I likely need the services of a developer, and perhaps a designer depending on how the new functionality will integrate with my existing site’s design.
Still need to hire a web designer? Here’s what to look for.
If you’ve read all this and still need someone to create the design for your site, here are five things to consider:
1. Does the designer’s style match the way I’d like my site to look?
Take a stroll through some designers’ portfolios, taking note of things like layouts, colors, and logos. This is kind of like shopping for clothes – some options will catch your eye more than others. If you want a very modern website, it doesn’t make sense to hire someone whose portfolio looks like a flashback to 1995.
2. Who will develop my website once I have the design? Is this included in the pricing?
Many designers partner with a developer so that clients pay one price for both design and development. Others may provide mockups that need to be taken elsewhere to be coded into an actual site. Either approach is fine, but you’ll want to be aware of the costs involved upfront so you can budget accordingly.
3. What kind of maintenance and upkeep will my site need? Can I do that myself or will I need to hire someone?
Websites are not a one-time cost. Ahem. WEBSITES ARE NOT A ONE-TIME COST. You can’t make a million dollars on the internet (or even a few hundred dollars) without certain ongoing expenses. Websites have to be kept up to date, especially if they require third party plugins or software to function. Your designer may offer maintenance services or may be able to refer you to someone who does, or you can opt to learn how to maintain your site yourself.
4. What kind of design files will I receive?
At a minimum, your designer should provide mockups in either PSD (Photoshop) or AI (Illustrator) format. You should also receive an editable version of your logo that is PSD, AI, EPS, or PDF. If any premium fonts or photos/graphics are used in the design, you should have a license for those as well, or permission to use the designer’s license depending on the rules for that particular font/graphic. (It’s your responsibility to find that information – do not depend on anyone else to tell you how fonts or graphics are licensed.)
5. Is the designer available if I need revisions or changes? What are the costs?
When you hire a web designer, you are hiring him/her for a project as defined in your contract (if there’s no contract, run away screaming). That doesn’t mean the designer is obligated to provide free services for life. Find out ahead of time what costs you’ll incur if you need changes or new layouts down the road, and keep in mind that rates do change over time – the ballpark rates a designer gives you in 2015 will not be the same if you contact him/her in 2018.
Not the right questions? You may not need a designer!
If you’re reading this thinking, These questions don’t even apply to my project!, it’s possible you need both a designer and developer or an implementer. As I mentioned, those labels can overlap, so there’s no perfect way to tell you what you need. Knowing the scope of your project and what you’ll want in terms of looks and functionality are key in finding the professional who is best qualified to help you.
This post was written for Nuts and Bolts Media