What's the difference between web design and web development?

Some people call themselves web designers, others call themselves web developers. There is a very important difference, but to most lay people they're effectively the same thing.

The problem arises when you're commissioning a website and you've chosen the wrong one.

So what's the difference, and how do you choose?

Web Design

Let's start with web design. This is the most commonly used phrase for our industry.

A web designer is just focused on the design of the website. There are a lot of "print designers" who are comfortable using a computer, so they start offering web design services.

However, web design is not the same as print design. They are obviously similar, but they are two very different skill sets.

In the past, we've experienced major problems when a customer has wanted to use their own designer for their new website, and just use us to turn the design into a working website. We end up spending more time teaching their designer how to do web design than we would if we'd just done all of the design work ourselves. The designs we receive are always very pretty, but as a website they are either unworkable, deviate from important usability standards, or use design principles that mean that the customer will not be able to update or add to their website without professional designer training.

Making sure that you choose a real web designer, and not just a print designer who "also does websites" can prevent a lot of unnecessary problems.

Web Development

In short, web developers are computer programmers. They are able to develop new custom functionality and they can tweak and adapt existing functionality to suit customer requirements.

These are the real techies.

They are the people who deal with all of the complex computer code, the "for loops", the "if-else statements", and all of the other jargon that means absolutely nothing to normal people.

These are the type of people that created the software that runs most websites today in the first place (such as WordPress, Magento, or Joomla). And these are the people that create the plugins and extensions for those software packages so that your website can "do something" rather than just acting as an online brochure.

The good web developers will be able to tell you which software packages are better than others in certain situations, and they will be able to select the most appropriate package for your specific requirements, whilst keeping in mind the need to accommodate possible future requirements.

So how do you choose?

If you choose a web designer with no web development skills, you could end up with a beautiful website that doesn't work, or just creates one technical problem after another. And if you choose a web developer with no web design skills, you'll end up with a well functioning website that looks awful.

It's very rare that an individual will be very good at both web design and web development. It's the old left-brain vs right-brain thing, you're either good at one or the other. So a good company will need both.

If you are a very visual company with a big focus on design and branding, you will definitely need to work with a web designer.

If you have any custom functionality requirements, you will definitely need to work with a web developer.

However, if you're not too fussy about design, and maybe an off-the-shelf template would be fine for you, then maybe you can live without a web designer.

And likewise, if your website is literally just a brochure with no functional requirements now, or in the foreseeable future(!), then you can probably manage fine without a web developer.


For an e-commerce website, we'd always recommend using a web developer. Choosing the right e-commerce software package requires an in-depth understanding of the different advantages and disadvantages of each one, and the impact that this can have on the customer's future requirements.

Even if you think you just need a simple online shop set up, there are so many variations, and choosing the wrong package at the start can severely limit your ability to market the website effectively. If the website is a success, you will need to make changes in the future to streamline your processes, and this will usually require development skills.

We've seen so many online shops that are experiencing lots of problems because they were built using the web designer's favourite software, rather than the right software for the client.

When commissioning a company to create your website, it's important to clarify whether they are web developers, or web designers, or both. Like us, most companies just advertise themselves as "web designers" just because that's what most people search for, even if they really need a web developer. So it's not safe to make assumptions just because they've described themselves with one phrase and not the other.

At OpenGlobal E-commerce, we offer both web design and web development expertise. Contact us today on 0845 269 9624 to find out how we can help you to make the right decisions at the start of your project.