What’s the difference between a web designer and web developer? And which do I need?

Back in the day, when you needed a new website, you’d have to fork out A LOT of money for a web developer to make you something from scratch. Now that we have CMS platforms like WordPress, Shopify and Squarespace, it’s changed the game and having a web presence is a lot more accessible and affordable. It’s important to understand the difference between a web designer and web developer to understand their limitations. So what’s the difference between a web designer and a web developer, and which do you need for your website? Let’s dive in and discuss.

What's the main difference?

Generally speaking, a web developer has more technical  knowledge and coding know-how than a web designer and can create a custom website for you, as opposed to using a customised theme template or page builder.

A web designer will generally set up your website in a way that makes it more simple for you to maintain and update yourself. You may find that a web designer has a bit more of a creative eye, as opposed to looking at your project from a technical perspective. 

There are also graphic designers who do web design, but can’t actually build a website. So they will design a layout for your website pages, but will then need to engage a developer to bring that design to life. 

Which is more expensive? A web developer or web designer?

Another generalisation, but you should expect to pay more for a web developer to create your website. The reason being, you are paying for a custom built website, with superior functionality. You’re also paying for their technical knowledge, and IT qualifications. 

Do I need to engage a developer or a designer?

It really depends on your needs. If you need specialised functionality on your website, like a directory, or membership platform, you’re probably best to engage a web developer to set everything up properly, as opposed to using plug ins.

If you’re a small business that just wants to sell products or a service, a web designer will be able to assist. Whichever you choose, be sure to inspect their portfolio closely before you sign the dotted line. 

What do I need to look out for, are there some questions I should ask?

Here are some things to look out for / questions to ask when you’re interviewing prospective web developers and web designers:

Will they be doing the work or outsourcing offshore? There are some web development companies who outsource their work offshore. So they manage the customer relationship side, and then sub-contract to overseas labour which can (usually) be cheaper for them. Ideally they should be upfront about this before you engage their services, but it may also pay to ask the question.

Do they use words like “User Experience” and “SEO”? Your Google ranking is determined by many factors and a good user experience and basic SEO principles will help lay the foundation for your search engine rankings. SEO experts can help you take your website to the next level, but ensuring your website content contains your keywords, your images are all given Alt Text descriptions and your page descriptions have been written carefully will be a good start.

Will I be able to update this myself once it’s complete? Some people prefer to get someone else to update their website, but it can be useful to have basic understanding on how to log in and update some words, add a team member, change a phone number or update an image on your website. If a website is too complicated and contains a lot of custom coding, it may not be as simple to change things.

Look at their portfolio and reviews. Most creative people have a certain style, so check that your prospective web designer or developer’s work reflects what you’re looking for. Another tip, check their Instagram and Facebook posts. Have they tagged the business they’ve worked with? I’ve seen some agencies claim other people’s work as their own, so if they haven’t tagged the business in their post, it could be suspicious. Also take a look at their reviews and look for any red flags.

Curious about working with me? Click here to check out my recent web design projects.


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Tamara Johansen Little Palm Creative Co. - Gold Coast Marketing and web Design


Gold Coast Website Designer

Hi! I’m Tamara, the person behind Little Palm Creative and the girl behind the keyboard.

Little Palm Creative first launched in Palm Beach on the Gold Coast in 2017 and has been providing freelance website design support ever since. I specialise in Wordpress and Shopify website design and redesign. 


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