Web Designer vs. Web Developer: How the Jobs Differ

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Web designers create a website’s look and feel, and web developers create the code to make it work. Site designers and site developers often work together, but their job functions are different.

[Featured image] Woman working on a website

So much of our everyday lives operate through websites. Users appreciate sites where it's easy to find and accomplish their goals, whether searching for information, checking out entertainment, or doing their jobs. Everyone wants a web experience that's easy and efficient, and site owners want websites that reflect their branding and support their business goals.

Web designers create the look and feel of websites. They create the images and menus you see when you click on a link, provide the code that brings a site to life, and maintain the software and databases that make a site work. Site designers and site developers work together, but their tasks are somewhat different. When you know what each does, you can pick the job that's right for you—and work better with your counterpart on the other side.

What are the job duties?

Web designers and developers work together to create and maintain a website that works for all of its stakeholders, but their jobs are different.

Web designers work on the vision for a website: the user experience, the color scheme, the graphic design, and sometimes even the content. They create a look and feel that supports the website’s many purposes. 

Developers take the vision of a website designer and convert it into code. Often, the developer will recommend changes that make the site work better, taking advantage of emerging functionalities. They ensure the site works on different browsers and mobile platforms and determine how to maintain its security. 

Skills and tools used by web developers and designers

Designers—Web designers work with layout and design tools like WordPress, Adobe Dreamweaver, and InVision Studio. They create the image the site visitor sees.

Web designers understand the principles of aesthetics and how they can use them to build a strong internet presence for their employer or client.

Developers—Web developers work with different software tools, some of which are created by browser and operating system companies. Three of the big ones are Angular.JS, Chrome DevTools, and Sass.

Although site developers are writing code, they're also considering the user experience.


What are the differences in skill sets?

Although there is some overlap in skills, web designers are more focused on the creative aspects, and web developers are more concerned with determining how to render that vision. They also often have different specializations. Site designers typically specialize in creating user interfaces or user experiences, while site developers specialize in different parts of the site: front-end, back-end, or full-stack.

The different skills create different needs for entry-level and ongoing training and the career opportunities faced.

What is the job outlook?

You should be able to find quality employment opportunities in both web design and development. The US Bureau Labor Statistics (BLS) puts web developers and digital designers in the same category, and projects strong demand for the field—they expect that demand for both web designers and developers to grow by 13 percent in the next ten years [1].

How much do web designers and web developers make?

The average annual base salary for a web designer in the US is $63,019 [2]. However, there is a lot of variation based on experience and types of sites worked. Experienced designers working on large enterprise websites may make considerably more.

Developers tend to make more money than web designers because they need more technical skills. The average salary of a web developer in the US is $82,450 [3]. 


How to increase your salary

Whether you work as a web designer, web developer, or something else, you can increase your salary by building new skills, pursuing a certification or a degree, and negotiating your current salary. 

Building new skills

Design and development are different enough that few designers will become good developers and vice-versa. But both can benefit from learning more about the other’s work and the work of the organizations where they work. For example, the marketing team often wants maximum search engine optimization from the website’s design and function. Understanding how the organization sells its products and services can help designers and developers create better sites while better serving internal clients. 

Some designers and developers want to expand into more senior roles. Managing developers is a different role than being a developer, and designing products are different from designing websites. As you learn more about what your colleagues do, see if you can identify the skills they have. If you’re interested in moving up, determine what skills you already have (but need to document) and what skills you can acquire elsewhere.

The companies that make software and operating systems often provide their own training programs, which can get you started. 

Insider tip: "Make sure you're surrounded by people who push you and inspire you to grow. Do the type of work that you find rewarding and mentally engaging," says Mari Batilando, a software engineer at Meta. "Stick with that mantra and the promotions and compensation just come naturally."


Pursuing certification or degrees

Designers and developers have a lot of software tools that can make their jobs easier, but first, they have to learn how to use them. Certification programs can teach you the basics and help you learn new platforms and techniques. Some are free, and others are costly; some give you a cursory overview; others approach websites with rigor. 

Read more: What Are Certificate Programs?

Web designers often have two-year or four-year degrees in computer programming or graphic design, while web developers often have at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science. Workers in both fields will do a lot of learning on the job as new tools come onto the market.

Read more: How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor’s Degree?

Site developers and site designers who want to move into more senior roles on their teams may need other skills, such as project management. You can demonstrate your interest and commitment with classes or experiences that highlight business skills in addition to your web project portfolio.

Negotiating current salary

As you build your experience and expand your project portfolio, you can document how you contribute to your organization. You can use this at your annual review to make a case for an increase in your current salary.

You may have a stronger case if you have done some coursework or earned a certification in one of the many tools and platforms that site designers and developers use. On Coursera, you can take one of several courses on how to negotiate, including Successful Negotiation: Essential Strategies and Skills offered by the University of Michigan, to help you develop that skill, too.

More ways Coursera can help

On Coursera, you can find courses, certificates, and Guided Projects to help you improve your web design and web development skills. Consider Java Programming and Software Engineering Fundamentals Specialization offered through Duke University, or Web Design for Everybody: Basics of Web Development & Coding Specialization offered by the University of Michigan, to get started.

With a little more research, you can also learn additional information about each role so that you can work together better or so that you can manage larger, more significant projects.

Related articles

Article sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Occupational Outlook Handbook: Web Developers and Digital Designers, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/web-developers.htm#tab-1." Accessed June 8, 2022.

2. Glassdoor. "How much does a Web Designer make?, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/web-designer-salary-SRCH_KO0,12.htm." Accessed June 8, 2022.

3. Glassdoor. "How much does a Web Developer make?, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/web-developer-salary-SRCH_KO0,13.htm." Accessed June 8, 2022.

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