From a high level view, it’s easy to confuse frontend web developers with web designers. They both work on the frontend of a website, often use the same tools, and have overlapping skill sets.
If you’re just starting to look into learning to code or changing your career, it’s totally normal to be confused about which career path is best for you. That’s why we’re breaking down the differences between these two common ways to break into tech.
If you zoom in, you’ll actually find that these are two different roles responsible for different parts of constructing a website. In this guide, we’ll clarify these roles so you can see the difference between a frontend web developer and a web designer.
What is a web designer?
Let’s use an analogy. Think about what it takes to build a house – now compare that to building a website. You could consider the web designer to be sort of like an architect. They design the website – how it will look and feel – and lay that out in a design comprehensive that the frontend developer then references to build the website.
What is web design?
Web design is a creative career. It’s the process of researching, planning, visualizing, and arranging the elements of a website. Web design encompasses the font, colors, layout, icons, style, and content that a website or web application will include.
Web design is a niche within the bigger field of design. Other designers like graphic designers, UI designers, UX designers, and visual designers also work in this field and sometimes work with web designers.
What does a web designer do?
The web designer is responsible for deciding how a website looks and feels. They create a plan that developers later use to build the website. Designers focus on visual creativity and user experience.
Before they design, they research and refer to design principles to ensure their website will be user-friendly. Then, web designer chooses the website’s layout, where the menus go, what fonts to use, how the logo will display, what types of content each page will have, and more.
Sometimes web designers will just make graphics, icons, images, or logos. Other times, they’ll design a whole website from scratch. They might also tackle projects like rebranding an existing website.
Web designer skills
Web designers use various tools, guiding principles, and creative skills to craft a well-thought-out website.
Here are the essential skills every web designer should have.
- Color theory
- Proficiency in UI design patterns and elements
- Deep understanding of design principles
- Proficiency in at least one design prototyping tool such as Figma, Adobe XD, or Sketch
- Proficient in visual design tools like Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, or InVision
- Responsive Design
- Animation and interactive design
What is a frontend web developer?
You could compare the frontend web developer to the lead contractor if you want to compare web development to home building. They use tools (coding languages) and materials (code) to breathe life into the designer’s plan. They build the part of the website that users see.
What is web development?
Web development is the process of building, testing, and maintaining websites and web applications. It’s the act of writing code and using tools to turn a design or wireframe into a functioning website.
There are three types of web development: frontend, backend, and fullstack web development. Put them all together and you get a fully functional website or web app.
The backend developer is responsible for configuring the website’s data, servers, and other functionalities that the users don’t see. A fullstack web developer does both frontend and backend web development.
What does a frontend developer do?
So, what does a frontend developer do? The frontend developer deals with constructing the front end of the website. Sometimes, this part of the website is also called the client side. The front end is the part of the website that runs on the “client” (a.k.a. the web browser). Users see and interact with this part of the website or web application.
They code the web page's layout, create photo galleries, build menus, control how photos and articles are displayed, and more. They make the website aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly. Then, they test the website to make sure everything is working smoothly.
Sometimes frontend developers build a website from a wireframe mock-up. Other times, they revamp a website that already exists. Sometimes they just build one part of a website like a form, search engine, or menu.
Frontend developer skills
Frontend web developers need technical skills like coding, of course. But they also need soft skills and familiarity with popular tools to succeed.
Here are the basic skills every frontend web developer needs.
- CSS and CSS preprocessors
- Familiarity with frameworks and libraries
- Version Control, a.k.a. Git and GitHub
- Responsive Design Principles
- Cross-Browser Development
Learn more about the skills you’ll need as a web developer in this handy web developer skills guide.
Frontend Developer vs Web Designer
Now that you have an overview of what a frontend developer is and what a web designer is, let’s tease apart the similarities and differences.
The major difference you’ll notice is that web developers code, while web designers typically rely on design software to do their job. Some designers know how to code, but for the most part, coding is left to the developer.
While web designers don’t have to know how to code, it will definitely give them a leg up in the hiring process. They’ll also be able to understand what’s possible within web development, how to speak to their developer, and make the prototyping process much faster.
Both web designers and developers work with wireframes as well as the look and feel of the website. Sometimes they use different tools to accomplish their goals, but they’re focusing on the same outcomes here.
In a broader sense, web developers are often logical problem solvers, while web designers are usually visual problem solvers. Web designers use intuition, feeling, and visual cues to accomplish their projects. Web developers use logic, data, math, and details to accomplish their work. While this isn’t a rule, it’s a general trend you’ll probably see within the industry.
Here’s a recap, web designer vs frontend developer:
Frontend Developer vs Web Designer Salary
We sought out the average salary stats from Indeed in major countries around the world. At a glance, frontend web developers usually make slightly more than web designers. Here’s the breakdown.
Frontend Web Developer Salary
- Australia: Aus $80,165
- Canada: C$63,809
- Germany: €51,608
- India: Rs 475,266
- UK: £33,740
- USA: $69,274 USD
Web Designer Salary
- Australia: Aus $71,337
- Canada: C$53,092
- Germany: €51,116
- India: Rs 2,65,489
- UK: £29,682
- USA: $69,274 USD
In 2022 design and development go hand-in-hand. It’s easy to see why the lines often get blurred.
The good thing about web design and frontend development is that one isn’t actually more challenging than the other. We asked Gary Simon, YouTuber and Scrimba instructor, “What’s harder, design or coding?” He replied, “That’s an impossible question!”
While web developers might earn more to start, web designers can quickly gain in their salaries over time – especially if they learn UX, UI, or Interaction Design. In the junior frontend developer vs. web designer face-off, the salaries are neck in neck.
Web designers spend more time on visual design and user experience, while web developers spend most of their time coding. It’s helpful to get a feel for coding before you dive into either web design or web development since both of these careers will rely on coding in some way.
In reality, you actually don’t have to choose design or development exclusively. You can choose to do both – like Scrimba student Riley Buretta did. Riley became a freelance web designer and developer with no experience.
Riley says, “You got this! And I guarantee you will feel like a superhero by the end of your journey!”
Ready to think about becoming a web developer? You can learn how to become a frontend developer in as little as six months.