I get this question every once in a while – and some people don’t even realize there is a difference! Sure, ‘web designer’ is a pretty generic term, or is it? Here’s how the word ‘design’ is defined (the verb):
To translate this to website design: a designer conceptualizes the look & feel of a site, then hands it over to a developer to build. So, the essential roles are this: A web designer comes up with the graphics, the layout, the where and how of the site, and the web developer writes the code to make it all happen. If you have a design, or someone that is going to design the site for you, then you probably need a good developer. On the other hand, if you have someone who writes great code, but can’t draw a stick-figure, you probably need a good designer.
Can’t you just do both?
Sure, some folks do both – design and development, but there is usually a division of duties on larger projects as doing both can become daunting. Having a person (or persons) dedicated to each role can help a project stay on schedule and keep decisions from having to fall on one person. That division of labor often makes for a better end result. A good designer will often push for something that a developer initially thinks he or she can’t do – and if the decision was solely theirs to make, the feature would often be skipped, at the expense of the overall site design and/or function.
Do I really need a designer for a small business website?
Yes. Maybe that designer is also the developer, but you definitely need someone with a sense of design, both aesthetically and functionally. Aesthetically for the overall look and design, functionally for how the site ‘flows’ and presents the information. Many times a business owner will hire a developer to build their site ‘because they can build websites’ and the end result is well, embarrassing. These days, it really isn’t enough to ‘just have a website out on the internet’ – you really need to make a good first impression, as most people’s first look at your business is via your website.
But we can just buy a WordPress theme – Anybody can build a site with those, right?
No. No matter how ‘simple’ your site is, even with an ‘idiot-proof’ WordPress theme, you are probably going to end up needing a developer either to bail you out of a completely botched-up WordPress site attempt, or at the very least there will be some sort of little change that needs to be carried out by someone with coding experience. Many designers make this mistake – thinking they can just adapt an off-the-shelf theme to the project at hand, but eventually find themselves handcuffed by the theme’s limitations. Hello Real Developer!
Thoroughly screen your candidates for a website project.
When you are shopping for a firm to build your website, make sure you ask them up front: “Will you be designing and developing the site, or will others be involved?” If one person is to do both, make sure you see samples of their work where they did the design – not just the development. And if you are hiring a developer, ask for references from designers they have worked with – you need to know if they can work well with others on a project. Also ask them if they will be using a pre-built theme. This is becoming more and more common…so instead of a truly custom-designed site, you’re getting a cookie-cutter template and they may even charge you the same price! Don’t be afraid to ask.