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Web Developers vs. Web Designers

by Sherlock (Deacon)
on Apr 17, 2001 at 20:50 UTC ( #73245=perlmeditation: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

There seems to be a distinct difference in the type of people building web sites today.

The first type, I call the Web Developer (from Software Developer). This person builds a highly robust, functional website - plenty of scripting, forms, etc., while paying much less attention to the look and feel of the site. (I would guess that many of us would fall into this category.)

The second type, I refer to as the Web Designer (from Graphic Designer). This person spends their time making a web site look aesthetically pleasing - making incredible graphics, laying out navigation controls, etc., while adding little to no functionality.

I feel that both types of "Web Gurus" are needed and often work wonderfully together. In my current situation, I am able to concentrate on functionality while many of my co-workers are incredibly talented at making my work "look good." For me, this is a wonderful situation and increases my work productivity greatly.

Unfortunately, I sometimes feel at a loss when it comes to developing a site on my own. Because I feel that I am lacking in my skills as a Web Designer, I often feel that the pages I create are sub-par, although they may be bursting at the seams with functionality.

My meditation is this: Who has the advantage? Is the Web Developer more important than the Web Designer (does the functonality mean more than the graphics), or is it the other way around, or are they equally important? Also, does their importance vary depending upon perspective? (i.e. Might the site owner hold functionality higher and a site viewer hold aesthetic quality higher?)

Just something that rattles around in my head.


Replies are listed 'Best First'.
(jeffa) Re: Wed Developers vs. Web Designers
by jeffa (Bishop) on Apr 17, 2001 at 21:12 UTC
    I started out as a graphics guy - Wavefront on SGI's, Photoshop, Corel Draw, etc. I graduated from college in 1995, and I could not find a job anywhere.

    I enrolled back in school a few months later (student loans were around the corner and I needed some deferment time), with plans of taking some art and computer science courses. Then I might have a better chance of getting my foot in the door at an animation house.

    Next thing I knew, graphical design was just a hobby and I had completed the requirements for a computer science degree. I have not looked back yet.

    Unfortunately, part of my creative side died a little - I blame it on the Red-Black Tree assignment, but that is another story. I get bored with graphics now, but I can more than live with that (and a bigger paycheck!).

    Creativity is something that I believe cannot be taught, it is fostered by the individual. If you can read a technical manual on how to install a web server, you can read a book that tells you how to make pretty graphics. Programmers have that advantage over graphic artists, but not everybody can draw a logo from scratch, or create a cartoon mascot.

    So, what I am trying to say is - WE have the advantage. But what we do is invisible to the hordes of otherwise ignorant users on the web. So the Designer gets the credit. >:P

    I have been trying to convince a friend of mine to take some CS courses - he is never going to have a good foundation otherwise. Just recently I found out that he is going to code (in ASP) a front-end to an Access database file that maintains state and has security.

    All he knows is how to make graphics and write HTML. He figured that ASP would be easier to learn than Perl, and therefore is the tool for him. Boy is he in for a shock.

    On the other hand, ask a Designer to make some graphics, and they will - they might not look pretty, but at least no one can hack a .jpg's security (um, well, maybe some).


Re: Wed Developers vs. Web Designers
by princepawn (Parson) on Apr 17, 2001 at 21:21 UTC
    I think mentioning a few sites is useful. Let's take . This is an amazing website. It has some of the richest dynamic content available. What the site presents to me is not what it presents to someone with different tastes in books, art, music, or whatever. But, amazingly enough with all of this powerful marketing-oriented computation going on, Amazon still remains very fast in page response and the look of the pages is nice and tight and cozy. So it is safe to say that 3 types of people are working in the best form on synergy seen anywhere on the web today:
  • Web developers - they did it with Perl
  • Web designers - those nice tight pages with attractive buttons and color schemes
  • Web content managers - the people who think up all the neat "oh-gotta-click-there" things that spring out at you at their website.

    On the other hand, take Etoys Etoys, before its demise, was widely known as having the strongest investment in Perl technology in Southern California. They often had merlyn there for instruction/consulting and they were the commercial proof-of-concept for Template. And they too, were at the forefront of marketing-driven dynamic content generation. However, the weight was too heavy on technology. The webpages at Etoys had lots of blank space all over the place. The images looked like they were scanned from an old newspaper. It was ugly. Thus here the web developers did their job, but did not engage in synergy with the designers and content managers.

    I can't think of a site where the design is great but the core computation is poor. Heck, who needs web developers anyway? Yahoo doesn't support web development for their webhosting. They say just use Mivascript to do everything from forum building to guestbooks to chat and more!

      I don't really understand your critique of the eToys design. We used Template Toolkit and a model-view-controller architecture to allow the designers to do whatever they wanted to. We freed them to do as they chose. You may not have liked what they did, but plenty of other people did, especially the target audience of parents. Isn't the goal for a technology like TT to be transparent, allowing the designers to realize their own vision?
Re: Wed Developers vs. Web Designers
by arhuman (Vicar) on Apr 17, 2001 at 21:18 UTC
    I think you're asking a question about a non existant problem :

    who has the advantage ?

    To my mind it make no sense to say it like that,
    Web design and Web coding are 2 NECESSARY aspects.
    And super coded but ugly sites won't attract people,
    nor superbly designed sites with technically misconceptions
    ('heavy' pages to load, no interactivity, difficulty to update information...)

    You don't wonder which of your 2 legs is more important to walk beccause you need both.
    IMHO things are the same in Web site business you need the 2 aspects.

    "Only Bad Coders Badly Code In Perl" (OBC2IP)
      I'd have to agree. There is no advantage, really, as people who are skilled in either are in high demand. They have to co÷perate or nothing will ever get done.

      It's not unlike Architects and Engineers. In some cases, they can do the same things, but when you get down to it, an Architect is typically not going to be able to determine the compressive force acting on a support column to see if it is within acceptable limits. Likewise, it is highly unlikely that an Engineer is going to win any awards for their asthetic contributions.

      This duality even exists within the groups themselves. A large project typically has a lead designer and a lead technical, each of which have assistants. As such, the lead in each group is the 'Architect' who set out the parameters, define the objectives, and create a plan, and the others act as 'Engineers' who figure out how to make it happen in a practical sense (i.e. pixels on screen or lines of code).

      Strangely, software architects are called Software Engineers, presumably because this looks a lot more impressive on a business card or C.V. Also, in some rare cases, you find an individual who is skilled in both arenas, a one person army. Da Vinci, perhaps?
Re: Wed Developers vs. Web Designers
by indigo (Scribe) on Apr 17, 2001 at 21:05 UTC
    Both are important. Which is more important depends on exactly what you are trying to accomplish.

    My experience is that Web Developers are more valuable. The Web Designers camp is so diluted with high tech wannabe FrontPage users, real Web Designers move into the Web Developers venue, to be taken more serously.
      I think you're right to that extent, indigo, but what about Web Developers like me (hard core code guys) that wish their deisgn skills were better? Do you also get some Web Developers moving into the Web Designers field?

      Personally, I don't think you'll find many Web Developers "switching camp" entirely - once someone knows how to write code and has realized how useful it is, they'll never want to throw that away. I just wanted to know your (and anyone else's) opinion.

Re: Wed Developers vs. Web Designers
by clemburg (Curate) on Apr 17, 2001 at 21:13 UTC

    My meditation is this: Who has the advantage? Is the Web Developer more important than the Web Designer (does the functonality mean more than the graphics), or is it the other way around, or are they equally important? Also, does their importance vary depending upon perspective? (i.e. Might the site owner hold functionality higher and a site viewer hold aesthetic quality higher?)

    The advantage is always on the side of those stopping to ask such questions, and trying to work as a team.

    Christian Lemburg
    Brainbench MVP for Perl

      I have a friend who is an awesome artist and graphic designer. His layout and formating of graphics and his hand drawn art and ideas/humor would just amaze most people. Example: for his wedding he had a "program" made out just like a playbill for Broadway musicals. Funny and awesome work. In the few projects that we've worked on together he has always amazed me with his keen eye and attention to detail, picking out things I would easily miss. But what I lack in grace and art I make up with knowledge and technical skill. What a site we could make, if we could stop drinking long enough.

      However I have asked myself the question being asked by Sherlock. When faced with a career choice, or how to market yourself for a potential employeer, what path do I choose. My current resume states that I am a web designer. Maybe it should read web developer? Does it matter? The small businesses that I've created sites for did not care what I called myself. Now I am seeking a career move, to work with the Internet and computers more in a team setting so I could get more exposure and experience. Does it matter now what I call myself?

      Yep. I have found that in my area, the northeast, the 'developers' have an edge in pay over the 'designers'. I have set myself to learn more of the 'nuts and bolts' of a website so I would have a better chance of breaking into the field. Otherwise I would be competing against the likes of my artistic friend (Cubism? Does that have to do with the Rubik's Cube?).

      puts down the chalk and walks away from the board

        I think your concern of what to call yourself on your resume is very important. I think I fall somewhere in between a designer and developer, taking CS courses and working with user interfaces at work force me into a mix of the two. What I think those who are good at both should do is call themselves by a dual title, Web Designer and Application Developer. I think, and hope, that a potential employer would see that as a great advantage, having someone who can do both, and communicate well between the hard core developers and designers.

Re: Web Developers vs. Web Designers
by cLive ;-) (Prior) on Apr 18, 2001 at 05:02 UTC
    I see responses mention content suppliers as well as programmers and designers, but I think you're still missing an important element, the 'user interface architects' (for wont of a better word).

    Essentially, someone who can take all the elements of a site and ensure they fit into a useable framework. No more mystery meat navigation. Please! In fact, if you are working on web design/programming, I think the whole of Vincent Flander's site is a must read. (and no, I don't do my company's web page :)

    Another, is having a web site that doesn't supply what the user expects to find there. My pet hate on this front is my bank in the UK for one, very small, reason. Last year, I was on vacation and I lost my bank card. I wanted the bank's 24hr emergency phone number to cancel my card. Was it on their web site? Errr... (and I still can't e-mail my bank manager ffs!). In fairness, I'd guess that most traditional banks don't know their asses from their elbows when it comes to web presence, but why not? Two or three years ago they could be excused for this (just). But now? Tch.

    When I did web design, I had an absolutely fantastic designer, but he'd start having fits whenever I lectured on web safe pallettes. At the other end, I've worked with a certain financial institution that had a really powerful - but awkwardly designed - cc transaction system.

    Gosh, I'm rambling. Sorry. To sum up though, I think balance is needed in these four corners:

    • graphical design/image
    • content
    • database integration
    • user interface

    Doesn't have to be 4 people, just as long as the 4 skill sets are covered and they communicate with each other to ensure they build something cohesive.

    <sigh> .02

    cLive ;-)

      Yes, the notion of usability engineer or architect has been lost in the term 'web designer'. The back end web developer might think some functionality is too cool, but if it's part of a useless poorly designed interface, what's the point. We're building the web site for our users not for ourselves, and the user interface designers bring that focus back to a project. The advantage is to have a well rounded web team - UID, tech, content folks focusing on the project, not turf. I'm a techie who has become less interested in the implementation details and find the UID/design side of things more interesting right now. Now I'm certainly no artist, so I always add graphic design people to the team, too.
Re: Web Developers vs. Web Designers
by belize (Deacon) on Apr 18, 2001 at 17:29 UTC
    I think a lot depends on who and why you are building a website for. Internet marketing has become far to complex to generalize. For example:

    1. The majority of our customers want and can only afford "brochureware". Graphic design is by far more important as they want people to like what they see and send them an email asking for more.

    2. Others want to and can afford to provide information in a database. Then development becomes very important, but is useless unless it is easy to use (i.e. good design).

    All in all, I think a developer has an advantage, because he can learn clean, uncomplicated, unsophisticated navigational design with kickass programming.

    But don't get me wrong, both are needed, as one without the other is still a bad website that won't accomplish its objectives.

Re: Web Developers vs. Web Designers
by Big K (Monk) on Apr 18, 2001 at 22:14 UTC
    Each aspect of web design has its strengths.

    The Net serves people of all ages, each with different needs. People are just beginning to realize just how powerful it can be. I can see many sites increasing the functionality through code development. It is a natural progression from where we are now.

    However, the number of people who use the internet for entertainment purposes is awfully high.

    I don't think that it will bring home as large of a paycheck, but staying versatile may be more satisfying. A little added pride in seeing a project evolve in your hands, perhaps.

    - Big K
Re: Web Developers vs. Web Designers
by nysus (Parson) on Apr 18, 2001 at 20:45 UTC
    I enjoyed reading this thread, thanks for posting. I would say the only way to objectively determine who is "most valuable" is to look at the paychecks. But I must agree with the other sentiments already posted that take a more more philosophical standpoint and state that both are equally valuable.

    My goal is to be as well-rounded as I can in both fields. I think someone who is pretty good at both is doubly "valuable". The downside is that it is probably near impossible to obtain "expert" status in both worlds simultaneously with this approach.

    And don't forget that raw skills alone don't make someone valuable. A good dose of likability and social intelligence will carry you far to whatever your goals are.

    $PM = "Perl Monk's";
    $MCF = "Most Clueless Friar;
    $nysus = $PM . $MCF;

Re: Web Developers vs. Web Designers
by bastard (Hermit) on Apr 19, 2001 at 00:44 UTC
    Who has the advantage? Is the Web Developer more important than the Web Designer (does the functonality mean more than the graphics), or is it the other way around, or are they equally important? Also, does their importance vary depending upon perspective? (i.e. Might the site owner hold functionality higher and a site viewer hold aesthetic quality higher?)

    How do you separate the two edges of a sword? If you do, is it still a sword? Capable of doing swordlike things? Look at the target audience. Are they more into cutting or slashing?

    There also is the point of the sword. The information architect. A woefully underutilized job function that would make things so much sharper (but i don't want to get off on a rant).

    Also don't forget that without someone to wield the sword, to direct it's actions, it won't be doing much anyway (unless someone falls on it).
    The more skilled wielder will always get better results even if one of the sides is dull.

Re: Web Developers vs. Web Designers
by Anonymous Monk on Apr 21, 2001 at 03:09 UTC
    Seems to me that the answer to your question is dependent on who is viewing the site. If the viewer is a developer themselves (or has this mentality), then they would be more impressed by a functional site than flashy graphics, and vice versa. That said, if a site lacks too much of either, then it's simply not usable.

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