What is web design and development?
Web design and development is an umbrella term that describes the process of creating a website. Like the name suggests, it involves two major skill sets: web design and web development. Web design determines the look and feel of a website, while web development determines how it functions.
Because there isn’t always a hard line that separates the two roles, the titles are often used interchangeably. As the web continues to evolve, so do the roles.
In the almost 30 years since the first website was created, numerous job titles have emerged to describe various skill sets used to create a website, with more coming out every year. These titles often overlap, and their meanings change from company to company. It’s enough to make your head spin.
What is Web Design?
Web design refers to the design of websites that are displayed on the internet. It usually refers to the user experience aspects of website development rather than software development. Web design used to be focused on designing websites for desktop browsers; however, since the mid-2010s, design for mobile and tablet browsers has become ever-increasingly important.
A web designer works on the appearance, layout, and, in some cases, content of a website. Appearance, for instance, relates to the colors, font, and images used. Layout refers to how information is structured and categorized. A good web design is easy to use, aesthetically pleasing, and suits the user group and brand of the website. Many webpages are designed with a focus on simplicity, so that no extraneous information and functionality that might distract or confuse users appears. As the keystone of a web designer’s output is a site that wins and fosters the trust of the target audience, removing as many potential points of user frustration as possible is a critical consideration.
Two of the most common methods for designing websites that work well both on desktop and mobile are responsive and adaptive design. In responsive design, content moves dynamically depending on screen size; in adaptive design, the website content is fixed in layout sizes that match common screen sizes. Preserving a layout that is as consistent as possible between devices is crucial to maintaining user trust and engagement. As responsive design can present difficulties in this regard, designers must be careful in relinquishing control of how their work will appear. If they are responsible for the content as well, while they may need to broaden their skillset, they will enjoy having the advantage of full control of the finished product.
What is web development?
Web development governs all the code that makes a website tick. It can be split into two categories—front-end and back-end. The front-end or client-side of an application is the code responsible for determining how the website will actually display the designs mocked up by a designer. The back-end or server-side of an application is responsible for managing data within the database and serving that data to the front-end to be displayed. As you may have guessed, it’s the front-end developer’s job that tends to share the most overlap with the web designer. Some common skills and tools traditionally viewed as unique to the front-end developer are listed below:
- CSS preprocessors (i.e., LESS or Sass)
- Frameworks (i.e., AngularJS, ReactJS, Ember)
- Libraries (i.e., jQuery)
- Git and GitHub
Front-end web developers don’t usually create mock-ups, select typography, or pick color palettes—these are usually provided by the designer. It’s the developer’s job to bring those mock-ups to life. That said, understanding what the designer wants requires some knowledge of best practices in UI/UX design so that the developer is able to choose the right technology to deliver the desired look and feel and experience in the final product.
Design vs. front-end development vs. back-end development
To keep it simple, let’s separate website creation into two categories: what the users sees, and what the user doesn’t see.
What the user sees takes place in a browser and involves design and front-end development. Design defines a website’s colors, layout, font, and images—all the stuff that goes into a website’s branding and usability—and requires tools like Photoshop, Illustrator, Fireworks, and Sketch.
Some designers code and some front-end developers design. Some designers don’t touch a piece of code. And some front-end developers stick to coding and nothing else. Helpful, right?
What the user doesn’t see takes place on a server and involves back-end development.
A website needs a back end to store and organize all the data that comes through the front end. So if a user buys something or fills out a form, they’re entering information into an application on the front end of the website. And that information is stored in a database that lives on a server.
A website works the way you want it to because the front and back ends of a website are always communicating. A back-end developer is like the conductor. They make sure applications, databases, and servers work together harmoniously using languages like Ruby, PHP, .Net, and Python along with frameworks like Ruby on Rails and Code Igniter.
How to learn web design?
The first step to learning web design is understanding the design process and how a design comes to life. In that sense, our Product Design Process describes in detail the four phases and twelve steps to create a user-centered digital product. The four phases are:
- Technical Assessment
Second, keep in mind that web design is still about design. Therefore, to learn web design, one must acquire visual design skills and in-depth knowledge of design principles, rules, and concepts, such as how to master the colors and layout of a digital product.
Another vital aspect of web design is interaction design, a subfield of UX that focuses on how the user interacts with a digital product. Despite how good-looking a website or app is, it will not succeed if users cannot achieve their objectives in a simple and easy way. In other words, it is doomed to fail if usability and functionality are disregarded.
Moreover, understanding the basics of HTML and CSS can be a huge advantage not only to design and build websites but also to improve communication with the development team. As previously mentioned, it is not a must, but it sure helps! And to be fair, it is also very valued in the job market.
Last but not least, SEO knowledge can make a massive difference in a digital product’s performance, so we definitely recommend being aware of at least the main recognized rules when it comes to search engine optimization.
In sum, when learning web design, one should:
- Understand the product design process of a digital product;
- Know how to apply design concepts and rules;
- Follow usability and functionality principles;
- Acquire basic coding skills;
- Understand and implement good SEO practices.
Web designer skills and tools
Creating a successful digital product requires an advanced process that goes beyond aesthetics concerns. More precisely, it entails a good knowledge of business analysis, user research, psychology, and software development.
Due to that, a web designer can be a demanding and versatile job position, requiring very specific technical and soft skills. Here are the top 5 skills a web designer should have:
Familiar with several Design Tools
There are many available tools out there which can help web designer build outstanding digital products. Some of our favorites are Figma, Illustrator, and Photoshop. Moreover, there are also new design tools for teams working remotely; in fact, that is one of Figma’s best features, but MURAL and Miro are also looking promising.
Excellent Listener (not just a great one)
A great (and the first) soft skill to master is listening. It is crucial to listen to what the clients want, their visions, values, and story. This ability should be the starting point to an outstanding web design project because good communication requires an excellent comprehension of what is being communicated. Simple as that, yet not always easy to execute.
HTML and CSS
As we have mentioned several times throughout this article, developing a digital product should not (in most cases) be a one-man’s job. Usually, it requires teams of developers and designers to work together and be aligned. Thus, communication is key! If the idea is not clear for each member, the creation can either go wrong or take way more time than it should due to constant adjustments.
Curiosity and Open Mind
As said, in addition to master design and usability principles, a web designer must also know other areas, such as business, psychology, development, and so on. Hence, it is essential to keep an open mind to learn new tools and explore other fields that may be out of the comfort zone. Plus, the more curious a web designer is about different interests, the more they can understand different users.
Let’s say web development is a planetary system, and one of the planets it includes is precisely web design. Web design is vital when developing a digital product since it ensures usability, good user experience, and great aesthetics.
Once web development and web design concepts are well-defined, it is not hard to understand the difference between back-end development and graphic design. However, that gap is not as straightforward regarding the responsibilities of front-end and UI.
As explained, at the core of web design are the tasks, skills, and tools that are more focused on design and how the product feels and looks. Contrarily, front-end development is more focused on implementing the design (produced by web design) in the software and on how well does that implementation work with the back-end.
To become a web designer, one must know design principles, design interaction, usability, basic coding, and even some SEO rules. It is a very versatile role, thus requiring particular technical and soft skills.