Web Developer, Web Designer or Graphic Designer?

Dude at a computer

There is a lot of understandable confusion around the difference between graphic designers, web designers and web developers. Here’s what I think. Let’s say you are company A. Company A is ‘biiiig’. They don’t quite have their own web department, but they have a bit of money to spare. So they approach a large creative agency. And that agency quotes tens upon tens of thousands of pounds for a brand. And some marketing material. And a website. And they throw in an email marketing campaign. Once they’ve designed some promotional pens and mugs. Well, that is all wonderful for Company A.

So what about Company B? Company B is small. Company B may only even be one person. A dog training expert. A hairdressers. That always superb little Italian restaurant down the road. They can’t afford our agency. They might not even be able to afford our agency’s promotional mug.  But they still want and deserve a complete brand and online design experience.  So what do they do? It’s most likely they have done a bit of ‘Google-fu’ and realised they need one or all of these:

The Graphic Designer

I always joke to my graphic design friends that you can always tell a graphic designer from a web developer because the former use an Apple Mac. But there is some logic to this. A graphic designer deals in graphics. When I say graphics, I don’t just mean fancy images and logos. I mean, anything that can be seen. Take typography for instance. This covers fonts. Point size. Line length. Leading. Tracking. Kerning.  For making something look amazing is an incredible talent. I’ve already learnt that the core principles are the same whether my arty buddies are creating for print or the web (with some caveats). And I am generally in awe of their ability to just make something look great. Off the bat. First time.

I’ve even begrudgingly started to accept why an Apple Mac lets them do that better.

The Web Developer

Well that’s me then. If a graphics designer is at one end of the scale, then the web developer couldn’t be further away. The geek. The young lad who sat in his bedroom teaching himself Java (and I don’t mean the script version). The one wearing the novelty esoteric T-Shirt no one else understands. The one whose arty buddies are drinking macchiatos, wearing skinny jeans and talking about the latest MacBook Pro in the always superb Italian restaurant down the road.

Image of a macchiato

A Macchiato. Or so my arty friends tell me.

You see, we make things work. Function over form. What’s the point of it looking great if it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to? And we deal with all the stuff that causes the arty types to stare blankly into space. SSL certificates. Apache servers. POP or IMAP. Rich snippets. body a{color:#81aa48;}#header-outer:not([data-lhe=”animated_underline”]) header#top nav > ul > li.

Now, if you have a graphic designer and a web developer who should be like chalk and cheese, but actually work really well together; you have the best of both worlds. Oh, there’ll be disagreements. Believe me. There has to be, to create the compromise that makes something both look and work wonderfully. But think of the advantages. The website, coded by a real expert. Who can make it blisteringly fast and full of features. But also a website linked perfectly to a brand. With the same look and feel as the marketing brochure, or that promotional mug.

It’s a perfect mix. Until the elephant in the room walks in.

The Web Designer

So what if I know a bit about graphics and a bit about programming? What’s stopping me from designing a website for a client? Well, in reality, nothing. The web design business model has been going for years. If you search for local web designers on Google, you’ll be inundated. The problem I’ve found is that they can’t truly create anything special. They aren’t experts in typography so they struggle when you mention you want a sales brochure created to go live with your website. And whilst they might be pretty adept with Photoshop, they’re going to cry a little bit inside when you ask them to create your new sign for over your shop door. Conversely, asking a web designer to create a bespoke multi-factor authentication system or to develop an application in node.js, is not a pretty sight.

The problem facing the owner of our always superb Italian restaurant, is he either needs to find the money to go to our super-duper creative agency, or as is more likely, hire a web designer. I believe that there is another way. I believe that you can still have that multi-skilled expert workforce, without the jack-of-all-trades. And I believe you can do it without the overheads of the super-duper creative agencies.

What our restaurant owner needs are more freelancer collaborations. Non-formal partnerships between experts who can call on local people from a list to create great things. And why stop there? Why not add business consultants to the lists? Or PR experts? Or local photographers? In my opinion, clients want more than just a web designer. They need the best. The best logo. The best imagery. The fastest, sleekest website in their field.

And I believe there is a business model to achieve that.

Ben Roberts

Thank you for reading! I'm Ben, a web developer from Hertfordshire. I love writing about problems I've been able to solve, or very ocasionally, those that I can't. Sometimes I write about other things, such as cybersecurity, which has always fascinated me. If there is anything you'd like help with, or explained better, let me know in the comments below.