To someone outside the field of technology, or someone just entering the profession, the differences between web designer or web developer may seem to be just a simple matter of semantics or perspective. When discussing the creation of a website, it is important to understand a professional website involves many technical as well as non-technical issues.
When you delve more deeply into the definitions from a professional standpoint, it becomes a heated debate. In a recent open source online forum a question was posted by a recruiter asking for the typical tasks performed by a developer. As an outsider to the profession, the recruiter was trying to get a good understanding of what a web developers does, and formulate a good job description to use in the search for a web developer. What followed was a very long and intense conversation discussing the roles of web developers, as well as heated discussions on definitions of web languages, and which web languages were the best tools to use for various tasks. In this discussion I am carefully using the phrase web languages to include both programming and scripting languages, as part of the discussion was on defining the meaning and purpose of programming and scripting languages as well.
Just as with computer networking, there are many layers of technologies used in the delivery of a web page. The role and the tasks involved in becoming a web designer, are just one part of a much larger picture. The web designer is focused more on the layout or the look and and feel focusing more attention on how a web site looks rather than how it works. Once learning the basics, the web designer can use technologies such as HTML and CSS, along with flash and video to create a visual theme for the web site.
On the other hand the web developer focuses on creating solutions to a problem. Problems such as how to gather data from clients, how to interconnect web sites to data bases, how to get web sites to communicate with other web sites. Tools of the developer often include various server side frameworks such as PHP, Perl, Python, and data bases like MySQL. While the web designer may create a form to gather the data, the web developer often had the responsibility to create a back end to manage the data once it gets to the server.
CIW defines Web Designer and Web Developer
In an effort to get a professional opinion on the definitions of Web Designer or Web Developer let us take a look at how they are defined by CIW, a certification organization claiming to be,"the world's fastest growing vendor-neutral Web technology education and certification programs for professionals."
"The CIW Web Design Specialist course is for the individual who wants to develop the skills necessary to specialize in Web site design. In this course, you will build upon your basic Web authoring skills to learn the essentials and best practices of Web design, including design theory, tools and technologies."
"The essential combination of a front-end scripting language, a back-end programming language and the skills to integrate them with a database is what makes a Web Development Professional."
Your Skills and Interests Will Steer You in the Best Direction
Start your basic training as discussed in the article "What Should I Learn to Become a Web Designer?" and as you progress, your personal interests and skills will ultimately help you to answer the question of which path is best for you.
If you are more artistic than technical, the role of web designer may be for you. The web designer is also more likely to directly interface with the client as they develop the look and feel of the site. If you would rather deal with problem solving and technical issues, then you may find yourself in the role of web developer.