Man drawing on a board in a meeting

Web design and web development – the difference explained.

PHP, CSS, C#, HTML ─ it’s all Geek to me:

Client confusion is bad for business

A perfect example of client confusion is when clients don’t realise the difference between ‘web design’ and web development, as the two terms are very often (and erroneously!) used interchangeably when in fact they are completely different things.

People in our industry – and by our industry I mean the collective ‘Web and Internet’ industry, incorporating IT professionals, web developers, web designers, programmers, online marketers, copywriters, SEO specialists and everyone else specialising in one or the other form of web wizardry not mentioned here, often forget that there’s a world outside (the world who needs their skills to function, if you will) who doesn’t speak Weblish as well as they do.

The point we want to illustrate here, is that it needs to be taken into account that our clients are not always as well informed about this industry as we are and that the jargon we use is quite often very confusing to them. They want our help. We can help them. But they don’t know exactly what it is that we can help them with – alas – there is confusion! But we can’t expect people to know everything about our business and to instantly tell us what their problems are if they don’t have the necessary background and knowledge – and we can’t expect everyone to keep up with the latest online glossary either – that would be utopia.

Coach the client

Luckily with the proliferation of useful content creation, like blogging and online forums, and with the help of search engines, we can ‘Google’ almost anything and get the necessary information. But what if a client doesn’t quite know what to search for? They will most likely search for something closely related to what they actually need, as they’re not very well informed. Yet those with knowledge are able share it easily, which contributes to demystify our industry – which in turn is very good for business as customers will know who to seek out in order to solve their needs.  

web development and web design copy

Web design VS web development

An easy way to explain the difference is to say that:

  • Web design is that which you see on the screen and web development is what is done to make what you see possible.
  • Web design is everything to do with how a website looks and web development refers to how it works behind the scenes.
  • What is web design? Web design is the layout of the website and its content. It concerns how customers interact with the website on the user interface and how to make the experience great.
  • What is web development? Web development refers to the programming required to construct a website and controls the way that the website functions.
  • Web developers need to have knowledge of scripting languages such as JavaScript,, PHP, CSS etc. whereas web designers require understanding of HTML, Flash, and programmes such as DreamWeaver, Photoshop and Illustrator.

This does not mean that a web designer or a web developer can’t be proficient in design and development, but it is rare to find someone that is truly good at both.

 Why you need both

A really successful web-based project requires the creative and conceptualisation skills of a web designer as well as the meticulous technical expertise of a web developer. A vital aspect of any website is to generate a higher conversion rate for the business which that website represents.

This can only be achieved when a website has an aesthetically pleasing appearance in keeping with the brand message and tone, when it works properly, is user-friendly and provides the correct information in the right format. Specialist agencies (like digital agencies) can provide clients with both services to create the best web-based project that is realistically feasible for the client.

Specific areas and skill sets

If a client needs an ecommerce website or a content management system, they will definitely require a web developer. If they need a new website or want to revamp their current website, a web designer’s creative skills will help them get the right look and feel for the site and create a great user experience.

Semantica Digital is a web design, web development and SEO agency in Cape Town, and our services are of the highest standards.

Contact us for your next web-based project and get the best of both!


  • Berna Burger
    3 May 2013

    Stunning! nou kan mens beter verstaan! Baie goed uiteen-gesit – mooi bly!

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