What’s the Difference Between Web Design and Web Development?

Posted on 02nd Apr, 2017
by James Pardoe
I just realised something.
Even us experts use the phrases “web design” and “web development” interchangeably; knowing full well that these are two distinct things and neither of them means “the act of creating a website from start to finish”.
What’s worse, there is no commonly used phrase to define the act of creating a website from start to finish. Website Production, perhaps?
“There is a difference and it’s big!”

It’s a Technicality

It doesn’t matter if you’re a layman or an expert. In casual conversation, there is no difference between the term web design and web development. It just feels easier to use one of those two phrases rather than say “creating a website.”
How dissatisfying would it be to find out “there is no difference”? Well actually there is a difference and it’s big!


The easiest way to understand the difference is if you consider that creating a website is split up into different phases. These phases are typically as follows:
  1. Budgeting, Planning & Research
  2. Wireframing
  3. Design
  4. Development
  5. Testing & Optimisation
  6. Deployment / Go-live
So if they are phases of a website project, what exactly are they and what’s the difference?
Let’s look at the technical definitions of each:
“Design without functionality is art”

Web Design

Consider that design without functionality is art. This gives us a clue about the technical definition of web design. It’s the creative aspect of making a website which also considers the functionality needed for the user to use the website once it’s finished.
Web Design is the creative phase of a website project. It’s the part that everyone notices because it’s so visual. When you look at an agency or freelancer’s portfolio, you are looking at their web design skills. Keep that in mind next time; you’re ignoring their abilities in all other phases of the project.

Web Development

Ironically, Web Development is completely different. As a phase of a website project, it is the part where the programmers write the code needed to convert the design into a fully functioning website. Development involves two parts; front-end and back-end.
Front-end development encompasses the programming of visual elements that your users see and use. A good front-end developer is able to take the visual design of a website and translate that into the code so that the programmed version looks identical to the design across different browsers and devices.
Back-end development is the act programming code that resides behind-the-scenes. The best way to think of this is that platforms like WordPress, Hubspot and WebSmart are programmed by back-end developers.

The Other Phases

When you build a house, there are several phases that are followed in succession to ensure that the house looks good and stays standing!
In general terms, these are the phases involved when building a house:
  1. Budgeting & Planning
  2. Architectural Design (Blueprints)
  3. Computer-Aided Design (CAD)
  4. Building the Foundations
  5. Building the Walls
  6. Plumbing & Wiring
  7. Finishing
Conveniently, we can associate these phases when building a website. First a refresher on the phases of a website project:
  1. Budgeting, Planning & Research
  2. Wireframing
  3. Design
  4. Development
  5. Testing & Optimisation
  6. Deployment / Go-live
This is how they relate to building a house:

Building a HouseBuilding a Website
Budgeting & PlanningBudgeting, Planning & Research
Architectural Design (Blueprints)Wireframing
Computer-Aided Design (CAD)Website Design
Building the FoundationsBack-end Development
Building the WallsFront-end Development
Plumbing & WiringIntegrating Front-end with Back-end
FinishingTesting & Optimisation
Moving InGo-Live

When/Why it Matters

For the layman and the expert, the technical difference doesn’t matter in casual conversation. We all know that both terms mean the act of creating a website in this context. However, when talking about the specific phases of a website project, it’s crucial to understand the difference.
It matters because if you’re recruiting an agency to create your website, you need to choose wisely based on their abilities throughout every phase of the project, not just design.

If you would like an award-winning website that generates ROI for your business, then contact Grow. Give them a call now on 04 456 0220 or email: we-can-help@grow.ae.
Grow is an award winning Digital Agency specialising in deploying psychologically optimised digital marketing solutions that generate high ROI for its clients.

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