BCS Internet specialist group member, Lisias Loback, examines the differences between web design and web development.

Since the commercial internet started in 1995, internet technology has evolved from simple text-linked pages to complex websites full of content, such as e-commerce, e-banking, e-travel, e-videos, images, animations, parallax, linked APIs, external connections, etc. It is a complex system, ‘increasingly interconnected, increasingly global, fast-changing, and uncertain’ as stated by J.G. Boulton when talking about complexity.

How are websites created?

There are many people involved in the creation of a web page. However, among the different areas, I would like to focus on two, for the sake of this blog: design and programming. The justification for this choice is the fact that initially these domains were merged, and usually, the person who created the design part also programmed the website. And it worked like that for a long time.

Designing and programming are two very challenging areas, and because it is difficult to keep up-to-date in different areas of knowledge simultaneously, at a certain point, each went their own way and specialised.

Web design refers to both the aesthetic and usability aspects, and is a build-up upon centuries of graphic design tradition. Moreover, it is not surprising that it recycled several concepts and terms from that earlier culture, such as layout and composition; the psychology of colour; texture, proportion, and patterns; typography with fonts, letterforms, and typefaces; imagery. (Each of these aspects deserves their own blog entry).

The big difference according to Ethan Marcotte, in his book Responsive Web Design is that the product of web design is not tangible as a book / object, becoming ethereal, and does not reach the user in the same way that the designer idealised. Once published online, it is at the mercy of whoever sees it - the user. Moreover, that makes all the difference. Descriptions of fonts, screen colours, browser window size and format, desktop, mobile or tablets, affect how the user interacts with the website. This multitude of media, sizes and formats means that the designer and programmer must work together to create a product that is flexible and adapts without losing the main features. With some design software (such as Adobe Photoshop) a designer idealises and creates the layout and various elements of the website.

A web developer, on the other hand, uses the design created by the web designer and builds a functional website using mark-up languages (such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript) and other programming languages (Java, PHP, .NET) so that files produced by designers gain ‘life’ through functionality and interactivity.

Programming languages are a set of simple rules (as explained below), which when used in software programs, introduce their own rules, and which, in turn, can build the most complex systems. Not only because of the language, but also because of the features required, the modern websites become a problematic product to manage. This is the reason why one will usually seek the help of professionals to do it. 

In the next blog, we will be able to develop some concepts expressed in this post so that we will have a broader understanding of how we can create everything on the internet. At least now we have a better understanding of what web designers and web developers do.

Further reading

  • Boulton, J.G., Allen, P.M. and Bowman, C. (2015) Embracing complexity: strategic perspectives for an age of turbulence. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Beaird, J. and George, J. (2014) The Principles of Beautiful Web Design. 3rd ed. Collingwood: SitePoint. 
  • Marcotte, E. (ed.) (2011) Responsive Web Design. New York: A Book Apart; Series number, 4.
  • Haverbeke, M. (2014) Eloquent JavaScript: A Modern Introduction to Programming. 2nd ed. edn. San Francisco, CA: No Starch Press.

About the author

Lisias Loback is a doctoral researcher in computer programming, a web developer and a technology strategist. He has many years of diverse commercial experience in different companies and industry-leading digital agencies. He managed agile teams to build websites with millions of visitors per month using the latest technologies in the internet industry.
Read more about Lisias Loback