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The Difference between Web Design and Web Development

The Difference Between Web Design and Web Development

Until I became a developer myself I didn’t really know what the difference between the two terms were. I thought they were interchangeable. Although there is no standard definition the easiest distinction I’ve found is whether the work is done Server Side or Client Side.


Web Design is involved with anything visual, such as layout and style, on the front end of the website or the GUI (Graphical User Interface). As well as photography and iconography it technically includes areas such as Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), DHTML, Flash Animations, AJAX, Java/Script, Active X and other plug-ins.

All of these have to be downloaded from the web server and run Client Side and is often cashed on the user’s PC and run from there unless there is a change. This avoids it being downloaded every time for small bandwidth users.


Web Development is pretty much all Server Side and the user often never sees what goes on, as it performs in the background (much to my detriment when trying to describe to clients why we were charging so much when nothing looked different to them.)

Server Side means the script is executed on the web host and not downloaded and executed Client Side. Examples of this include PHP, ASP and CGI scripting.

The advantage of having it Server Side is it isolates the code from the user, protecting it and allows for greater processing power and because only the results have to be downloaded it reduces load on the users bandwidth.


If you get confused like I did then the best way to think about it is by removing the word ‘Web’ and substituting it for the word ‘Property’.

A ‘Property Designer’ is in charge of the overall look and finishing touches of a house, where as the ‘Property Developer’ makes sure the actual building is sound. A Designer worries about colour schemes, a Developer worries that the property functions as it should.

Of course there is overlap between the two, but this analogy works well for the web. In the end run there is no fixed edge between the two and it is often left to personal interpretation where the line is drawn.