Graphic design, web design, and web development - what's the difference?

Updated: Jan 4, 2020

All-too-frequently, graphic designers, web designers, and web developers are expected to be able to do everything. That is, some people view these job descriptions as interchangeable. Graphic designers should be able to make logos, draw illustrations, create packaging, and make websites. Likewise, your web developer should be able to make a logo too.

Let's have a look at why that's not always true.

Graphic design, web design and web development should be seen as a spectrum. On one end is graphic design, highly visual and involving branding design, book layout, packaging design or illustration. On the other end is web development, which involves creating websites using a Content Management System like WordPress or even coding from scratch. Somewhere in the middle is web design, where the designer creates the look, feel and experience of websites, and will either code it themselves if they have the skills, or pass the wireframe onto a developer to code up. To use a metaphor, a web designer is an architect designing a house, a web developer is the builder, and a graphic designer made the tiles, paints and decor. Each of these professions takes years of training to master, so you can't expect everyone to be able to do all three. If an agency does do all three, it's often because they've got a team of different specialists working on the project.

That's not to say graphic designers can't dabble in website design. This is certainly something I do, and I've been trained in user interface (UI) and experience (UX) as well. What this means is I can create simple websites using web builders like WordPress, Wix and Squarespace, I can design complex website wireframes in Photoshop for someone else to code up, and I can handle basic SEO. This can be ideal for small businesses because if I don't understand something technical, there's no way they'll be able to from a complete outside viewpoint to the design and tech industry - so a simpler solution will save them thousands in maintenance fees that would occur if they put their entire site in someone else's hands.

I'm open about needing to refer you to my network of web developers if you have more comprehensive needs. You should be aware that this will increase the cost of your website by up to $8000, as you get what you pay for when you employ a team of people or someone with advanced technical knowledge. They will need to spend many, many more hours building you a more complex site, and they spent many thousands of dollars attending university to learn how to do so.

The bottom line: unless they've had extra training, artists and architects don't build, and builders don't design. It's the same with graphic designers, web designers and web developers. They are simply different jobs, so the odds are your business will need to use at least two different specialties to function most effectively.

Got any questions about these professions? Leave a comment below and we can discuss.