Web designer vs web developer: what’s the difference?

web designers and developersThere are so many people who claim to build websites…have you ever wondered what’s the difference between a web designer and a web developer?

Generally, a web designer focuses primarily on the graphic look of a website. The best ones are trained graphic designers who have chosen to specialize in web design. Most can do at least basic website programming. Their strength is creating a cohesive image for your website that reflects your company’s identity.

By contrast, a web developer is a programmer who has specialized in web programming languages, from the basics (HTML, CSS, JavaScript) to more advanced languages (PHP, ASP, Java, AJAX). Sites that are coded by a good web developer tend to perform better, load faster, and work more smoothly no matter what internet browser is used. You’ll need the talents of a web developer when you build advanced interactive sites that include e-commerce, content management, and interactive features like forums, blogs, chat, etc.

In most cases, your best choice is to work with a team that includes both web designers and developers, so that your site looks good AND works well.

The very basics of a website

Welcome to the World Wide WebAre you ready to build your very first website? Feeling a little overwhelmed? Don’t worry – I’ve got you covered with this quick-start guide to get you pointed in the right direction.

There are really just three components you have to worry about: your domain, hosting services, and the site itself, which is made up of code and image files.

Domain Registration

The first part of your website is the address, otherwise known as your domain name or URL. You pay an annual fee, usually $10 – $30/year, to own your domain name. “Dot-com” addresses are addresses that end in “.com” instead of other endings like “.biz”, “.org”, etc. Dot-coms are preferred in the same way that true 800 numbers (vs. 866, 877, etc.) are preferred, because it’s what people type by default. You purchase a domain name at a domain registrar like GoDaddy.com.

Hosting

The second part is hosting, which is basically space you rent on a server. The server can be just about anywhere as long as it’s connected to the Internet, but typically you want a server in a data center, not someone’s basement, and having a domestic-based host will slightly improve the speed of your website. Again, costs vary but for most small business owners you can expect $100 – $400/year. If you have a really busy site with millions of visitors, you may need an entire server of your own, and costs will be greater.

If you are working with a web developer, check with them before purchasing hosting. There are a variety of options available and you need to be sure your hosting is compatible with the code they use to build your site.

Website Code

The last piece of the puzzle is the code behind your site, usually written in HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and maybe some other languages like AJAX, Flash, PHP, or ASP.

The code includes the look of your site, all the images and graphic design, the text, the formatting, and any special effects like audio, video, calculators, or surveys.

Most people will need help with coding a website. While your kid may know a little HTML, there’s a lot more to building a website than slinging some code or slapping some pictures around. Your website requires marketing savvy, graphic design skills, a clear purpose – and of course the technical skills to make it all happen.

There are a number of do-it-yourself services available if you are on a tight budget. Be careful though – homemade sites that create the image of a low-budget shabby startup can be worse than no site at all.

Tying it All Together

The last step in all this, once your site is ready, is the launch. First, you (or your developer) will move your code to the host server. Next, you’ll point your domain to that same server. Once you’ve done that, you are officially online and open for visitors!

Website usability–what it means and why you care

Backwards Watering CanWhen web developers talk about usability, it may sound techie, but it’s all about the human side of things: how do you make a website so easy to use, so intuitive, that visitors can do what they want quickly and efficiently every time? That’s what usability is all about.

While it may seem subjective, there are design standards and extensive (although sometimes conflicting) research to use as guidelines. Some companies, such as Amazon, conduct usability studies on a regular basis. During these studies, observers watch people perform online tasks, keeping a close eye on any missteps or roadblocks encountered along the way.

You may not have the budget for live usability trials, but it’s easy enough to invite a few friends and colleagues to preview a new site and offer feedback. Put together a scavenger hunt, where you ask them to track down specific information or perform certain actions (e.g. make a purchase, submit a contact request), and get their input on how quickly they were able to complete their tasks.

Whatever else you do, make absolutely sure your website design and navigation create an effortless experience—you never want to get in the way of customer who’s ready to buy.