You can think of your website as being like a car. In this case, the web design is all the parts of the car that look and feel a certain way – the bodywork, the dashboard, the steering wheel. The web development is concerned with how things work, so in a car this would be the engine, the sensors which feed the dashboard display, and the power steering under the bonnet. Knowing what components of a web site fall under web design or web development is a good idea as it will help you understand what features will be more expensive and take more time to build.
Let’s take a simple example of a web site for a mechanic’s garage. The most basic website might have pages on the location of the garage, the services it offers, contact details, and some links to local car dealerships. These pages are equivalent to the pages you might see in a printed brochure for the garage. Since the information will rarely change, and the web site offers no interactivity, this website design would be called static.
Static websites will be the quickest and cheapest to have designed, since the task for the web designer or web design company is to put information into the format of the World Wide Web. This is slightly more complicated than creating a poster or advertisement for a newspaper as different computer systems may display the same website design differently, but a static website is still a relatively simple job for a skilled website designer.
Now imagine the mechanics wanted their customers to be able to send them email messages directly from their web site. This would mean having a page on the site with a form, where the customer can type their message, their name and details, then press a button and have their message sent to the mechanic. Now something has to happen in order for that web page to send the message. The ‘something’ involves computer programming by a web developer – but how the website and the contact form look are still the responsibility of the website designer. This example of a contact form is a very common one, and good web designers and web design agencies will be able to integrate such features into a professional web site design easily.
Continuing with the example, suppose that the mechanic want to add more interactivity to their site and allow customers to book servicing and repairs for their cars through the website. The system would have to show customers what dates and time slots were available, and allow them to choose one, enter their details and make the booking. In order for this to happen, information has to be stored, retrieved, displayed and updated. When the customer is shown available dates and times, the information is retrieved by code which is written by the web developer.
The way it is displayed (for example as a calendar or diary) is the work of website designers. This is a good point to highlight the overlap between website design and development. If the mechanic’s diary showed a week at a time, with a button to view the next or last week, the mechanism by which this works has elements of development and design. A professional web design will display the information in the most suitable format (here a week at a time), and the system must retrieve the available time slots for that week, which would mean retrieving stored data within set parameters (this week). The specifics of how something like this would work and be build would include elements of website design and development. Web design companies and web design agencies will likely have both web designers and developers, and some individuals may be able to do both.
The overlap between website design and development is even more pronounced, since websites are fundamentally interactive. Even at the most basic level, someone viewing a website can click links or buttons to navigate around the site. Some web sites’ designs can change depending on user input, for example choosing to view a site without any pictures to speed up loading, or choosing from a number of styles to view a website in. Many features like these can be created by web designers without the need for a developer, since modern web technologies like css web design give web designers many more options.
As a rule of thumb, you can assume that the more interactive a web site is, the more development is required for it. A site displaying information that doesn’t change requires practically no development, whereas a website that allows visitors to create a user account, send messages, buy things, add photos and play games will require a substantial amount of development.
One final point to note is that many common functions and features for websites may have already been programmed and developed as software packages, often available free of charge. If you wanted to have a message board or forum on your website, for example, there is a wide range of applications available which perform this function. If your website designer, developer or web design agency uses an existing piece of software, it can save you time and money, as you do not need to pay someone to create the system from scratch.
Some web design and development will still be required, however, in order to make the system work and look right for your website.