What's the Difference Between Website Designers, Developers, and Builders?

When people ask me what I do for work I tell them that I make websites. Making websites – that's pretty easy to understand, right? I used to think so, but over and over I am often surprised with the responses I get. Most people outside of the website solutions and digital marketing industry – and even some within – don't make much of a distinction.

So, what's the difference between website designers, developers, and builders? Is there a difference?

Let me break it down for your – from my perspective based on a decade of experience in the digital marketing industry.

Designers vs Devs vs Builders

From my experience, there's a huge difference between pure website designers, developers, and those who build websites.

Website Designers

Website designers design websites. They use graphic editing software like Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator to create pretty pictures of websites. They're laying out web pages and graphics using images – like blueprints – without ever touching code or launching a functional website. They're the ones who create eye-catching graphics, icons, and and the perfect look that differentiates an amateur-looking site from a professional one. They're artistic people with an eye for design. They're website designers.

Website Builders

People who call themselves website builders build websites. They install content management systems and configure plugins. They'll enter content and use pre-built templates to create websites and web pages. They're great with piecing together pre-fabricated solutions to many of the most common problems and hurdles people face when building a website. They may not know the ins and outs of Photoshop or advanced graphic editing software, but they can put images into their tools and make a website look good enough. They're website builders.

Website Developers

Website developers develop websites using code – and building tools, too. They hand-code tools and customized solutions. In addition to implementing pre-fabricated solutions and installing plugins, website developers create and code their own custom solutions. Their advanced understanding of how systems work helps them troubleshoot issues when they arise, too. Whereas a website builder customizes websites, a website developer develops custom websites. They're website developers.

Website Engineers

Some developers go as far as describing themselves as website engineers. These are developers who not only code their own solutions, but code solutions and websites in a more robust way with foresight that allows the solutions to scale. Rather than simply developing a website, engineers develop software solutions meant to handle extremes and edge-case scenarios. They're engineers and they develop systems.

Are Website Designers and Developers Interchangeable?

Can a website designer also build or develop websites? Yes, of course.

Can a website builder or website developer also be a website designer? Again, yes – of course.

Sometimes website designers and developers are interchangeable. But, it doesn't mean they have to be or always are.

All squares a rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares, right?

Not All Website Makers are Created Equal

Inside of each categorization of designers, developers, builders, and engineers there are numerous shades, tiers, levels, and types of website-related work.

For instance, there are website designers and graphic designers. There are Photoshop experts and user-interface/user-experience experts. There are front-end website developers, back-end website developers, and full-stack website developers (i.e. front- and back-end devs). There are website builders who only specialize in particular types of content management systems or who only use a particular set of tools and plugins – just like there are people who only work on Macs, as well as those who only use PCs. 

There are junior developers, mid-level developers, and senior developers. Some coders can't help that they're new and inexperienced. Other developers have been around the block and draw from their experience. One isn't necessarily better than the other, but every developer starts somewhere, works on the type of work they're able to work on over their careers, and ends up somewhere else. Some have simply done more than others, therefore, you have different skill-levels and skillsets.

There are software engineers, SaaS developers, and developers who make a living specializing in niches you've never even heard of. Some code universal apps, some code mobile apps, some code web apps. Some websites are apps. Some are not. Every successful website platform has their own sub-culture of developers who support it.

Some developers only use WordPress while others are die-hard for Drupal, Joomla, Squarespace, or Wix.

There isn't necessarily any right or wrong way to make a website. There's websites that meet client goals and objectives and websites that don't. There are slow websites and fast websites, static and dynamic websites, mobile websites, desktop websites, adaptive websites and responsive websites. Some websites look great. Some websites look like your cat designed them.

The point is, there are a lot of websites and lot of people who make websites and a lot of ways those people have been able to make websites.

Not all website makers are equal just like not all websites are the same.

There are many many many ways to “make” a website. And, many many many ways to classify yourself as a designer, developer, builder, or engineer.

Me? I Make Websites

I tell people I make websites.

I use that phrase because I think it's easy for even a non-technical person to understand. What I have learned over the years is quite the opposite. It's an assumption that when put to the test doesn't hold water.

However, it is a lot easier to let a non-client think I do whatever it is they think “making websites” is rather than trying to educate and articulate everything you've read in this blog article to everyone who asks.

In reality, I do do a little bit of everything. But, mostly I'm a developer – a full-stack, front- and back-end website developer versed in HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP, and SQL. I don't claim to be a specialized expert in anything, but I know more than enough of every core competency to meet the requirements of every website development project that's come across my desk over the past decade.

I can use Photoshop and Illustrator, but I've worked with enough extremely talented graphic artists to know that website design isn't my strongest skill.

I've worked on enough SaaS (software as a solution) projects to understand the mindset of creating systems and software-level solutions, but I've also built enough high-profile marketing websites to know that not every client needs a piece of software to market their business online.

I can mix together pre-fabricated themes, plugins, and content management systems with the best of the builders, but I'm never quite satisfied with good enough being good enough. Sometimes, it pains me when I don't have full-control over every pixel I produce.

I like to code my own solutions whenever possible. I like knowing how everything works and taking the time to custom tailor and optimize the way things for the clients and projects I'm working with. I like to know what I'm putting out into the world is just a little better, a little different, and a little bit more unique than what everyone else is putting out.

I like to use my nerd-brain to help people and make happy clients.

Websites Are What I Do

I'm a website developer – it's what I do.