Web developer, web designer, front-end, back-end: What do they mean?

So, you are looking to hire a professional to design your website. Soon you will discover that those professionals introduce with various terms. The most popular are the following:

– Web Developer
– Web Designer
– Front End Developer
– Back End Developer
– UI/UX Designer

I know. It gets frustrating. I use to confuse those terms the whole time. Even today, when someone introduces himself to me with one of those terms I ask him to clarify. But don;t worry, the purpose of this article is to help you clarify those terms once and for all!

Before I explain what each term means, lets take a quick look at a website’s building process. In most cases, a website goes through 3 implementation stages. I will use an equation to display them:


Design + Displaying + Functionality = Website


1) Design (Design)

In this stage, the designer will have to decide on how the website’s content will be displayed to our screens. His final work will be a template. A template is the “face” of a website. To design a nice and effective template, the designer has to take into account several things such as:

– the company’s logo (if there is one)
– the brand’s identity
– the website’s target audience

The final version of that template will create a specific look and feel to attract the target audience. This is a very serious and time-consuming process. The designer has to experiment with different colors, shapes, shadows, white-spaces, borders and dimensions before he can achieve the best visual result.


2) Displaying (Front-end developing)

Once the designer designs the template’s final version, it is time to deliver it for displaying.
In this stage, the template will be codified in HTML and CSS, so that the browsers can read it and display it on our screens. The person that will codify the template has to make it responsive for desktop, laptop and mobile phone screens.


3) Functionality (Back-end developing)

Once the template is displayable, the next step is to make it work. That involves a series of functions that operate in the background” , meaning they are not visible to the users. Such functions are executed when someone presses a link to go to another page, completes a contact form, presses a button to send it, makes an e-payment etc.

So , when we are talking about building a website we have to remember the equation I wrote before:

Design + Displaying + Functionality = Website

Or else, in the Web designing/developing world


Based on the above, lets see what someone may mean when he introduces himself as a Web Developer, Web Designer, Front End Developer, Back End Developer, or UX/UI Developer(designer)

1) Web Developer:

He is most likely specialized in Back End Developing. However, you have to ask for clarification since the specific term is very general and people use it differently.

2) Web Designer

He is most likely specialized in design, front-end developing or both. This is also a general term that needs to be clarified because in some occasions, someone who introduces himself as a web-designer, can mean all three stages.

3) Front End Developer

He is specialized in Front–end developing. He is not a Back-end developer. You have to ask if he has design experience or if he will have to work with someone else.

4) Back End Developer:

He is specialized in Back-End Developing. You have to assign design and front-end to someone else.

5) UI/UX Designer

He definitely knows how to Design. He may have some skills in Front-end developing but you have to ask. He has no Back-end developing experience.

Below I summarize the differences between those terms. The capitalized words indicate areas of high expertise. The lowercase words indicate POTENTIAL knowledge. The dashes indicate very little or no experience.  

Web Developer design front end BACK END
Web Designer DESIGN front end back end
Front-end Developer design FRONT END
Back-end Developer BACK END
UI/UX Designer DESIGN front end
(design + front end + back end = website)


In conclusion

When you are searching for a professional to build your personal website, it is useful to ask him the area(s) of his expertise, and who is going to work on what. This question should always be asked if you want to build a custom website, because in this case, the entire website code (front-end and back-end) has to be written from scratch. If, on the other hand, you want to build your website based on website creation tool (such as WordPress etc.) then much of the design, front-end and back end code is ready and the web designer can modify it according to your needs.