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What is Web Design?

A web designer sketching out different design ideas with a green marker

In today's world, where websites serve as the new storefronts, understanding the art and science of web design has never been more important. Web design is more than just colors and fonts. It's about blending aesthetics, functionality and user experience (UX) to create attractive, informative and engaging websites.

Whether you're a budding designer, a business owner or just curious about the digital landscape, learning about web design can be valuable. It helps you understand the creation of websites and their importance in today's connected world.

What Does a Web Designer Do?

A web designer uses creativity and skills in areas like marketing and graphic design to shape the visual aspects of a website. They create the visual elements of a website, such as layout, navigation, text and images. Web designers can also work on back-end web development, where languages like HTML, CSS and JavaScript are used to build the site's functionality.

A web designer is also always learning how to best present the website on a variety of evolving browsers and devices to maximize UX.

If this type of work interests you, learn how to become a web designer.

What is the Difference Between a Web Designer and a Web Developer?

Dian Brandenburg, adjunct instructor of web design and database design at SNHUWeb design can include aspects of web development. But are the jobs interchangeable? Not exactly, but they’re closely linked.

It’s strongly suggested that you consider educating yourself from both angles to optimize the quality of your work and the ease of communicating with others involved in the process.

“You don’t have to be an exceptional web designer to do the back-end. But vice versa is important,” said Dian Brandenburg, adjunct instructor of web design and database design at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). Conversely, "If you don’t understand what a database is and how to have your website talk to it, it’s not good. You need to know a little of both to get the job done,” she said. 

Brandenburg began designing websites in 1994 and used to run a web design business, where she worked with companies both large and small. Now retired, she has more than 25 years of experience in the field.

Jon Pond, director of user experience design at SNHUWeb designers who also know web development can create websites and present their ideas, helping show how feasible they are to implement.

“You can avoid that awkward conversation with clients,” said Jon Pond, director of user experience design at SNHU. “If I can build what I’m showing someone in my design, there won’t be any bad surprises (at the development stage)." He noted that having a designer's aesthetic sense and intuition, along with the skill to collaborate with developers, can help projects run more smoothly.

Faryal Humkar, a STEM career advisor at SNHUExploring your career options may lead to a surprising new focus on either design or development. “Type in ‘web design’ or ‘web developer’ into job boards and see what the requirements and expectations are and if you think you'll enjoy those day-to-day responsibilities,” said Faryal Humkar, a STEM career advisor with nine years of experience working with students and alumni at SNHU. “I also invite students to do an internship to try out and see which (aspects of the field) you like; there are even virtual internships now.”

If you're not sure whether web design or development sounds like a better fit for you, discover how to become a web developer. You'll notice many of the necessary skills and credentials are similar.

Is a Web Design Career for You?

Considering a career in web design might be a natural step if you have an affinity for creative expression and a curiosity about digital technology. You may find this field to be a good fit if you have a knack for visual storytelling and an eye for detail in design.

The web design landscape is often described as evolving, where staying updated with the latest tools and trends is part of the excitement. The ability to adapt and stay curious can be valuable traits to have, too. The skills you may use in web design can also be used in a variety of other projects and roles.

“Web design is an amazing career,” Brandenburg said. “A graphic designer with HTML education is valuable. Databases and programming, SEO … there are lots of avenues in that field, which makes it exciting and offers you different directions to explore.”

Find Your Program

How Do I Start Web Designing?

Jenna Palermo, a graphic design instructor at SNHUTo start web designing, all you really need is a computer and a will to learn. One of the first steps you can take involves building a strong foundation in design principles, which can be developed through graphic design studies or similar disciplines. This foundational knowledge is crucial, as it can provide the groundwork for understanding the more intricate elements of web design.

“Stay open to exploring web design and UX; there’s still some resistance toward it from graphic designers,” said Jenna Palermo, a graphic design instructor at SNHU. “Whether or not you pursue it, it makes you a stronger designer because you understand the hows and the whys. You’re dealing with a web designer with a more informed perspective.”

If you're interested in graphic design, explore how to become a graphic designer.

William Kirtley, a graphic design adjunct at SNHUEntering the web design world also means adapting to varied design environments and client needs — which means being able to handle feedback.

“You have to take direction and critiques to grow and become a better designer,” said William Kirtley, a graphic design adjunct at SNHU. “I tell my students, do not get personally attached to your work. I’m going to change it because I can because clients will do that to you.”

As technology continually evolves, so too must web designers. Keeping up-to-date with the latest trends, engaging in design communities for feedback and remaining open to new ideas are important for growth. “It's really about being open-minded. You need to be flexible, to move and adapt,” Pond said. “Be positioned for constant change — internal business changes and external user changes. And anticipate those changes.”

Reflecting on these qualities can help you gauge whether the web design career aligns with your personal and professional goals.

A degree can change your life. Find the SNHU technology degree that can best help you meet your goals.

Nicholas Patterson ’22 is a writer and alumnus of Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), where he earned his bachelor’s degree in English and creative writing. He is currently honing his craft further as he pursues an MFA in Creative Writing from SNHU. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.