I have been hired to do functional development for several web site redesigns. The company I work for has a relatively low technical level, and the previous development of the web sites were completed by a graphic designer who is self taught as far as web development is concerned.

My responsibilities have extended beyond basic development, as I have been also tasked with creating the development environment, and migrating hosting from external CMS hosting to internal servers incorporating scripting languages (I opted for PHP/MySQL).

I am working with the graphic designer, and he is responsible for the creative design of the web. We are running into a bit of friction over confusion between the boundaries of our respective tasks.

For example, we had some differences of opinion on navigation. I was primarily concerned with ease-of-use (the majority of our userbase are not particularly web-savvy), as well as meeting W3 WAI standards (many of our users are older, and we have a higher than average proportion of users with visual impairment). His sole concern was what looked best for the website, and I felt that the direction he was pushing for caused some functional problems.

I feel color choices, images, fonts, etc. are clearly his responsibility, and my expectation was that he would simply provide me with the CSS pages and style classes and IDs to use, but some elements of page layout also seem to fall more under the realm of "usability", which to me translates as near-synonymous with "functionality".

I've been tasked with selecting the tools we'll use, which include frameworks, scripting languages, database design, and some open source applications (Moodle for example, and quite probably Drupal in the future). While these tools are quite customizable, working directly with some of the interfaces is beyond his familiarity with CSS, HTML, and PHP. This limits how much direct control he has over the appearance, which has lead to some discussion about the tool choices.

Is there a generally accepted dividing line between the roles of a web designer and a web developer? Does his relatively inexperienced background in web technologies influence that dividing line?

  • Looks much better: thanks for taking the time to rework the question. – user8 Jul 31 '11 at 3:07
  • Designers figure out what to do. Developers figure out how to do it. – Jerry Coffin Sep 22 '12 at 5:27
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    Web designers abuse your network bandwidth, web developers abuse your CPU cycles. – James Sep 23 '12 at 1:45

No dividing line

I have found that this is quite common and there is never a clear cut dividing line between graphic designer and web designer. What skills the graphic designer brings to the table with be completely dependent on their experience with web technology (generally this doesn't include any css or html).

Working with a graphic designer requires communication and compromise

The way that I have worked with graphic designers in the past varies with the skills of the graphic designer. In general this will equate specifically to how well the graphic designer can create a design which is suitable for a website.

Dynamic layouts

The first thing that I do when I receive a wireframe or a first draft of a design for a website I check to see how suitable the design is to adapting to a dynamic layout.

  • How will the site look if it doesn't actually have that much text in a particular portion?
  • How does the header text look if it needs to wrap around? (Ad nauseum, Ad infinitum)

Depending on what I find in the above I may voice my concerns about the design with the graphic designer and ask for further information for things such as rollover effects (should these buttons change colors?), what happens with this background gradient if we put more text inside this menu item (this will break the design).

So pretty much anything that I can see that happens on a dynamic website that could break the design I voice with the designer and get that addressed in the design. Depending on the skill of the graphic designer to take the above into account I may not actually need to do any of that.

In your case

In your case the graphic designer is ignoring key parts of the functionality of your requirements, and so you are perfectly correct in requesting design changes.

Bringing it together from the design to the website

The graphic designer shouldn't need to know any html or css to be able to create a dynamic website. All we need from them is the images, and vision of how the site should look. Trust me this is quite difficult to get right, and take customer usability into account. The rest is up to the developers.

I personally have both Photoshop and Fireworks on my work PC, and I perform both image cutting and capturing to create the most optimal css possible using the smallest number of images in sprite sheets.

This is not something that most graphic designers will be familiar with and so image compression, optimising css sprites should be purely a programming task.

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    Do note that he said Web designer and not graphics designer. imho they are very different. A web designer should know html and CSS fluently. – jgauffin Oct 29 '12 at 14:39

In a broad sense the difference is the development between the technical and artistic part of developing a website. Web developers have the technical part of writing code (php, Ruby, Pyhon) and testing while web designers have the purpose of designing how the web site should look (CSS, Photoshop) and how the users will perceive it.

This is somehow misleading because in normal software development the designer has the purpose to provide a technical high-level design of a software application; a more common name for a software designer is software architect.

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    Most of the "Web Designers" I have worked with deal almost exclusively with Photoshop and might make a little prototype in Dreamweaver, possibly with the developer's help. Designers have a knowledge of what's possible and not possible on the web, but not necessarily how to create it. The web developer does all the "code" and the designer all the images. But it is hard to find people with both technical and artistic skills. People who are able to cross-over end up being accommodated by the team however they work best, hence the blurring of the lines. – GlenPeterson Sep 21 '12 at 12:56

What would you consider the difference between a developer of software and a designer of software?

It is the same concept, the web designer should operate at a higher level focusing on layout, aesthetics and user interface. As far as style sheets and HTML is considered he likely should not be contributing any of that anyway as it is too low level for his role. You are running into situations where you step on each others toes and get confused because you are both trying to perform the same role.

There are two good ways you can go about this:

1) He should be focused on building mockups, example screenshots, and possibly use case diagrams and user flow diagrams. You are responsible for design of the middle and database tiers as well as development of the web presentation itself. This is a bigger task and will take more effort on your part than his because you are performing many roles.

2) Handle the database and middle tiers and have him focus on the web tier, HTML, JS, CSS.


Instead of trying to throw the proverbial book of positions at him try to take a different approach. Different situations and members require different duties and responsibilities.

Talk to him and attempt to reason. He obviously brings something to the table and maybe between the both of you, you wont just agree, but actually come up with a better design than as if you worked alone.

Being close-minded is almost never beneficial.


The responsibility of both the designer and the developer is to provide the best possible product. As such there is clearly going to be some overlap, especially at the interface of, as you describe, usability and functionality.

The trick is then to recognize that you're both trying to do what's best. Once you recognize that it's not an adversarial relationship over control of territory but a cooperative one you can then use both of your skills to your advantage.

For example, if he feels that certain design choices should be used that adversely affect accessibility, point out that a site is useless if it can't be properly used and provide alternatives. Criticism that isn't constructive is just going to get in the way and reinforce an adversarial relationship. Your designer should be your project's best friend not its worst enemy.


Graphic Designer = visual design only

UX designer = analyse and wireframe design

Web designer = prototype design creation

UI designer = HTML design with css, javascript, ajax and cross browser compatibility

Programmer = program using php. .net, jsp

Developer = who invent new widgets, frameworks like that above programming in regular work

  • A UX designer concerns him/herself with how the user interaction is, rather than analysing and wireframing a design. They think about how a user will experience an application and how they will interact with it. You also seem to have switched the definitions of web designer and UI designer, and UI designers concern themselves with not only the look and feel of a UI, but also the UX portion of it. Not to mention they are definitely not limited to web applications. – Timothy Groote Sep 21 '12 at 7:47

Short Answer: web-developers usually DO NOT implement real-functional development (server side code, services, database operations, CRUD, etc.) in web application.

In another words, nothing is wrong with being a web designer. The problem lies with those people who say they are that which they aren’t. I am talking about people claiming to be web developers who don’t know any backend (server side) programming languages and have never had to deal with modifying a database in their careers. These are the people who drive down the pay the real web developers can expect for their work.

Thus, there substantial difference in nature of work that web developer and web designer do, and mixing them isn't good.


In regards to your specific case, you ARE overstepping your bounds, according to the teams I've worked with (as both a designer and a dev). Here's your description of the roles:

I have been hired to do functional development ... My responsibilities have extended beyond basic development, as I have been also tasked with creating the development environment, and migrating hosting from external CMS hosting to internal servers incorporating scripting languages ... I am working with the graphic designer, and he is responsible for the creative design of the web. ... but some elements of page layout also seem to fall more under the realm of "usability", which to me translates as near-synonymous with "functionality".

You are the Developer, he is the designer. You get to pick the framework (and he must adjust his HTML/designs accordingly) but HE gets to decide on the creative elements and is the ruler on any usability issues. "Usability" does not equal "functionality" in my book.

  • Now, a year later, I can say with the full benefit of hindsight that while I may have been overstepping my bounds, it was fully necessary and appropriate. The designer in question's only knowledge of usability was based off of print design, which does not translate well to the web. I have since taken steps to learn more about design, accessibility, and ux. He still goes by what makes intuitive sense to him. As it stands now, he makes suggestions for layout and navigation, and I overrule them when appropriate, but he has final say over colors, images, etc.. – Beofett Oct 30 '12 at 0:24

A Web developer is the one who actually develops web projects like websites, web-services and all.

A Web designer is a sub-part of web developer. A web-designer is developer who only concentrates on creating the presentation logic that is the user interface.

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