Web Designer Vs Web Developer: What’s The Difference? For Shopify Merchants

Did you know there is a difference between a web designer and a web developer? While both often get categorized under one title, there are differences between the two that are very important. 

This is especially true for Shopify merchants, as they need both, to create a more custom store experience to help you elevate your business. 

I’m excited to discuss more about the difference between a web designer vs web developer as this question comes up a lot and people often discover the difference when they need something important to be done. For example, adding a new feature to their Shopify website, etc.

So let’s get into the details so you are better prepared when finding the best solutions for your business.

What Does A Web Designer Do?

Web designers focus on the visual elements of a website and how a website looks. A web designer will take your branding (which can include your logo, typography, brand colors, and design patterns) and incorporate that into the layout of your website. 

By being visually focused, web designers rarely focus on the technical aspects of your website. They will have some general knowledge of functionality but won’t dive deep into the coding or technical elements of your website.

You’ll also discover that there are a lot of web designers, especially today. Because of the advances in technology, a lot of platforms allow designers to create visually appealing websites without knowing how to code them. 

This can be fine if the web designer you’re working with is using tools that require little coding. For example, on platforms like Wix, Squarespace, or ShowIt. Those platforms have drag-and-drop features that allow designers to easily move elements around on a page and create a website without code.

Typical Skills of A Web Designer

Just because a web designer focuses on the visual side of design, it still requires a level of skill to execute successfully. Plus, there are tools that designers often use to help plan and articulate designs with clients.

Here are just some skills a web designer brings to projects.

  • Knowledge of using creative software to create designs.
  • Understanding how users navigate a website to design layouts.
  • Understanding foundational design principles.
  • Being able to clearly articulate design decisions.
  • Collaborating with clients to understand their vision.

As you can see, there is a lot of knowledge needed to make a collaboration successful, especially for businesses that have larger goals. 

What Does A Web Developer Do?

A web developer focuses on the functionality of a website. Functionality such as making buttons click, pages scroll, or parts of your site move. Once a website has a completed design, it’s time for it to go into the development phase. Where the design comes to life, this usually happens when anything for your website is custom designed.

A web developer will go into the backend or coded areas of your website and make adjustments. These adjustments are what can really make your website unique from other websites. I’m sure you’ve seen websites where there is a unique functionality from things sliding onto the screen or words scrolling across the page. Features like this are from a web developer writing the code to make it all happen.

There aren’t many people who actually are web developers, as it’s challenging to understand. You see, web developers need to understand quite a few coding languages and be able to write sometimes difficult code solutions to solve a specific problem. Usually requiring not only just front-end development (what you see on the forward-facing of the website). But back-development (what happens on the back-end of the website that your audience can’t see). 

Typical Skills of A Web Developer

Depending on the type of website platforms a web developer works with, there will be unique skills required. Here are a few skills that most developers have (there is way more than this, but it’s the foundational principles).

  • HTML5
  • CSS3
  • JavaScript
  • Liquid (if using Shopify)
  • Being able to explain decisions in non-technical terms.

If any of those terms seemed confusing, it’s understandable web development is its own language. But a highly valuable skill to have in order to build things on the web. It’s also one reason developers typically get paid more than a web designer. Developers have to understand how code works and create their own code to solve business problems. There is no drag or drop when creating something unique for a website. Yes, there are foundational elements, but it is still up to the developer to make it work.

Can Someone Be Both A Web Designer & A Web Developer?

The simple answer is yes, there are people out there who do both in the technical world we call them “unicorns” and they are using both their left and right brain to make things happen. I am both. I started coding over 20 years ago, learning HTML and then later I built on my skills to further enhance my abilities. 

When you work with someone who offers both, they will be able to not only help you design a great website, but also help to ensure that it’s built correctly. Which is a great bonus. Have you ever seen a website that looks great but the functionality wasn’t so smooth?

Not to knock the creators of websites like those, but they most likely got stuck with trying to figure out how to make things work for their website. 

Maybe you’ve had a similar experience? Where you had an idea for how you wanted something to look for your Shopify store, but when you tried to implement the code yourself. Things either didn’t function properly or it broke. This can be so frustrating, but this is one reason why you need both a web designer and a web developer. Whether you’re working with one person who possesses both skills or two individuals who focus on one versus the other.

When Do You Need Both A Web Designer & A Web Developer?

An important thing to consider when evaluating creative partners for your website is whether you’ll be getting both a web designer and developer.

This is especially important for Shopify store owners. Even though you can purchase a template from, Shopify there will be times when you need more than just design to make your store different. Yes, you can always customize a template to match your brand, but when you need more changes, this is where having a web developer that understands Shopify’s coding system is important. 

I see this all the time when merchants are asking for help to change their store from adding a section, customizing a menu, or fixing an announcement bar. Those things can be done by working with a web developer, and a web designer can design the look and feel of those changes to make sure that they are consistent with your brand.


You learned about the differences between a web designer and a developer and why it’s important to have both skills. Especially as an eCommerce brand owner, who will need more functionality added to your website to improve business operations and the customer experience.

I hope this clarified the distinction between the two, and if you have further questions, feel free to reach out and start a conversation.


Hi, I'm Karen, the founder + strategist/Shopify expert behind The May Creative. I help growing luxury, lifestyle & beauty product-based business owners craft an elevated Shopify website experience. So they can scale their business & reach their next level of success. Connect to learn more about working together. Or check out the other articles below and listen to the podcast.


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