Why Web Developers Should Learn Basic Design

Web developers would rather work with a web designer who knows how to code. Newsflash: it works both ways! Here’s how to learn design as a web developer.

Web design
June 5, 2023

There’s been a lot of talk about how web designers should learn basic coding. It works both ways! If you’re a web developer, learning the ropes of web design could come in handy and even land you a job over other web developers.

Does your comfort zone consist mainly of coding? Do you feel awkward shoving pixels around and choosing colors for a page? As much as we appreciate sticking to what you know, there are numerous benefits of learning the basics regarding web design, especially if you are a web developer yourself.

First, let’s look at both respective fields to see where there’s overlap and how they differ.

What is the difference between web design and web development?

It’s one of the most frequently asked questions surrounding web design and development: “What is the difference between web design and web development?”

Web design focuses on the part of a webpage that visitors see. A designer ensures the page is visually appealing and that visitors instinctively know how to interact with it. Web development refers to the behind-the-scenes programming necessary to make a website work. It’s the job of web developers to ensure something actually happens when the button is clicked.

Developers focus on the front end, which is the part visitors see, or the back end of a website, how the website works. Some developers can do both, making them full-stack developers.

In short: A web designer is responsible for the digital design of the website’s appearance, layout, and usability. Web developers build and maintain the core structure of a website.

To create a better overview of both fields, we’ll look at the similarities and differences between web design and development.

Similarities between web design and development

Web design and web development closely intertwine and are crucial components for a solid digital presence. You can have a stunning website, but you'll get nowhere if it doesn’t work correctly.

All web developers require programming knowledge and it can be a huge asset for web designers. Both should also have strong analytical and problem-solving skills. Web design must be tested constantly to create a user-friendly and properly working website. Both disciplines should stay on top of the latest trends, programs, and innovations in web design and development.

In the end, the aim of both disciplines is the same: to create a user-friendly web experience that accomplishes specific goals. Only when web designers and developers work closely together a cohesive website that shows a company’s vision and attracts its target audience is possible.

Differences between web design and development

Although there is much more to web design than purely aesthetics, it’s primarily up to a web designer to determine how a website should look. Therefore, it’s often the designer that starts out with a creative approach.

A web designer is focused much more on the visual side of things. Creating the basic layout, grouping information together, choosing colors, etc. Once that has all been established, web developers come in.

It’s up to a web developer to transform the design into a fully functioning website by using coding languages such as Python and HTML.

LA21.78 Infographic.jpg

Via Figma

Looking at web design is a fun way to get your creative juices flowing. However, bear in mind that these are absolute pros with years of experience. No need to see green with design envy! Remember, everyone starts somewhere.

Via Awwwards

With the gestalt principles, you have a handy tool to help you group elements a certain way. As soon as you can explain why you made a particular design choice for yourself, you’re good to move on.

Make sure you don’t overdo it. Pick a theory that applies to web design, and go from there. The gestalt principle is a great theory to start with, for example. Simply put: this theory is based on the idea that our brains are built to see structure and patterns to simplify complex images. When used correctly, this set of ideas significantly improves a design's aesthetics, user-friendliness, and functionality.

Can you be a web designer and developer?

As you can tell, both disciplines come with quite a few responsibilities that require knowledge, skills, and tools. Which may make you wonder: can you be a web designer and developer, anyway?

The answer is yes. However, it’s wise to consider if it’s necessary. It takes a lot of time to retrain yourself to become a web designer as a developer and vice versa. And if you’re good at one thing, why not spend your time becoming even better at it?

However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider at least learning the basics of web design. Be honest: you would much rather work with a web designer that knows basic coding and the possibilities, right? They have better insight into creating a design that is possible to code. Well, developers: it works both ways!

Reasons developers should learn design

Your next collaborator will be thrilled if you happen to be a web developer that knows basic design. If you’re not convinced just yet, have a look at the reasons why any web developer should learn design:

  • Knowing basic design will help you empathize with the designers on your team and help you see eye-to-eye.
  • You’ll understand issues designers face much better, allowing you to work together to solve problems more smoothly.
  • Web developers that know a thing or two about design are better at adapting responsive design processes and workflows.
  • As you’re considering the visual side of things more, you’ll also understand the actual users of a website more.
  • Design knowledge will eventually help you enjoy your job as a web developer more, as your collaborations will be hassle-free.

Design tips & tricks for developers

Learning design for the sole purpose of becoming a better web developer may look slightly different than learning design to become a graphic designer. Here are some tips to take into consideration:

1. Don’t get overwhelmed by theory

There are countless books on what makes a good design filled to the brim with theory. It’s easy to get lost in all of these theories, making you even more confused about design than when you started off.

A tip to not get overwhelmed is to stick to the basics. As a web developer who isn’t experienced with abstract and vague theories, you’ll be happy to know there are some pretty black-and-white rules every web designer should adhere to.



2. Adjust your mindset

This is the trickiest part: adjusting your mindset to one of a designer rather than a developer. As a developer, you’re used to a certain order, writing your code from top to bottom, left to right. Every code is set in stone and has a clear purpose. Design also has a purpose, but it’s not as straightforward.

Design is much more chaotic than coding, but shifting your mindset and embracing the creative side of a website will help you put on your designer hat much faster!

Do you work with designers on your team? Then you have a big advantage. Pick their brain to learn from a professional; chances are they have a question or two for you as well.

3. Get inspired

A great way to submerge yourself into the wonderful world of design is by looking at what others are doing. Luckily, countless websites are available where web designers show off their portfolios. Some examples:

  • Behance – The world’s largest creative network based on showcasing creative work.
  • Awwward – Showcasing the best of the best, filled with award-winning websites.
  • Dribbble – A self-promotion and networking website for designers and other creatives.

4. Practice web design

The best way to learn something is by doing it yourself. Therefore, the ultimate way to step into a designer’s shoes and learn the ropes is by designing a website yourself.

It’s a good idea to adjust your expectations. You don’t have to design an award-winning website right off the bat. The purpose of practicing web design is to see what issues a designer may run into and to get a glimpse of what their process looks like.

To get you started, here are some tools you can use to craft your very own website:

  • Figma – This platform gives you all the tools you need to build responsive websites and design elements without using a single string of code. It’s designed for collaboration, so you can easily get feedback from your designer friend or colleague.
  • Adobe XD – The platform by Adobe makes it easy to import your elements from Photoshop and Illustrator, so if you love designing elements in those apps, Adobe XD is a great choice. Adobe XD has a wide range of tools and a design asset library.
  • Sketch – A drag-and-drop platform available for Mac computers allowing you to create stunning designs and prototypes without coding. Sketch allows you to zoom in, which helps you get into the nitty-gritty of your web design. It’s straightforward software, making it widely loved among designers.
  • Framer – This platform has a similar interface to Sketch, but what makes it different from the other software is that Framer allows you to add custom code to each element. If you can’t help yourself and want to code, Framer is for you! Additionally, the platform has a massive library filled with visual assets, allowing you to quickly design a layout.


Many developers and designers see their collaboration as a game of ping pong, handing over the website according to their respective responsibilities. But ask any professional web developer whether they prefer working with a designer that knows how to code or doesn’t, and chances are they opt for the coding designer. What they often don’t know is that it works both ways.

In the end, both web developers and web designers have the same goal: to create a striking and user-friendly website that runs smoothly and completes specific goals.

Knowing basic web design as a developer will make you a pleasure to work with for any designer and put you in front of your competition. It’ll help make the whole process of creating a website much smoother, which benefits everyone involved.

Of course, you don’t have to spend years becoming a web designer yourself unless that is something you truly want. Knowing the basics and stepping into the shoes of a designer every once in a while will already make a massive difference.

Hopefully, these tips will help you brush up on your design knowledge and make you an even better web developer than you already are!

Simone is a writer, dividing her time between native Netherlands and 'home away from home' Malawi. Whenever not stringing words together, she's either on her yoga mat or exploring any off the beaten track she can find.

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