The difference between a front end designer and a front end developer

When you are planning any new website build, a big part of the process is the front-end look and feel, no one will use your website if it looks terrible or flows slowly.

In the web world, the complexities of building a website have also increased: responsive grids, media queries, sass, html5, css3, ajax calls, angular, jquery, node, knockout… the list could go on and on. These frameworks are now becoming a staple of every project. This new complexity also means anyone in the web building business needs to learn a lot of new skills.

As an architect on a lot of projects, I’m also responsible for coming up with estimates and a plan of how the project will get shipped.  One of the biggest factors that can make or break a project is getting the html done right and integrated in time.  I’ve built quite a lot of responsive sites now and one the main factors if HTML will happen on time, is if your front-end person is designer or developer.

My definition of a front-end designer is someone who may have photoshop skills and can translate that page into basic HTMl.  A front-end developer, on the other hand, may also have photoshop skills but they can also do responsive grids, SASS and enjoy working with front end technologies like jQuery

Gone are the days where we have simple design that looks the same on all platforms.  If you don’t have the skills to make a responsive site then your career will be limited.

I’ve worked on a lot of projects where we needed a front-end developer but ended up with a front-end designer and in every case the shipping date slips as the HTML is not quite right and needs constant re-working.  I’ve seen great front-end developers knock up complex pages in less than a week, on the flip side I’ve seen capable front-end designers take 5-6 weeks to build a basic responsive page.  People who don’t understand the full grasp of the complexities of front-end development seem to take a lot longer than the front-end designers.

Now I’m not saying that back-end developers don’t have a part to play in this  Getting to grips with grids and some basic css understanding shouldn’t take too much effort but the majority of back end developers never take the time to learn these fundamental skills and, as a consequence, the end delivery suffers.

The amount of conversations I’ve witnessed between front-end and back-end that ends up in frustration as neither side can elaborate what they need doing, is frustrating at times.

If you work in the web building industry you need to learn these skills.  I know we have a million things to learn but the people who take this small step are a lot more of a valuable commodity and can ask for higher wages and have better job security, as you’ll be indispensable.

I can testify to this statement first hand, as I have front-end and back-end skills, on one contract they offered me a lot more money to stay when my contract ended because it meant they didn’t have to hire two people

If you are reading this and you need to hire a front-end person, hold out until you get a good front-end developer. Don’t settle for a good front-end designer as you are adding a lot of extra risk to your shipping date.  If you are planning a responsive project, then just having bootstrap doesn’t seem to be enough, in my opinion.

If you are reading this, is your a front-end or back-end person who is about to start a project, don’t
underestimate how complex the responsive side of the project is.  Nowadays the capability of a front-end person is, in my opinion, one of the biggest determining factors if you are  going to make something cool or something average.  If you are hiring, then I’d recommend going with the person with a broad spectrum of skills, as from my experience, the front-end developer brings two or three times more value to a project than a front-end designer.

Jon D Jones

Software Architect, Programmer and Technologist Jon Jones is founder and CEO of London-based tech firm Digital Prompt. He has been working in the field for nearly a decade, specializing in new technologies and technical solution research in the web business. A passionate blogger by heart , speaker & consultant from England.. always on the hunt for the next challenge

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