What Are the Jobs in Web Design and Development?

In an industry where business cards flaunt words like “ninja” and “rockstar,” job titles in tech offer little more than hazy suggestions as to what an individual might do in their day-to-day. Even for those of us who are a little more—ahem—humble with the nomenclature, blurred lines between roles and responsibilities in the startup space mean that a web designer at one company and a web designer at another may do vastly different things. If you work at an early-stage company with a tiny tech team, each individual is going to have to be more of a generalist—sporting a UX hat one day and pushing some JavaScript the next. On the flip-side, contributors on larger team are likely to be more specialized—diving deep into one specific function as their piece of the whole.

Job titles in tech will always be somewhat subjective. Still, the haziness is confusing for both job seekers and hiring managers alike. In a space so rapidly evolving, digital roles and their functions need to be clearer.

Here’s a quick and dirty run-down of common jobs in web design and development:[bctt tweet="List of #webdesign and #webdevelopment job titles and functions"]

Front-End Jobs

When you visit a website, everything you see and interact with in the browser is the front-end. Also referred to as client-side, the front-end is coded in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, and includes all design and functionality elements such as drop-down menus, buttons, scrolling, etc.

Front-End Developer:

Front-end developers are responsible for bringing websites and products to life on your screen. These web developers write the code that gets executed in the browser rather than in the server. This means that front-end devs need to know about the browsers they need to support, which includes mobile browsers. In addition to engineering the code that will deploy the design plans, front-end developers must consider accessibility (will the site work on a broad variety of browsers/ devices/ screen sizes, etc.?), SEO (is the html document optimized for search engines and sharing on social networks?), performance, load times, and analytics.

Front-end web developers should have a strong grasp on HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, and it’s useful for them to be versed in testing, as well. 

More about that front-end development life from alumnus Rodney Dennis at Chicago startup Carbonmade.

Alternative titles: Front-end engineer; language-specific roles like “JavaScript developer” are also considered front-end developers.

Web Designer:

A web designer, as you may have deduced, designs websites. This job function also includes responsive/ mobile design and design of mobile apps.

Web designs determine what features and aesthetic a web page/ app needs in order to be both easy and enjoyable to use. Most web designers will be proficient in HTML, CSS, and some JavaScript, but whether the designer interacts directly with the browser often depends on the size of the team.

UX and visual designers also fall under the umbrella of web designers, though they focus on different aspects of design (we’ll flesh these out momentarily). If you work on a small startup team, it’s more likely that there will be designer who works on all of these elements, and perhaps manages your front-end engineering to boot.

Our web design course targets these roles, while equipping students with the foundations of front-end development.

Alternative titles: UX/UI designer; front-end designer

UX Designer:

The sole focus of the user experience (UX) designer is to create experiences that will keep website and product users coming back for more. If you’ve ever felt frustration boil up due to a slow-loading page or struggled to find the right button, you’ll appreciate the value of great user experience design. These designers derive inspiration from the their users by studying their behaviors and interactions with digital products, performing research, and testing to inform, refine, and validate design choices. Some UX designers may implement these designs, while UX designers on larger teams will usher improvements through the system to strengthen user experience with each iteration.

Associate product designer Julia Feld works predominantly in the realm of UX. Read her career change story to hear about a day-in-the-life in her role.

UI Designer:

While the UX designer is focused on ease of functionality, user interface (UI) designers are focused on website aesthetics. This job is more about designing and less about implementation. Thus, UI designers typically have a good understanding of color theory and typography. They are skilled in working with design tools with perhaps only light skill sets HTML and CSS.

Alternative title: Visual designer; interaction designer (similar, but with a focus on movement/ flow)

Note: UI/ visual design are specifically for the web, and thereby not synonymous with graphic design.

Back-End Jobs

The back-end, or server-side, makes up all of the behind-the-scenes workings of the site. This refers to everything that the user can’t see in the browser, such as servers, applications, and databases.

If you visit Amazon.com, for example, you’ll interact with the front-end/ client-side as you search for books and movies, write reviews, and select your purchases. Once you’ve entered information into a form on the website and clicked to submit, the application stores it in a database that was created on the server.

Web Developer:

Web developers are the architects of the back-end. Web devs work with languages like Ruby, Python, PHP, and Java. Unlike front-end developers, web developers don’t work closely with designers, spending more time on deeper programming concepts such as security and structure. At Startup Institute, our web development course trains people in Ruby on Rails to prepare them for junior back-end developer roles.

Check out this interview with graduate Pat Adduci, software engineer at Mavrck, for insights on launching a career as a web developer.

Alternative titles: Back-end developer; web application developer; software engineer; programmer (although the latter two are often reserved for people who are building on the back-end of digital products, rather than websites)

QA Developer:

Quality assurance (QA) teams will work closely with product/ project managers (see below), helping to manage the technical requirements for a product. QA developers write test suites that run against the code of the products or sites that their team is developing. These tests verify that all the requirements are met, and are your website’s line of defense against bugs and breaking—targeting certain lines or elements of the code to ensure that the test outcomes align with the web developers’ expectations.

Here's an interview with web development course alumna Meredith Davies about her experiences in QA development at WeSpire.

Non-technical, functional testers may also be part of the QA team to test early versions of products in the way that they’d expect end users to use them, and to identify problems before they make it to the user’s hands.

Full-Stack Developer:

A full-stack developer builds on both the front and back-ends.

Product Manager:

Product managers guide the design and development of a product or site from a big picture perspective, dealing with coordinating people and plans over the individual design choices or technical aspects of the project.

Alternative title: Project manager (though this may imply smaller projects)

The roles described above are all positions that Startup Institute graduates have pursued after completing our web development or web design training. There are, of course, art/design directors and product heads leading these teams. And, as teams grow larger, additional roles may emerge to bridge the gap between technology and customer, such as content strategists, SEO specialists, and customer service representatives.

In this fast moving space of dynamic, scaling companies, roles and responsibilities are constantly shifting, and blurred lines are nature of the beast. What do you think of the explanations above? Let us know below in the comments.

Interested in adding one of these job titles to your own business cards? Download our course guide for web design or web development.