Why you're looking for a web designer, but need a UX designer

It’s rant time.

I’m seeing a bit more confusion on some terms I’m seeing out there, so I thought I would clear it up to hopefully give people a better idea of what they’re looking for.

Web design, UX design, web developer, what’s the difference, their all the same right?

No not at all actually, and if you want your website to turn into something that actually gains traffic, it’s important to understand the difference.

First of all, most people tend to look for a web designer when starting out their site project. They’re looking for this term not only because it sounds like the most accurate depiction of what they need (someone to design their website) but it’s also an older term that most are familiar with.

Even most platforms like Indeed or Thumbtack tend to return higher search results for people looking for web designers (Thumbtack doesn’t even have UX design as an option).

So which one do you need? Let’s start with what they do.

Web Designer

A web designer is basically a graphic designer that specializes in websites. They may have a few HTML, CSS skills, but their main expertise is making a website look visually appealing, and giving it the style that reflects your brand most accurately. Web designers typically aren’t web developers, meaning that they’re not specialized in code (although some are), so if you need them to create something more dynamic or need them to improve site speed, they may not be for you.
A web designer can also be seen as a UI designer, with the only difference being that a UI designer focuses only on aesthetics, and less functionality.

UX Designer

UX designer is an overarching term that broadly describes everything encompassing the user experience on a site or app. UX designers also make calls on how a site looks, but their approach is different in that they mostly use research and data to drive design decisions, rather than what a site simply looks like. UX designers spend a lot of their time researching user behavior, and understanding their needs to drive continuous improvements.

Web Developer

These guys know coding like the others don’t. They can assist in implementing broad structural changes that require deeper customization, and can help with important aspects to your business like technical SEO, speed optimization, and server maintenance.
With the emergence of hosted platforms like Squarespace, Shopify, and Wix, web developers are finding most of their work through larger businesses that have bigger needs than simply getting a website up and running.

So who to choose?

I know I may be biased, but from what I’ve seen from many small businesses, startups, and emerging entrepreneurs, is that they’re often looking for web designers but what they actually need are UX designers.
This is because visual aesthetics shouldn’t be prioritized ahead of usability, and unless you are already clearly articulating your business’ value proposition, call to action buttons, content strategy, feature prioritization, and information architecture, you’ll need a UX designer to figure out how to prioritize and display those needs.

Of course, this isn’t to say that graphic/web design isn’t a priority-it most certainly is. It’s to say that a visually stunning website won’t do much for you unless it’s giving your users what they want and what they need.