When it comes to a digital presence, you want to look good and your first instinct is to find a great Web designer. After all, you're not writing software, so why would you want a developer? As I network with other businesses, I find they tend to fall into two camps: they either believe Web designers are the same as Web developers or they think a Web developer can only write code and can't create a Web site. Well, I'm here to set the record straight.
Wikipedia defines a Web Developer as follows:
A web developer is a programmer who specializes in, or is specifically engaged in, the development of World Wide Web applications, or distributed network applications that are run over HTTP from a web server to a web browser.
That's probably a bit more technical than you really wanted this early in the morning, but that about covers it. A Web developer specializes in applications. What about a Web Designer? What most people consider a Web Designer is really a graphics designer and Wikipedia defines graphics designers as:
A graphic designer is a professional within the graphic design and graphic arts industry who assembles together images, typography, or motion graphics to create a piece of design. A graphic designer creates the graphics primarily for published, printed or electronic media, such as brochures (sometimes) and advertising.
Again, very accurate, but these days a graphics designer is familiar with layout and design principles as they apply to Web sites and are almost always familiar with WordPress (or some content management system, at the very least). What I see happen most often is a business hires a designer when what they really need is a developer who can build, implement, and manage a custom application their client needs to automate their business or provide some kind of custom logic or platform for their customers. Some designers take these projects on without understanding the principles of good software design and cobble together some WordPress plugins (probably modified by an outsourced developer) and call it an application. The reality is that this is a customized WordPress site with little to no hope of scaling to the degree the client will need.
On the other hand, a developer will understand the nuances of programming in an Internet environment and can craft the right solution based on conversations about the client's needs and expectations. They often start with a bare framework and create the custome logic their client needs.
When it comes to establishing or improving your online presence, it's important that you know what your target goal is and that you make sure your Web team provides the right solution for you, rather than for them. For most Web sites (what we call "brochure sites"), a designer is going to be exactly what you need. They can create your layout and branding you need to get your message out. More complex sites or sites that enable your customers to access your services any time will often (but not always) require a more technical background. The moment your designer starts talking about "custom development" means you might need to explore options with a second, more technical, Web developer. Though most developers may not have an eye for design, good ones will have a designer or two in their pocket (or be willing to work with your existing graphics designer) that can help out with the pizazz, so you receive a solution that looks and works great.