IT vs. Web Design vs. Web Development – they’re different!

A friend of mine, Nick Nicholaou, just posted a blog post about Web Development and IT – Are They The Same Thing? I started to leave a comment to expound upon his (correct) answer a bit because this is an area where I’ve done a bit of thinking. And then I realized, my comment is way longer than Nick’s post; perhaps I should move it to my own blog?

In his post, Nick says, “While at a conference last week it hit me that those who are not entrenched in IT (information technology) often don’t know there’s a difference between web development and IT.” What a true statement! I’m not sure why this confusion exists really, beyond people not paying attention (a common problem everywhere), although there are some similarities between the two and often one person does both (or some of both). And you must have IT infrastructure underneath a website for the hosting at least, so they are related, though IT for most websites isn’t even hosted on most organization’s internal infrastructure!

IT, by the way, is an initialism for Information Technology. This should be obvious, but we’re talking here about not knowing the difference between IT and website creation, so I’m not going to assume (which, as you may know, is not a good idea anyway)!.

Nick goes on to say that IT is an “applied science” and web development is an “applied art.” I think that’s good, using science/art terms; one (IT) is a creative position that happens to use a lot of technology (both in the creation and then in the hosting/setup of the result) and the other, while it involves creativity as far as creating solutions to problems with technology, consists much more of a defined process to find a solution to a problem or create and manage a technology platform for others to use for their own disciplines, and not creating content for public (or even captive audience) consumption.

Confusion happens because there are people who cross disciplines (sometimes well, often horribly) and because, as Nick mentions, systems set up in the IT world are then used to do web development/design as well a host it (though the hosting infrastructure is often outsourced, another confusion).

And hey, an issue I run into even more often is the difference between web design and web development. Again, because people cross disciplines (again, often poorly!) and don’t understand what is what. Design = visual layout and content creation, and human-computer interaction decisions. Development = creation of interactive websites by programming in various tools, including server-side scripting/programming, database interaction, and client-side programming such as JavaScript and HTML5, and even Flash.

A good designer is not automatically a good programmer (for web and other programming areas!) and vice versa. In fact I think one reason so many sites stink so horribly is the tendency for one person to do it all when they really are terrible at one of the two. I do know people who are excellent at both but they are uncommon, IMHO. And they often get bored with designing and programming websites themselves because they’re very smart and move on to more interesting and advanced things (one guy I know like this is getting his masters in Human-Computer Interaction Design here).

So, I would agree with Nick and argue that not only should IT and website creation be understood as separate functions done by (usually) separate people, or occasionally as two separate functions and activities done by the same person at different times (I’ve done this myself in the past!), but web design and web development should be thought of as separate, but symbiotic, functions that are best done by separate people in the best case, and by one talented person in rare circumstances. (Alternately, and commonly, a designer will use a previously developed tool, such as WordPress or another Content Management System, not having a separately commissioned developer for a specific project. However, these tools were created by web developers!)