Information technology is a field concerned with using computers in a variety of ways to work with data. It’s a broad field that includes:
- communications technology
- web design and development
- software development
- data analysis and modelling.
Although there is overlap between these disciplines, they are distinct disciplines, requiring different knowledge and skills.
What’s the difference between web design and computer programming?
Two of the most misunderstood areas in information technology are web design and programming. Many people think these two areas are closely related, such that all web designers are programmers, and all programmers are web designers. While web designers and programmers do generally share some skills, they are distinct professions, and it’s rare for a person to occupy both roles.
Web designers focus solely on the design and construction of websites. This includes:
- the aesthetic elements of the website, i.e., backgrounds, colour scheme, font, images
- information layout, i.e. page layouts, text layouts
- writing and adjusting code for the website
- adhering to accessibility standards
- sometimes producing or sourcing necessary media, e.g., images, sounds etc.
- creating a mockup based on the client’s and/or stakeholders needs/brief
- working with the client to ensure the site meets the brief.
Programmers focus on the creation, modification, and deployment of code with the end goal of creating or altering software (i.e., computer programs). This includes:
- using software to write and modify code
- using hardware to write and modify code
- testing and debugging code
- looking at problems within the program then analysing them to work out potential solutions
- creating reasonable and reliable testing and validation processes
- deploying code, i.e. “going live”
- creating or updating technical documentation, including end user documentation (e.g. how to install, updates, etc.) and procedural information.
Note how although both jobs require the use of coding skills, most other tasks are quite different. Indeed, the design elements for software are generally handled by a software designer or other specialist. It’s also important to note that different languages are used for different jobs.
Web designers do most of their work in HTML and CSS, though they may also work with ASP.net and PHP, particularly if developing web apps or dynamic web pages. Web apps and dynamic web pages require more specialist skills.
Computer programmers work with a variety of languages, and many specialise. They may work with:
- ·visual basic
Working as a web designer
Web designers can work for a company or as freelancers. Although their main role is the design and creation of a website, many freelance web designers offer packages that include other elements of a web and branding package, such as:
- logo design, brand design
- copy, i.e., website content
- social media set up and branding
- social media curation and posts
- search engine optimisation to boost site traffic.
The addition of these services is a significant value add that can help freelancers and boutique agencies stand out from the crowd, especially when paired with excellent customer service.
- have the best possible content in the eyes of search engines (e.g., Google)
- have the best possible content in the eyes of users (often not the same as search engines)
- are highly visible both on and off the web
- hold people's attention once they visit (most people leave most web sites in less than 30 seconds)
- have concise, well-written content that is easily accessible to the reader.
This means developing skills in:
- graphic design.
It’s important for a web designer to be able to think about the needs of the site’s audience. While a site may look great to clients and web designers, it won’t be successful if it’s not meeting the audience’s needs. To do this, a great web designer will:
- Work with the client and/or stakeholders to understand the main purpose of the website, i.e., if it’s informational/education-focussed, sales-focussed, intended to build brand awareness etc.
- Research competition in the space to stay ahead of the crowd
- Create clear layouts and navigation to ensure that everything is easy to find and encourage the user to stay on site
- Create layouts and navigation that reflect natural user behaviours for optimum engagement.
Search engine optimisation
Although search engine optimisation is not always included in web design packages, it’s a valuable skill to have; search engine traffic is vital for getting visitors to a web site. Different search engines have different algorithms that determine the visibility they give to different web sites and these are regularly updated. A site may have a high visibility on a search engine one month and a low visibility the next. A search engine’s job is to recognise high quality results and separate these from lower quality and spam results. The design of a website is a strong factor in helping improve search rankings and traffic.
It is very important to understand how search engines work. Some search only within their own data base. Other search engines search within both their own data base, and also data bases of other search engines. The scope and nature of data being searched, both have a significant affect upon the value of the search.
Some search engines tend to have higher profile and attract more visitors than others. The number of visitors to a search engine does not alone determine its value. A search engine that attracts smaller numbers, but a specific type of visitor (who is more relevant to you), will be of greater value for you to have a listing with.
Even with the coding elements of web design and development, all aspects of web design require a creative design mindset.
Working as a computer programmer
Like web designers, computer programmers also have to think about the needs of their audience. However, this is often done at a distance – computer programmers are rarely interacting directly with clients, and are instead working independently. Although they do need to meet client needs, the briefs and/or problems are generally brought to programmers via a manager or other third party.
Programming is very much about problem solving and methodology. While creativity is required, the programming mindset is much more logical. When a program or piece of software isn’t working in the way it’s intended to, a programmer must look at the issue and break it down into smaller parts, then consider ways the problem can be solved. Once they have an idea, they must design not only the solution, but a validated methodology for testing the solution, then run multiple tests for the solution. In many cases, a programmer will have to test multiple solutions to find the most efficient option. Programming is about finding ways to create and implement frameworks that will provide long-term solutions to problems.
Although programmers can work as freelancers, most programmers are hired by development companies or work within the IT department of a larger company. Many larger companies have programmers on staff for bespoke software development and maintenance.
Choosing between web design and computer programming
Both web design and computer programming offer career opportunities for people interested in working with technology on a day-to-day basis. Web design is generally more suited to individuals who enjoy:
- working with people
- taking on a variety of different responsibilities
- creating and working with different forms of media, e.g., images, fonts, etc.
- thinking about the big picture.
Computer programming is generally more suited to individuals who enjoy:
- working independently
- problem solving
- experimenting and testing solutions
- working in detail-oriented fields.
How to start in web design or computer programming
There is no singular path into web design or computer programming. There’s no requirement for a specific university degree or program, and both can be studied independently, though it’s definitely helpful to have the guidance of an experienced tutor and a self-paced course to follow (link to IT courses).
Trying to learn specifics in IT is like trying to catch a racing car running after it on foot. Learning fundamentals from a school that’s agile and networked directly to industry professionals is important – people who are not only teachers, but also practicing programmers and technicians will help ensure you’re entering with up-to-date information, and the capacity to build on principles so you can stay current as the industry evolves.
At ACS, we recognise that one of the most important ways to learn in these fields is to start gathering practical experience, and our courses are designed to ensure that you start learning the principles of how things work from day 1. This principles-based learning will help you start analysing websites or programs to find their core features and start thinking about how they work, a core skill in learning to think about how to develop your own web design or computer programming outputs. As you learn, out tutors will also encourage you to explore your interests and get out to industry meetings and networking events so you can start building connections be part of the changes that are moving today’s IT industry forward.
Do something, get your start in IT studying ASP.Net or use our course counselling service (free) to explore a study program tailored to your own unique situation,