red line

The Difference Between: Web Design Agency vs Web Development Company

Looking for the best web design agency in the business? Be clear on what you need, and who can best help you.
SolidDigital group meeting graphic

Your website has the potential to be the biggest asset for your business. When it comes to finding a vendor to help with creating, adjusting, or completely overhauling your website, it’s vital to know the difference between a web design agency and a web development company. So before you drop a big budget request, know what you need and who can help you.

The most basic, main difference lies within the services each provides. A web design agency is concerned with how things look: brand and design. A web development company is concerned with how things work: technical or functional aspects, like e-commerce, blogging or search tools.

There is, of course, overlap with web design and web development. You can’t have one without the other. If you choose a web design agency, they should have a distinct understanding of what is involved (behind the scenes) in web development.

Stakeholders & Focus

The stakeholders involved vary a lot between web development projects and web design projects, as does client focus.

Stakeholders: Web design agencies attract and typically work with marketing leaders, directors, and CMOs, because the work has so much to do with branding. Web development companies, however, attract and work with the CEO, the production manager, or the IT director, since the project in question is back-end, behind-the-scenes functionality of a website. Looking for a company that can handle both types of stakeholders is ideal, and you can see capabilities and experience within listings such as Clutch-rated top web design agency.

Client Focus: There can be a lot of variation on focus between web design and web development, depending on the company. When you need an innovative web design, an agency can help you with the visual design and branding, along with plenty of graphic design capabilities. For a web development company, there is more weight placed on UX and UI, which goes hand-in-hand with functionality.

When searching for a good fit for your website redesign (or build) ask: “What or who is guiding the strategy?” The answer leads us to the first of a few nuanced differences between a web design agency and a web development company.

Project Management Differences (How we get from A to B)

The handling of your project can vary, depending on who you choose to work with. The project manager for a web development company will be highly technical and product-driven, running an Agile or Sprint project management style. They’ll steer the project in a broad direction, and make adjustments as they close in on the target. This gives the web development company more flexibility as they work within defined time and resource constraints. 

However, if you choose to work with a web design agency, that project manager will be client-focused and highly communicative, ensuring that everything is received for the design team. It’s likely that the project manager will run a Waterfall project management style–the exact opposite of Agile. Waterfall gives the team the opportunity to lay out the groundwork, collecting all the details that will lead from point A to point B, completing each step before they get to the next. With design, this works well to give structure, stability and predictability. 

Staff Background Differences (Right brain, Left brain, and All That Jazz)

As you might have figured out already, the background and experience of the staff in a web design firm and a web development company will be different. Engineers will fill the desks at a development company, given that much of the work is technical. At a web design agency, the team will be full to the gills with creatives, with marketers, and with strategists.

Before you meet with a design agency, make sure you’ve prepped. It will help you level the playing field for the companies you’re considering and it will help you get the information you need to accurately create your next proposal. 

Cost Differences (Pay for What You Need)

When you want a new website, or to create a custom website design, the look and feel of it is vital. The look of your website will rely heavily on selecting the best web design agency you can find. The feel of your website, and how it functions, however, will rely on choosing a web developer that can handle your demands. Save a little time (and possibly heartache or money) by watching a webinar on finding the right web design agency partner for your organization.

In terms of cost, web developers may be able to charge less, because the company can cut costs through outsourcing work overseas, or just having more developers on hand to complete the job. Web development companies also don’t typically have a creative department.

When you hire a web design agency, the higher cost accounts for highly specialized work, considerable communication and time with the client, and design and strategy that allows for total website and brand alignment. 

Pro-tip: If you’re a dot-com startup, head for a web developer. This can help you reduce costs. If you still need both, hire one company to help with design and strategy, and then hand the whole project over to a web development company to execute the vision you’ve created.

Find the Right Answer (Q: What’s Your Problem?)

Now that you’ve determined the basic differences between a web design agency and a web development company, it’s time to steer the ship. Rather than creating a massive flow chart that leads to two different options, ask yourself, “What’s the problem I’m trying to solve?” 

Is your problem in the realm of functionality or creating a basic e-commerce site? Go to a web developer. 

Is your problem in representing your brand online (voice, appearance, alignment with your products?) Go to a web design agency.

Wait. Did you just answer yes to both of the questions above? Find an agency that can do both. We speak IT, and we speak marketing. And we’re comfortable with whichever side of the table we’re on–sit with us.

Related resources