What Is Web Development?

This article was originally written for ArrowQuick Solutions, a technology consultancy for small businesses.

Usually when website owners think about “web development”, they think about designing the site’s appearance, or making changes to the text and pictures. This is really just a small part of web development. There are many disciplines in the web industry:

  • Design is what people typically think of regarding the creative side of the web. It includes the overall art direction as well as the actual creation of the graphics for a site.
  • Coding, or the programming of the website, involves the building blocks of a site. This discipline covers a large range of technologies, on both the user side (HTML, Javascript, CSS) and the server side (PHP, ASP, Java).
  • Usability. Because the web is an interactive medium, we must consider the interface between visitors and the website. Is the site clear and concise enough for visitors to use it intuitively? This discipline is often overlooked or dismissed, to the detriment of the site’s success.
  • Accessibility. Specialists in this discipline must satisfy one question: Can visitors access and read the site? This seems like a simple problem until you consider the multitude of computers, monitors, phones, PDAs, and software, each one displaying your site in a different way. Experts must also consider the human variable: approximately 15% of the population has some sort of disability, whether it be sight, learning, or motor skills.
  • Content Management. Writing is hard no matter what medium you work in. Content for a website should be planned and developed by skilled copywriters and editors.
  • Information Architecture. I consider info architecture to be the navigation, layout, labels, and file structure. It is closely related (and may be grouped with) usability and content management.
  • Marketing. The Internet has grown so much that websites are no longer marketing tools in themselves. They are customer relationship tools, e-commerce sites, and community portals. Because of this, they require promotion, tracking, and analysis. Many site owners have heard of search engine optimization (SEO) and meta tags — this is a part of website marketing.
  • Project/Ongoing Management. Whether it is a one-time redesign or ongoing maintenance, someone — the “webmaster” — needs to administer the website. It could be internal IT personnel, or an outside consultant, but this person is responsible for fulfilling the website goals using the previously mentioned disciplines.

These groups are by no means standard, in either name or function. I didn’t mention possible specializations such as e-commerce, security, multimedia, and databases.

This lack of standardization is partly because the web is a relatively new industry, so it’s still being defined. There is no “official” trade group, like the MPAA for filmmakers or NEA for teachers. This also means that the many freelancers, who are only proficient in some fields such as design or coding, are often the ones who define “web development”, if only by their sheer volume. By only concentrating on those pieces, you run the risk of missing the bigger picture.

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