The Basics of Web Design and Development

an illustration of different aspects of a website page with abstract shapes

The Internet comprises a captive audience of 5.44 billion people, which amounts to 67.1% of the global population. It is a pillar of modern society and an inescapable aspect of marketing, and a company that intends to stay competitive in its industry cannot afford to be without a presence on the Internet. Therefore, a well-designed and efficiently developed website is one of the most important investments a company can make in its success.

It’s 2024 and with most of the global population having access to a supercomputer in the form of a handheld device at all times of the day, it’s nearly impossible to find someone who doesn’t know what a website is. However, awareness and understanding are two different things. Awareness of what a website is does not translate to understanding what makes a website good. That’s what we’ll cover in this Cliff Notes post.

What is web design?

Let’s start with the basics! Web design refers to the process of creating the visual aspects of a website, everything from color to typography to illustration to photography. Web designers focus on appearance and layout with the ultimate goal of creating a website that follows a brand’s identity, communicates to the intended audience effectively, and is easy for the user to navigate and experience.

an illustration of different aspects of a web design with abstract shapes

What makes web design different from print design?

The simplest but most important difference is that web design is viewed on a screen rather than in a physical space like print design. An obvious answer but the importance of which cannot be overstated, the difference in viewing changes the design process considerably. What can be viewed from different angles, influenced by texture and light distortion, in print design is instead viewed in one-dimensional space, influenced by motion effects and interactivity, in web design.

A good designer knows all this and can nimbly translate a brand’s visual identity between print and web without losing the soul of the identity.

Important considerations when designing for web

Layout: The way content is arranged is arguably the most important aspect of web design. Designers plan for how to effectively communicate the brand’s message in a way that looks good and deliberate without overwhelming the eye and confusing the user.

Typography: Using the brand font is the first step to keeping consistency in brand identity, but effectively applying that font is also imperative. Designers have to consider size and color when setting up a website’s font styles, to keep a consistent look throughout while also giving the user a visual key for what is the most important versus what is supplemental and descriptive information.

Images and Graphics: Keeping photography styling decided when creating the visual identity is important to keeping a website on brand. It’s also important to create graphics to compliment the text content that is on brand and designed in a way that is readable and flexible enough to be viewed at different screen sizes.

User Interface and Experience: Last but certainly not least is the consideration of user interface and experience, designers have the responsibility of translating messaging and content into a website that looks good and functions well. They must design a site that makes it clear to the user what the message is, how to navigate to different pages on the website to get the information they need, and how to follow through in either purchasing products or reaching out to a company for services. A poorly designed website risks losing a user at the imperative step between potential and secured customer/client.

What is web development?

Back to basics again! Web development refers to the process of translating a design into a usable website, everything from how a page scrolls to how a button clicks to how data is processed to the website’s databases and frameworks. Web developers focus on programming to make a website design real and interactive; important aspects are back-end development or content management system set-up, front-end development of translating design to code, and usability testing to ensure a website functions effectively and as intended.

an illustration of different aspects of a web development with abstract shapes

Programming Languages

Programming is a very specialized field within web development but a basic understanding of what some of the most popular programming languages are and how they are used can be helpful when working with a web developer.

Front-End Programming Languages

The user-facing side of programming, as in what the user sees on screen.

HTML (Hypertext Markup Language): The foundation of a website, HTML is the standard markup language for web pages and it defines the content and structure of a website.

CSS (Cascading Style Sheets): Working hand-in-hand with HTML, CSS is a style sheet language used to define the visual styling of a website. It is used specifically to separate the website content and visual presentation (layout, colors, fonts) to improve accessibility, enable multiple pages to share formatting, and improve page loading speed by allowing the .css file to be cached.

JavaScript: A programming language used for effects and functions too complex for HTML to achieve. It is also the dominant client-side scripting language of the web; most websites use a built-in JavaScript engine to execute scripted behavior code on a user’s device.

Back-End Programming Languages

The behind-the-scenes side of programming, as in what makes a website perform on databases, frameworks, and servers.

Python: A beginner-friendly programming language that focuses on back-end development tasks like sending data to and from servers and processing data and communicating with databases.

PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor): A scripting language suited to server-side web development, it has been around for a long time and is well-known to most back-end developers. It works seamlessly with HTML, handles databases, and interacts with web servers.

SQL (Structured Query Language): A standard programming language used to manage relational databases (data stored and organized in predefined relationships). SQL is used to personalize a website based on user data, using data mining to predict user behavior, and the management of the user data.

Content Management Systems (CMS)

A content management system or CMS is software built for users to create, manage, and modify a website without the need for technical programming knowledge. With a CMS, users can build a website in a template without needing to write code from scratch but the most effective use of a CMS is to employ as a back-end developer while using a web designer and front-end developer.

The combination of the three aspects ensures that a website is:

  • Uniquely and thoughtfully designed within your brand identity by an experienced designer.
  • Functionally and efficiently developed for usability and accessibility by a practiced developer.
  • Easily accessed by team members outside of design and development to add pages with templates, edit text content, within the WYSIWYG (see glossary for definition) editor. As well as using CMS resources like SEO optimization, link tracking, and security features.


If you read our last post on Color Theory, then you learned about the importance of color accessibility on websites. In addition to the importance of color contrast for potential users with low vision, there are additional considerations in making a website accessible to keep in mind when programming and finalizing a website.

A few common accessibility considerations:

  • Text Alternatives: For all non-text items on your page (images, videos, audio) providing a text alternative (commonly called an alt tag) is imperative. Screen readers will use this text alternative as a description of the item for those with blindness or low vision.
  • Structural Efficiency: Ensuring HTML files are written in a way that will not lose context and important information if the page styling is removed. Using appropriate mark-ups for headings, lists, tables, etc. as well as reflecting reading order in the code order.
  • Keyboard Accessibility: Making a website accessible by keyboard for users who cannot use a mouse, meaning all interactive elements can be accessed by the keyboard (using the tab key to jump between selectable elements and the enter key to “click” on those elements).
  • Clear and Consistent Navigation: Provide users with consistent navigation elements across pages, ensuring that users know where they are on the website by giving orientation clues like breadcrumbs or obvious headings. Additionally providing more than one method of navigation, such as a site search or a site map, helps with accessibility.


Many additional areas of accessibility will need to be taken into account when a website is developed and employing a web developer is the best way to ensure that your website meets accessibility standards. Find out more about accessibility through the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

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An online presence is essential to a brand’s success

As established, the number of internet users accounts for more than half of the world’s population and continues to grow year over year. To be successful as a brand, establishing an online presence is imperative and TCS believes that presence will be most successful when it’s purposefully designed and professionally developed.

Ready to work with a team of expert designers and developers to give your brand the website it deserves?

Glossary of Common Terms

A/B Testing: A strategy wherein two versions of a page are created and performance is tracked to determine which version performs better.

Accessibility: Using set guidelines to improve the UX of a website for people with disabilities.

ALT Tag: Descriptive text added to an image or non-text object on a web page. Plays a role in optimizing a website for ADA compliance and can improve SEO ranking.

Back-End: The administration area of a website. A back-end developer specializes in programming languages like Python, PHP, and Java to build and maintain the mechanisms that process website data and perform actions within databases, frameworks, and servers.

Call to Action (CTA): An element that encourages a user to take action, usually in the form of an image or graphic, directive text, and a button link.

Content Management System (CMS): Software that helps users create, manage, and modify their website without needing coding knowledge. The website infrastructure is coded by a developer specifically to be usable within the user’s chosen content management system.

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS): A style sheet language used to define the visual styling of a website written in a markup language like HTML. It is used specifically to separate the website content and visual presentation (layout, colors, fonts) to improve accessibility, enable multiple pages to share formatting, and improve page loading speed by allowing the .css file to be cached.

Domain: Text that maps to an alphanumeric IP address, used to access a website. Put simply, it’s the text that a user types into a browser to view a website. It is the main part of a URL.

Favicon: A small icon image, displayed on the title bar or tab or bookmark of a browser.

Featured Image: An image that represents a web page. These images will be pulled when a page is shared on social media or shown in search engine results.

Footer: The bottom section of a web page, consistent across all pages of a website. It usually includes the copyright information, the business name and address, links to the other pages on the website, and a contact link.

Front-End: The part of a website that is viewed by its external visitors. A front-end developer specializes in programming languages like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to create the visual and interactive elements of a website.

Full Stack: A term used to describe a developer who is cross-disciplinary, meaning they have the skills to carry a web project through most major steps. They handle client and server software, everything from front-end development, back-end development, back-end server management, and much more.

Hero: The section of a web page that is visible first before scrolling.

HEX Code: A hexadecimal number used in web development to represent a specific color.

Hosting: A service that makes your website accessible on the internet, web hosts provide the technology and resources needed to effectively and securely operate a website.

Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML): The standard markup language for web pages, it defines the content and structure of a website. Most often used in conjunction with CSS to define visual styling and JavaScript to define more complex web effects.

JavaScript: A programming language used for effects and functions too complex for HTML to achieve. It is also the dominant client-side scripting language of the web; most websites use a built-in JavaScript engine to execute scripted behavior code on a user’s device.

Landing Page: A web page that a user navigates to directly from another source like a search result, marketing email, social media link, or web ad. Often created for a specific campaign with a goal of converting leads.

Mockup: In web design, it refers to the visual design of a page, it represents what the page will look like for styling approval before moving on to the coding process.

Navigation: A section of the website that directs the user through the website with page links, also known as the menu, most often located at the top of the page or on the side.

Parallax: An effect on a webpage where objects on the page move at different speeds while scrolling. It gives the page a sense of depth and movement and can target user focus.

Responsive: Refers to the process of adapting a website’s layout across multiple screen sizes to improve user experience on different devices.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO): The practice of improving a website to increase its visibility on search engines.

Site Map: A document that shows the hierarchical blueprint of a website, important in the website planning process but also imperative to submit in XML form to search engines for optimization.

Uniform Resource Location (URL): A resource that specifies location on a network, a URL is the “address” of the website that tells a browser how and where to retrieve a web page.

User Experience (UX): The experience of a user interacting with a product, system or service. In web design and development, it refers to the experience a user has with the website, specifically the purpose and functionality.

User Interface (UI): The interactions between humans and machines. In web design and development, it refers to how the user interacts with the website, specifically the visual design.

Wireframe: A simplified visual of a web page, used for planning how content will be organized before design is started.

WYSIWYG: Stands for “What You See Is What You Get”. This is a term commonly associated with content management systems, wherein they automatically apply styles to text and graphics and allow the user to immediately see what the page will look like without needing to code.

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