How does web app design differ from website design? |
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Web app versus website design differences

How does web app design differ from website design?

Those outside the interaction design field tend to use certain terms interchangeably.

“Web app design” and “web design” are examples of two such terms.

But do these terms really describe different activities?

And do these terms mean different things to designers? And to clients?

Here are some answers I hope will shed some light and add important context👇🏽

The Main Difference

The main difference(s) between web app and website design is not necessarily the user experience process itself.

Instead, it’s the volume and scale of interplay between three key factors that one has to design around.

These four overlapping factors are:

  • the user’s wants and needs
  • the app/website owner’s priorities, often commercially or revenue-driven
  • the workflow of functional or dynamic features,
  • …and…the extent of tailored configurations necessary to integrate with back office systems.

Generally speaking

Layout and/or feature-focused designs for websites are rather topical and/or fragmented in nature and often must take into account a medley of third-party plugins and proprietary systems (whose technical underpinnings not only reside but also are owned outside the organization).

As an example

Let’s take the user visiting a local doctor’s website.

The user decides to sign up for an email newsletter to receive news from the doctor’s practice. They then enter their email address into the subscribe form field and hit the subscribe or submit button.

Once they do this, the user is taken to a confirmation page that often looks somewhat different than the doctor’s website.

They then receive an email confirmation in their inbox with a link, which they click to complete the double-opt in process.

At this juncture, the user is usually on some confirmation landing page that also looks different than the doctor’s own website.

This is a common, email signup workflow and scenario familiar to thousands of small business and non-profit websites using a third-party email marketing client (e.g. Mailchimp or Constant Contact) to manage their email subscriptions.

While such interactions are viable and generally can work, they result in patchwork design approaches; their UX implementations are often limited by the integration limitations imposed by the third-party’s proprietary software.

In Contrast

Let’s contrast the above scenario with another example: a hospital’s web app whose online systems and technological underpinnings are more robust, secure, and far more integrated with the hospital’s back offices and systems.

In this hospital web app scenario, the breadth of infrastructure and user touch points involved immediately conveys the understanding that more UX design strategy and design integration expertise would be needed to launch and/or maintain the web app’s optimal performance .

Does more = different?

In many ways, the UX design processes and work products deployed for either the web app or website scenarios are not necessarily different.

Yet the volume and sophistication of systems features, user journeys, and points of integration one has to design around are what have great impact on the scale and depth of user experience (UX) required.

This all, in turn, impacts the available budget necessary to fulfill UX-specific design processes and tasks; a significant mention because 9 times out of 10, it’s the budget available — or not — that controls what UX design tasks get prioritized and executed.


Mayra Ruiz-McPherson, MA, MFA
I hope this helps answer the question about web app and web design “differences.”
If you have questions or comments, please shoot over an email at
And if you enjoyed reading this or feel this content can benefit someone, please pass it along and let me know.
Thank you 🙏
~ Mayra


📸 Hal Gatewood via Unsplash

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