What comes to mind when you think of a web developer? A Red Bull-slogging twenty-something, hovering over a keyboard, cranking code? The coding (and, often, the Red Bull) are critical to building great web sites; but when it comes to development, strategy is every bit as important as production.
Great developers go beyond creating sites designed for what is needed today—they build to scale up to what will be needed tomorrow. To be effective requires a big-picture understanding of business needs, empathy for the audience, and the ability to anticipate future wish list items and potential problems.
Consider this simple example: suppose you want your web site to have a white background and blue text in the winter, but you would prefer a light yellow background and green text in the spring. Without a well thought-out strategy, a hasty developer might build the site in a way that requires background and text color settings to be adjusted on each individual page—this might require less development time on the front-end, but would take hours to adjust if a change is needed.
A thoughtful developer would choose a dynamic method to allow for sweeping changes to be made in a single step. This may require more time at the outset, but would save countless hours throughout the life of a site. Using the latter would be a better development decision.
Even for uncomplicated projects, developers must make choices that will make the user experience more or less effective and site maintenance more or less efficient. In that sense, it is rarely enough to hire a person with forensic expertise in one area and more preferable to hire a developer with broad-based skills (e.g., strategy, databases, user interface, ecommerce, etc.). When hiring a developer, look for clues: does the individual or team leader seem to have vision and insight around efficient design? Taking the time to hire somebody who will work smart—and hard—will earn you better results with less time and money.