No Code Guide — The Future of Software Development?

How no code tools can empower non-technical people to build online.

By: Jake Rosenthal, Director of Logistics (McGill)

Most of what we interact with and use on a daily basis runs on code. It’s such a big part of all our lives but yet only a very small fraction of the world can understand and produce it. A number of potentially great ideas will never exist simply because of this barrier to entry.

The no code movement is looking to solve this by offering tools that make programming more “visual” (think drag and drop for example), which ultimately helps empower non-technical people to become creators.

It’s certainly been a game-changer for me. From creating a completely custom site for BOLT, to building out my own personal brand with a unique portfolio, no code has brought immense value to what I’m able to do as a typical business student.

This idea isn’t necessarily new. WYSIWYG ( “what you see is what you get’’) editors like Dreamweaver tried to achieve this many years ago, but they fell short of their goals. What you saw was not what you got. This is not the case any more. The tools and growing ecosystem are much more advanced now. Both code and no code will have their own place in the future of software development.

No code benefits

  • Allow the other 99% to create online experiences and solutions due to its increased accessibility.
  • Gives you a greater amount of ownership and reduces your dependencies — make all the changes and updates yourself.
  • Save time and money — faster development and less person-hours to pay for.
  • Perfect for rapid prototyping, validating concepts with an MVP, and even for full fledged businesses.
  • The 80/20 rule applies — Basic functionality works great for most use cases, allowing you to focus efforts and resources towards more value-adding tasks such as UX and UI.
  • Introduces important concepts related to data, conditional thinking and responsive / dynamic design, which can actually inspire people to learn code to fill in the gaps (it’s definitely been helping me while I learn the ins and outs of HTML, CSS and JavaScript).

This last point is actually quite interesting because it points to the fact that no code isn’t actually meant to discourage or try and replace traditional programming. The two could work hand in hand, as each one offers unique advantages over the other depending on the complexity of the requirements. Vlad Magdalin, Co-Founder and CEO at Webflow 👇.

There are tradeoffs of course. The tools are not as robust as mature frameworks and programming technologies. However, what you can achieve without writing a single line of code is still very impressive.

Lattice is a great example of how real companies are using Webflow, one of the most popular no code builders. Lattice is a San Francisco based people management platform that’s raised over $94M since it was founded in 2015. They’ve made the switch to no code in 2017 and according to this case study, it’s resulted in nearly $50K in savings each year. Not only that, but their website is quick, beautiful, and as custom as it gets.

Not too bad 😅. Andrew Wilkinson, co-founder of Tiny and owner of the very popular site Dribbble pretty much sums up how I first felt about the no code movement, its incredible potential, and why I’m long on its future.

The rest of Wilkinson’s linked Twitter thread is actually an announcement for his new no code agency 8020.

Popular tools

Now, this wouldn’t be a guide if I didn’t talk about how you can actually go out and make no code solutions.

Below are a few of my favourite tools and suggestions on when to use them (All of them have generous free plans!).

Webflow

This is the definition of an all-in-one website designer. Using their in-browser drag-and-drop interface, you can create custom, responsive sites in no time that use semantic HTML, CSS and JavaScript… but without actually having to write it! High-speed hosting is also just a couple clicks away. Webflow has a built in CMS allowing you to dynamically connect your data to your designs. It’s also got Ecommerce functionality. Oh, and did I mention you can create complex animations and interactions in minutes? See what people have built with Webflow here.

Taking a closer look at the designer, you can see there’s a lot to unpack. On the left, you can drag in actual HTML elements like “Div Blocks”. In the middle (all the way at the top) you can see there’s icons for each device. This means you can design for each breakpoint and make sure the site looks great no matter the screen size. On the right, there’s the equivalent of CSS, except that it looks more familiar! It’s almost like using a mockup tool like Figma.

What can you build?

  • Portfolios
  • Marketing sites
  • Online stores
  • Blogs
  • Prototypes

Bubble

Similar to Webflow, Bubble is a drag-and-drop web app builder. The main difference is that you can get a bit more granular with the functionality and build more complex apps. For example, you can have user accounts, connect with APIs, use plugins, create user flows like sign up steps, etc. This comes with a more steep learning curve however, as well as less of a focus on refinement of the UI.

Bubble is a real powerhouse when it comes to no code, allowing you to create almost anything. Exhibit A being a Twitter clone made entirely with the platform.

Between Webflow and Bubble, the decision comes down to whether you’re looking to make a simple and highly-refined design, or need more functionality and flexibility, respectively. This being said, Webflow has recently announced a number of features on their roadmap which would work to lessen the gap in the complexity of apps that you can create.

Glide

Ever wanted to make a mobile app using data from a Google Sheet? Glide lets you do just that, and it’s super easy to use. Take a look at the builder preview below and you’ll see what I mean.

Some notable features:

  • Account registration
  • Real-time data updates
  • Search and filtering
  • Chat and comments

Glide gives you full control over your data in how you want to present it. When you boil it down, a lot of apps really are just spreadsheets! People have built internal directories, to-do lists, personal CRMs, conference schedules, budgeting templates, and so much more. They also have a large collection of templates to kickstart your app.

Adalo

Adalo is right up there with Glide as an easy-to-use mobile app designer. You can choose to use their own database or connect it to an API. It also uses a drag-and-drop interface where you add reusable components (lists, forms, payments, navigation, etc.) and add actions to link your app’s pages, update data, send push notifications, among other things. Adalo even lets you publish to the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.

Carrd

Carrd (not a typo) is definitely the most simple way to create a quick one-page site. It’s a great option for profiles and portfolios, landing pages and marketing sites, as well as forms. You can start with one of their 50+ responsive templates (some are pro/paid) or create a design from scratch. The free plan includes hosting for up to three sites.

Other Tools

There are tons of no code and low code options, some are specifically for building websites and mobile apps and others are related or could be used to support the making of such sites.

  • Traditional solutions (Squarespace, Wix, Wordpress) — Still good options, but less easy to customize and often times can be clunky as most functionality comes from third parties.
  • Shopify — When it comes to Ecommerce sites, Shopify is a seriously good platform with advanced payment, processing and shipping features. I haven’t included it in the above list of tools since it’s not as easy to customize and is more or less template-driven.
  • Notion — Collaborative block-based tool to store notes, create docs, and manage wikis and so much more. A lot of companies are using Notion to create career pages, internal wikis, product roadmaps, or just simply organizing their tasks and projects.
  • Airtable — This is what you would get if you combined the simplicity of a spreadsheet and the power of a database.
  • Sheet2Site — Google Sheets powered website builder.
  • Voiceflow — Create voice apps for intelligent assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant.

There are many tools for building apps and businesses. However, these types of things are never really “standalone”, and you’ll likely want to connect platforms together.

Imagine how amazing it would be to have a powerful and simple to use database like Airtable… with the magic of a custom Webflow site! This is a common no code stack.

Fortunately, this is more than possible to set up with automation and integration tools like Zapier. In a few clicks you can connect almost any app you can think of, and have them work seamlessly together. Send for submissions and emails, update newsletter lists, grab data from social media, and so much more.

Even if you can’t find your specific use case on Zapier, you’ll be sure to make it work with alternatives like Integromat, Parabola and Paragon.

Support and growing ecosystem

The no code movement is really taking shape and there’s a ton of innovation happening. Tools like Webflow are beginning to mature and attract more investments (to the tune of $72M 🤯), and new options like Create with Play are popping up more and more. Play takes mobile development a step further by allowing you to make a full app right on your smartphone. They’re currently in beta, but here’s a very cool little teaser.

Apart from the tools, the community itself and the resources available are starting to become super useful, and they make up a big part of the entire ecosystem. For example, Webflow has its showcase of sites and user made “cloneables” including UI kits, components, animations, and full template sites. If that’s not enough, you can find more assets and tutorials from the likes of Flowbase, Makerpad, Flowmingo, Nocode.Video and Nucode.

Twitter is also a great place to learn, especially from no code experts and ambassadors. I’d suggest checking out the following people and you’ll find yourself down the rabbit hole in no time:

Lastly, to address some of the tradeoffs and downfalls of no code such as a lack of much needed features, there is a constant stream of new additional function providers.

Jetboost adds filters, sorting, searching and more to your Webflow site. Memberstack, MemberSpace and Circle facilitate membership, paid / gated content and community building. Weglot helps you create and manage multilingual sites. The list goes on!

No code is here to stay and it’s certainly an exciting time to start. I hope this guide will help you do just that!

Thanks for reading. You can view some of my work here.

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Business tech bootcamps encouraging students to pursue innovation in a whole new light. 💻💡

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