What is it?
No-code platforms are used for the development of websites and mobile applications using a graphical interface instead of programming. Essentially the end result is a coded website, but you create this code with a drag and drop like interface, using extensive configuration settings to customize your components. No-code environments can be used by both non-programmers and programmers, although the interface options will be far more familiar to the latter.
The most common example of this is WordPress. Although not completely code-free, it provides plugins and themes that you can play with to develop a website. WordPress is the most popular website platform on the internet, with an estimated 65% of all websites created using WordPress. This highlights the need for no-code solutions worldwide. WordPress has come a long way since its founding, with huge community support and major developments in its capabilities.
No-code development platforms have made strides since Microsoft’s Frontpage. They have become less bulky, more flexible and easier to use. This progression has leapfrogged in recent years with the addition of new players to the game; WebFlow, Bubble, Buildbox, to name a few. The increase in demand for websites has driven the need for quick turnaround web building solutions – no-code platforms tick all the boxes in this regard.
No-code platforms can be used to develop much more than websites. They can be used to develop mobile applications, conversational interfaces and even 3D games and virtual environments. To give you an idea of how broadly this form of development has been adopted, we will briefly go through some of the unique tools available for development:
Webflow – is a browser-based no-code platform. It allows users to create responsive designs which are then translated into HTML, JS & CSS. Websites built with Webflow are powered by Amazon Cloudfront and hosted on Fastly. Webflow has its own visual CMS for organising data and content. It’s free but has paid plans which include code exporting and white labelling their CMS.
Bubble – Is a ‘drag and drop’ visual editor for building mobile and web applications. It provides hosting and team collaboration on projects with powerful prototyping and scaling capabilities
Buildbox – is a no-code game development platform. It allows users to create 2d and 3d games without the use of code or scripts. Users have access to over 20,000 assets, animations and sound effects. As well as having editing and customization capabilities, it has monetisation features for developers who want to put their games on platforms such as Google play store
Voiceflow – This is a canvas-like platform that allows users to create conversational interfaces using drag and drop methods. It integrates with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and many other voice-based software solutions.
Why use it
Lack of developers
Developers are not only expensive but getting harder to come by. The need for websites, mobile applications and software solutions is growing at a greater pace than the availability of experienced developers. This level of demand has ushered in a need for quicker, less labour intensive and less developer reliant solutions.
The cost involved in developing a website or application can range from €500 to €50k+. You will not find many developers or agencies that will build a website for less than 5k, because the amount of hours and groundwork that needs to go into the basic structure, architecture, hosting, etc, brings the cost up significantly before you have a single visual element on your website. This can be an issue for small to medium-sized businesses, who need an online presence but don’t get the return on investment necessary to invest in a ‘built from scratch’ website. Here is where a no-code solution can be extremely useful. Although you may be limited by the functionality and uniqueness provided by developers and agencies, you can create a simple but effective solution for most businesses that just want to have an online presence.
Streamline pre-build processes
As previously mentioned, there are many groundwork processes that need to take place before building the front-end of a website. These tasks are repetitive and laborious. No-code solutions deal with this very well, allowing you to jump straight into the front-end development after some basic minor configurations.
Hosting / Deployment
No code and low code solutions often provide their own hosting solution, sometimes with one-click deployment functionality. Services like Webflow also provide free default live locations for websites that are a subdomain of Webflow itself, but you can add your own purchased domains and choose to deploy to them. This hosting comes standard with free SSL security and can be dynamically scaled based on the amount of traffic.
Speed of development
No code & low-code development is significantly faster than traditional programmatic development. This is largely due to common development tasks being streamlined. Tasks like layout, grid, security and authentication come almost out of the box. This drastically reduces the time needed to create a website.
Webflow in Action
Webflow designers have been pushing the platform’s capabilities by recreating current websites like the product page of Apple’s iPhone 12 and developing new websites that push the boundaries of what was previously thought possible with a no-code solution. Here are some of our favourite examples:
Pros & Cons of no-code/low-code development
The cost involved in creating a no-code website as against the traditional methods is significantly lower. This is particularly useful to small businesses that lack to budget to hire a developer or agency to develop a website from scratch.
- Low technical ability required:
Anyone can learn to use a no-code platform for development. Those who have a technical, development or design background will have a significant advantage but unlike traditional methods, it’s not limited to developers.
- Fast process:
It takes significantly less time to develop a website, game or application with no-code platforms. This is a great solution for companies who need new websites regularly for campaigns or product releases. Or, for companies who just need a quick solution to creating an online presence for their business.
- More inclusive:
The visual development style of no-code solutions means that a broader spectrum of the business can be involved in the development process as against traditional methods where only developers can look at code and understand what’s happening. This is a nice way to have designers, developers, marketers and stakeholders all on one, easy to understand development platform, keeping them involved in the process and providing a more visual understanding of the different stages of development.
- Learning curve:
Although learning to use a no-code solution is far easier than learning how to code, there is still a significant learning process.
- Leap of faith:
The most powerful and impressive no-code platforms are relatively new to the market. This means having a certain level of faith when taking the time and money to invest in creating your website, application of game within one of these platforms, as against the more traditional, tried and tested methods of development.
- Choosing the right platform:
With the increase in the need for no-code web development solutions, comes a triad of platforms offering their services. Although they may all come with powerful capabilities, it’s important to choose the one that has the capabilities and functionality needed to develop your project.
- Lack of community resources:
Community resources such as Stack overflow and forums are priceless resources to developers and designers. These resources are built and extended over time with older languages and platforms like Java and WordPress having over a decade of community contribution. Developing on newer platforms like Bubble and Webflow means you are more heavily relying on their own documentation, with limited community support.
- Paid features:
Although most of these platforms are free, there are of course paid models and features. If you want to get extended functionality, multiple projects or more resources, you most likely have to pay for them.
- Lack of extensive customisation and functionality:
One of the biggest issues with no-code and low-code platforms is their finite capabilities for functionality and customisation. Traditional development, although laborious, allows complete control over its components and can be used to create necessary custom solutions for some businesses that no-code platforms cannot.
- Fulfil certain needs but nowhere near all:
There will always be websites, applications and games that are so unique that a platform simply isn’t capable of developing it. The need for traditional methods will never disappear as real innovation heavily relies on the lack of constraints.
The most powerful no-code solutions are also relatively new. This means that they have not yet been widely adopted by other software. This can be frustrating as most websites rely on external integrations for some core business needs such as Hubspot, Mailchimp, Google Analytics, Recaptcha and many more. Although not all of these are currently supported, it is expected that they will be.
- Data manipulation:
Websites or applications that handle large and complex data tables may not be well suited to no-code solutions. Data is fickle and needs to be precisely read and written. Traditional methods, although difficult, provide a custom way of handling a business’s data, something that may be hard to find with no-code platforms.
- Bulky code:
Some platforms tend to add a lot of bulk functionality to websites. This is particularly apparent with purchased themes and off the shelf solutions. The heaviness of these code solutions can negatively impact performance and therefore Google ranking factor. Traditional coding methods will always be the most performative solutions as only what is needed is written. Custom written code is more process-driven, designed for a specific task; no-code solutions tend to have code with a variety of options, only one of which you may use.
Future of no code & low-code development
According to Gartner, 65% of application development will be low code by 2024.
Over time these platforms will improve, community involvement will increase and their functional capabilities will increase. The time and cost efficiency of no-code development will be the driving force in its adoption within the industry. No-code and low-code development will never replace traditional methods, nor were they intended to do so.
The increase in the need for websites and applications is the driving force of innovation in this sector. Businesses whose websites do not demand extensive functionality or complicated interaction will tend to move more towards no-code solutions. Companies that need unique and intricate websites and applications will always use traditional methods of development.
Software innovation and breakthrough web and application development will always be produced in traditional coding methods. This may lead to a divide in the way websites, applications and software is produced; with traditional methods being seen as overkill for most small business and PR related solutions, leaving the door open for no-code platforms to take this section of the market.
There are plenty of reasons to be excited by the drastic progress of no-code development platforms. The need for quick development options will always be there, especially with the increased importance of all businesses to have an online presence. The use of apps will continue to grow and people will still want new games to play. These demands would struggle to be met by traditional programming. Here is where no-code platforms will continue to grow, and perhaps we will see the development industry split between quick turnover no-code solutions & more complex traditionally programmed interfaces.
With Vidar’s broad experience with design and usability, he is responsible for strategising the use of digital design within Studio Vi.