December 2020

We’re all developers now: the no-code ‘revolution’ and why you should care

As a twelve year old, when my peers were outside climbing trees, I was inside building computers with my dad and learning how to program Visual Basic. The impact was two-fold: I now work in technology and I’m rubbish at climbing trees. I loved how easy VB was to learn and use. You could visually arrange elements on the screen, dragging text boxes and buttons into place and specifying actions for them before you wrote a single line of code. When you got you to code, though, the learning curve was steep. In frustration, I gave up after my second attempt at building an unplayable 2D game (called Variwars, cool right?)

That’s why I’m excited by the new generation of no-code platforms which let you create stuff without prior coding knowledge. The promise is immense: the democratisation of software creation. But does it live up to the promise?

The no-code ‘revolution’

My experience contributes to some healthy cynicism about the buzz and hyperbole: is this really a ‘revolution’, or even something new? I’d argue it’s the logical progression from my 1990s bedroom (with fewer FHM posters on the wall). The no-code movement is the latest way to abstract software away from code, making software easier to make. The conditions are right for this latest generation of tools to flourish: browsers are powerful, connectivity is fast, cloud is cheap, everything has an API. Without all these things no-code couldn't take off.

As a result, the last two years has seen a proliferation of no-code (and ‘low-code’) tools all aimed at the non-programming masses. They’re more mature, easier to use, and you can do more with them. No-code platforms are no longer toys for hobbyists but are capable of solving real problems for people and businesses. For the first time, no-code works.

What is no-code?

No-code is about solving a problem and the end result can take many forms - apps, websites, voice, e-commerce or automation. No-code platforms tend to be web-based tools with a few things in common:

  • A visual editor which allows for easy layout of interfaces, components and actions through methods such as drag-and-drop
  • Templates for common layouts, use cases or flows to accelerate getting going
  • Easy deployment and hosting, with automated build processes
  • A self-contained frontend and backend, or at least easy-to use APIs and integrations to connect with the outside world
  • Community support, supplying advice, answers, templates, tutorials and courses

Over the past few years there’s been an explosion of no-code services:

Why the excitement?

Over the last few months at Loomery we’ve embraced the latest generation of no-code platforms. We’ve seen their promise - and their limitations - and we’re excited for three reasons:

1. Shipping ‘version 1’ of a product in weeks

No-code platforms accelerate product creation, so you can ship stuff quicker. That means you learn sooner and value is released faster (which I explored in my last article: Shipping is the beginning, not the end). Prototyping and product validation become incredibly easy and therefore the cost of failing drops dramatically. In the longer term, this will lower the barrier of entry in new and existing markets, increasing competition and encouraging further innovation.

We see it as inevitable that technology consultancies like Loomery will increasingly adopt no-code and low-code tools as part of a hybrid approach to software development, radically shortening the time to launch for clients. We built v1 of a community app for NorthEdge in just two weeks, using the no-code app platform Adalo. There was no need to prototype in design when we could build the real thing that quickly.

2. We all become creators

New tools mean everyone can create simple apps, websites and automation without coding knowledge, putting the ability to make things and solve problems in everyone’s hands. Figuring out these tools is faster than figuring out programming. Whereas learning code takes months or years, learning no-code tooling takes days or weeks. This is hugely exciting for start-ups and scale-ups who need to build and test ideas at low cost.

Whilst it would have needed a small technical team to launch a digital-first clothing brand in the past, our friends at Coconut Residence built their online presence on Shopify, with no coding experience, in a matter of days.

3. The use cases are growing

Historically no-code platforms have been pretty narrow in what they could provide. That’s changing. The platforms tend to integrate with each other, meaning you can tackle increasingly complex business workflows. Shopify, Webflow and others have created app stores and developer platforms, in turn fostering communities catering for new and interesting use cases. Many of the platforms even let you inject code (becoming low-code rather than no-code) when you need to go custom.

Beyond the Loomery website, built in 48 hours in Webflow, we run our new business pipeline, financial forecast and customer directory on Airtable. We’re playing with Zapier, a service that uses if-then logic to let one online app trigger another, for our operations too.

What’s not to love?

Of course, no-code doesn’t solve every problem and isn’t always the answer. There are several challenges for companies looking to adopt no-code tooling, including:

1. Limits to functionality

No-code tools are great for creating simple products and services: displaying stuff, organising content, and connecting data together. Despite recent advances, they’re not suitable for more complex use cases, where coding something custom continues to make more sense. In our work creating a New Students’ Guide for The University of Exeter, on top of no-code backend Contentful we built a custom React frontend to meet nuanced needs around filtering and dynamic content.

2. Challenges scaling within and beyond the platforms

Given most platforms are self-hosted, there’s a scalability challenge, which rules no-code platforms out for mission critical products or those with very large audiences. Another limitation is platform dependency. As Anne-Laure Le Cunff from MakerMag points out, “you are at the whim of the companies providing these no-code products, many of them are fast-moving startups themselves. Should they decide to change the way their solution works, or their pricing, or to be acquired or shut down, you may have to change the fundamental structure of how your product works.”

3. Compromises to the user experience

By their very nature, templates and patterns lead the layout and user experience down a predefined path, which may not be precisely how you’d choose to design something bespoke. Plus, in taking a ‘one size fits all approach’, the platforms output products which aren’t always optimised for speed and performance, areas which you have limited visibility or control over.

So, in the future there’s no code!?

Certainly the no-code community would have you think so! At Loomery we’re excited by any shift in the way people interact with technology. We love the latest generation of no-code tools because they will inevitably speed up innovation, empower a whole new set of people to make stuff, and let businesses do more for less. Twelve year old Tim would have been thrilled. There are challenges, of course, but these limitations are shrinking as the tools mature.

That said, code is going nowhere fast. We’ll always need to build some things bespoke. The best furniture is still hand-made, even if flatpack is pretty good for most people. In fact, that’s perhaps what’s most exciting: no-code adoption frees people up to focus on the higher value things whether that’s online or offline. And, ultimately, that’s better for everyone.

To find out more about how no-code and low-code development can help your business, get in touch.

As a twelve year old, when my peers were outside climbing trees, I was inside building computers with my dad and learning how to program Visual Basic. The impact was two-fold: I now work in technology and I’m rubbish at climbing trees. I loved how easy VB was to learn and use. You could visually arrange elements on the screen, dragging text boxes and buttons into place and specifying actions for them before you wrote a single line of code. When you got you to code, though, the learning curve was steep. In frustration, I gave up after my second attempt at building an unplayable 2D game (called Variwars, cool right?)

That’s why I’m excited by the new generation of no-code platforms which let you create stuff without prior coding knowledge. The promise is immense: the democratisation of software creation. But does it live up to the promise?

The no-code ‘revolution’

My experience contributes to some healthy cynicism about the buzz and hyperbole: is this really a ‘revolution’, or even something new? I’d argue it’s the logical progression from my 1990s bedroom (with fewer FHM posters on the wall). The no-code movement is the latest way to abstract software away from code, making software easier to make. The conditions are right for this latest generation of tools to flourish: browsers are powerful, connectivity is fast, cloud is cheap, everything has an API. Without all these things no-code couldn't take off.

As a result, the last two years has seen a proliferation of no-code (and ‘low-code’) tools all aimed at the non-programming masses. They’re more mature, easier to use, and you can do more with them. No-code platforms are no longer toys for hobbyists but are capable of solving real problems for people and businesses. For the first time, no-code works.

What is no-code?

No-code is about solving a problem and the end result can take many forms - apps, websites, voice, e-commerce or automation. No-code platforms tend to be web-based tools with a few things in common:

  • A visual editor which allows for easy layout of interfaces, components and actions through methods such as drag-and-drop
  • Templates for common layouts, use cases or flows to accelerate getting going
  • Easy deployment and hosting, with automated build processes
  • A self-contained frontend and backend, or at least easy-to use APIs and integrations to connect with the outside world
  • Community support, supplying advice, answers, templates, tutorials and courses

Over the past few years there’s been an explosion of no-code services:

Why the excitement?

Over the last few months at Loomery we’ve embraced the latest generation of no-code platforms. We’ve seen their promise - and their limitations - and we’re excited for three reasons:

1. Shipping ‘version 1’ of a product in weeks

No-code platforms accelerate product creation, so you can ship stuff quicker. That means you learn sooner and value is released faster (which I explored in my last article: Shipping is the beginning, not the end). Prototyping and product validation become incredibly easy and therefore the cost of failing drops dramatically. In the longer term, this will lower the barrier of entry in new and existing markets, increasing competition and encouraging further innovation.

We see it as inevitable that technology consultancies like Loomery will increasingly adopt no-code and low-code tools as part of a hybrid approach to software development, radically shortening the time to launch for clients. We built v1 of a community app for NorthEdge in just two weeks, using the no-code app platform Adalo. There was no need to prototype in design when we could build the real thing that quickly.

2. We all become creators

New tools mean everyone can create simple apps, websites and automation without coding knowledge, putting the ability to make things and solve problems in everyone’s hands. Figuring out these tools is faster than figuring out programming. Whereas learning code takes months or years, learning no-code tooling takes days or weeks. This is hugely exciting for start-ups and scale-ups who need to build and test ideas at low cost.

Whilst it would have needed a small technical team to launch a digital-first clothing brand in the past, our friends at Coconut Residence built their online presence on Shopify, with no coding experience, in a matter of days.

3. The use cases are growing

Historically no-code platforms have been pretty narrow in what they could provide. That’s changing. The platforms tend to integrate with each other, meaning you can tackle increasingly complex business workflows. Shopify, Webflow and others have created app stores and developer platforms, in turn fostering communities catering for new and interesting use cases. Many of the platforms even let you inject code (becoming low-code rather than no-code) when you need to go custom.

Beyond the Loomery website, built in 48 hours in Webflow, we run our new business pipeline, financial forecast and customer directory on Airtable. We’re playing with Zapier, a service that uses if-then logic to let one online app trigger another, for our operations too.

What’s not to love?

Of course, no-code doesn’t solve every problem and isn’t always the answer. There are several challenges for companies looking to adopt no-code tooling, including:

1. Limits to functionality

No-code tools are great for creating simple products and services: displaying stuff, organising content, and connecting data together. Despite recent advances, they’re not suitable for more complex use cases, where coding something custom continues to make more sense. In our work creating a New Students’ Guide for The University of Exeter, on top of no-code backend Contentful we built a custom React frontend to meet nuanced needs around filtering and dynamic content.

2. Challenges scaling within and beyond the platforms

Given most platforms are self-hosted, there’s a scalability challenge, which rules no-code platforms out for mission critical products or those with very large audiences. Another limitation is platform dependency. As Anne-Laure Le Cunff from MakerMag points out, “you are at the whim of the companies providing these no-code products, many of them are fast-moving startups themselves. Should they decide to change the way their solution works, or their pricing, or to be acquired or shut down, you may have to change the fundamental structure of how your product works.”

3. Compromises to the user experience

By their very nature, templates and patterns lead the layout and user experience down a predefined path, which may not be precisely how you’d choose to design something bespoke. Plus, in taking a ‘one size fits all approach’, the platforms output products which aren’t always optimised for speed and performance, areas which you have limited visibility or control over.

So, in the future there’s no code!?

Certainly the no-code community would have you think so! At Loomery we’re excited by any shift in the way people interact with technology. We love the latest generation of no-code tools because they will inevitably speed up innovation, empower a whole new set of people to make stuff, and let businesses do more for less. Twelve year old Tim would have been thrilled. There are challenges, of course, but these limitations are shrinking as the tools mature.

That said, code is going nowhere fast. We’ll always need to build some things bespoke. The best furniture is still hand-made, even if flatpack is pretty good for most people. In fact, that’s perhaps what’s most exciting: no-code adoption frees people up to focus on the higher value things whether that’s online or offline. And, ultimately, that’s better for everyone.

To find out more about how no-code and low-code development can help your business, get in touch.

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