When I first started coding (many years ago), we were using notepad to build our indexes and stylesheets – talk about a throwback. Over the past decade, there’s been an explosion of technology, development languages and platforms that have created some of modern societies' most successful tech companies. Companies that have had an extraordinary impacton the human experience. But with this impact, technology has become a boomingresource sector – one that requires constant input of talented coders andtechnologists, and this has made resourcing expensive.
So where does this leave everyday people with an idea?
Building a gold standard digital product has become a 6-7 figure endeavour for everyday people and start-ups. Without a huge investment (either personal or raising funds), developing a competitive digital product is out of reach for most people. But that’s the problem the #nocode movement is aiming to solve.
For more simple digital products and services there’s always been options – WordPress, Squarespace, WIX etc. Platforms made to service individual digital requirements whether they be blogs, online businesses, or ecommerce sites. Take the beloved WordPress for example – at one point you needed a “WordPress Developer” or someone familiar with PHP to build an engaging site on the platform. We’ve now seen this requirement removed through the evolution of WordPress frameworks, plugins like Elementor, Oxygen, Divi and more. All aimed at making coding possible for anyone by providing avisual way to code – drag and drop and click to type are just some of the features that enable just about anyone to build their own site.
Since the beginning of 2020, I decided to look at my own preferred tech-stack and look at ways to simplify and provide more services to local businesses trying to navigate their way through the social and economic impact of the pandemic. I’d always avoided no-code platforms because I preferred coding from scratch, but I was honestly quite impressed with what I was seeing. No code platforms have really come a long way in providing a solid foundation for complex digital products – I feel there are now true competitors for both sides of the digital spectrum (from simple sites all the way up to complex apps). They’re not perfect and have limitations, but not big enough that would hold back taking an idea and transforming it into a legitimate digital product.
I should flag that whilst these no code platforms can be learnt by anyone, I still believe you need to have a fundamental understanding of programming and digital development to build a cohesive, responsive, and secure product. They may be no-code, but trained developers are flocking to them because of the time and cost they save.
Across the digital product spectrum, there’s two platforms that really stood out to me – these are totally personal preference (and what I build for clients here at TOFU Agency).
For Websites, Blogs & eCommerce - Webflow.
Webflow gives you complete design flexibility. With WordPress (and related frameworks, plugins etc.), you are limited to a responsive grid set by the overarching template or framework. I honestly love building on Webflow because you feellike anything is possible. And whilst the UI can be a tad jarring at first,most developers will pick it quickly.
On top of the design flexibility, you also get better speed, performance and rendering on Webflow (in my opinion). Sleek animated experiences are also a breeze compared to having to do them from scratch. You can learn all of this through Webflow University which is a learning resource provided by the platform.
But the real kicker? The CMS. It’s come a long way and is improving with each update, but the ease of publishing CMS items is quick and hassle-free. There’s also the ability to share your site workspace with clients making it easy for them to log in and publish updates themselves.
However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. One downside is hosting on the platform. It can be a tad costly to host through Webflow (now approx. $20USD for a CMS site). This may be too much for some people, but I think with the development time saved through Webflow, it’s an acceptable cost.
- Great level of design customisation and flexibility
- Good speed, performance, and rendering
- Learning resources available
- Easy to use CMS
- Not the easiest UI to learn
- More expensive hosting
For products, web apps and SaaS – Bubble.
The one no-code application I’m truly in love with is Bubble. There’s something in Bubble that for me as “old-school” developer aligns to how my brain flows. Perhaps it’s the conditional workflows that align to my thinking process, I’m not sure (but I’ll update you once I figure it out).
Founded by Emmanuel Straschnov and Josh Haas, theplatform generates code underneath a visual design, so you don’t have to code yourself. Bubble is more focused on building complex products like apps, marketplaces, SaaS etc. There’s a really great vision behind Bubble which is that we need to separate programming from coding.
Coming into bubble, you should know a little about programming (that being, how things work in a digital product. A very simple example of this is when you’re in Instagram and hit “post” button you know that it’s programmed to post your content). The coding all happens behind the scenes.
I really enjoy programming on Bubble – the visual builder is great, and they’ve recently upgraded their response design engine (the old engine honestly sent me into the corner for time-out breathing exercises many times). The platform is also incredibly powerful in what it can do. I believe most ideas can be brought to life on Bubble.
The programming conditions in Bubble allow you to make complex workflows possible in just a few clicks. And if you need something even more complex, such as back-end workflows and integrating APIs, that’s also pretty straight forward. Pricing is affordable at lower levels and scales up but with the right product, it shouldn’t be burning a big hole in your pocket.
One of the major downsides of Bubble is that you cannot export your code outside of the platform. Whilst you can export as JSON, raw code is not possible. This might not work for someone who wants full control of their code in the future. Another issue is versioning. Backups are tied to paid plans, so the lower end plans only provide a short period of time for you to be able to restore to a previous version.
I think Bubble is an incredible offering. But as a realist, if your idea, app, or product blows up (in the good way), I’d say with proper investment you’d be re-building your app with an internal team of developers in more traditional languages (e.g. React) to allow you to scale at your own pace and with complete control.
- Great visual designer
- New responsiveengine is much easier to use
- Workflows are quick and easy
- Ability to integrate APIs easily
- Quick way to get an idea to MVP stage
- Can’t export your app
- Backups are tied to paid plans
- Steep learning curve if you’re totally fresh to programming