December 19, 2019
No-code platforms

No-code platforms promise the content creator that he/she does not need a designer or developer. We have seen very big players try this for many many years with mixed results. I am talking about Muse (from Adobe), Wix, Webflow, Squarespace and WordPress with all kinds of page builders.

No-code platforms for content creators

The things content creators create with these no-code platforms is often not very good from a developer and art director point of view. Theoretically a focussed theme with a completely fixed design and nearly unlimited options could work well when you sell it in large numbers, but this approach is very expensive, especially when you want something unique. WordPress themes like Avada try to hit that sweet spot between freedom (uniqueness) and fixed style, but they do not perform too well. And although some visual editors, like Gutenberg, strike this balance too, they are either quite limited or they have poor performance. For now a fixed and focussed theme in combination with a visual editor is the closest a content creator can get to creating something beautiful on a no-code platform. However, even in this optimal situation the end-result will be subpar in terms of design and code.

Gutenberg, for example, loads a 40kb blocking CSS in your WordPress website, while it can only create a handful of different blocks. That is twice the size of my complete homepage. Avada has much more options, but loads a 700kb(!) blocking CSS file. There is no need to explain why that is unacceptable. Note that these are just complaints from a technical point of view. We know what happens when content creators freely influence design: mediocrity or worse…

Nevertheless, we keep dreaming that there is some magic solution that gives content creators design and development powers. Why? Creating low quality stuff without designers and developers is an option, we get it… It is the reason the average webpage is 3MB and Comic Sans and Google AMP are popular. Now let’s move on!

No-code platforms for designers

I have my fair share of experience with no-code platforms for designers, as I have built Without Coding. This is a no-code platform where designers can build digital productions (like magazines and landing pages). The output is static HTML, so it is basically an static site generator (SSG). I found that no-code platforms work for designers that do not know how to (or want to) hand-off a final design. However, I have not met a lot of professional designers that actually want to build their own websites on a no-code platform. Most designer (only) want to do what they are really good at: design. They prefer to out-source the coding part over learning a (limited) no-code tool. I get it and I even think it is a smart choice from a business point of view. As a designer it is very valuable to know a good developer. So my advice to developers is: invest in relations with designers. It will pay off.

No-code platforms for developers

As designers rather have a developer build their websites, no-code platforms are more of a tool for (inexperienced) developers. I think Webflow could be just that. However, I think it might be smarter for developers to learn HTML and CSS then to learn how to work with Webflow, because in the end code will always beat no-code. To illustrate this, I have built a website in the browser during my talk at JekyllConf2019. It included version control (git), a bootswatch theme, a form builder and a CMS. I did the whole thing live in under 20 minutes. Can those development times be beaten with browser-based no-code tools (like Webflow)? I think not.

Conclusion

There is not really a good market fit for no-code platforms. Designers want to focus on designing. Developers are slower and produce worse results with no-code platforms. The only fit would be: content creators on do-it-yourself projects. However, we should not take those DIY projects too seriously. A gardner is not very concerned about people gardening ‘on their own’, so neither should we. We need to see these DIY projects in the right perspective. This (broadly shared) perspective defines a matured and professional field of work.

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