What is the no-code movement?

And what it means for modern businesses and marketing teams.

John Moore Williams
"These tools are reducing the amount of time and coding expertise required to translate an idea into something people can use. You no longer need to become a programmer to build things on the internet, empowering a new wave of makers from different backgrounds and perspectives."

Ryan Hoover, founder of Product Hunt, in The Rise of “No Code”  

In the early 1970s, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak exhibited the first Apple II at the First West Coast Computer Faire in San Francisco. The Apple II boasted built-in BASIC programming language, color graphics, and a 4100-character memory for just $1298. Programs and data could be stored on an audio-cassette recorder (remember those?!). Before the end of the fair, Wozniak and Jobs had secured 300 orders for the Apple II and from there Apple just took off.

Tandy Radio Shack and IBM weren’t far behind, quickly producing their own consumer-targeted computers. 

What united all three machines, though, was their complete lack of a visual interface. Everything happened in the equivalent of the command line. That limited the new home computer’s utility to the technically savvy: people capable of using BASIC to write and execute their own home-rolled programs and share them with others. 

It wasn’t until 1984 that the true potential of the computer was unleashed, again by Apple, with the first iteration of the Macintosh. 

What set it apart? The graphical user interface (or GUI, for short). And a little thing we now call the mouse. 

Enter the visual interface

It’s probably wildly obvious why the visual interface (or GUI) changed everything, but just to make sure we’re all on the same page: 

It democratized the computer by lowering the knowledge barrier between the average person and daily use. Instead of having to code your own programs — or use those others shared, but still had to know how to install — you could suddenly just fire up your machine and start clicking. It didn’t completely remove the barrier to entry, of course. Digital literacy courses continue to run in schools all over the world, and they’re becoming increasingly valuable in the era of “fake news.” 

But it’s also radically easier to learn and use a computer when it’s all visual. You can click around and see what happens. 

In what amounts to a blink in a historical timeframe, the computer went from a specialist tool usable by only a fraction of the world to something literally anyone with vision and a modicum of manual dexterity could employ regularly. (This is not to downplay the significance of those remaining barriers to entry. They’re wildly important and something we’re still working on addressing properly.) 

If you’re at all familiar with Webflow, this might start to sound familiar. We’re essentially trying to move a text-based interface model to a visual (GUI) one. 

What does this have to do with the “no code” movement? 

The brief history lesson above was included to contextualize the no code movement, which essentially consists of a series of emergent tools that aim to transform typically code-based workflows and empower anyone to handle them, without writing code. Hence the name. 

If you ask many people in the worlds of design, startups, and tech, you’ll encounter some who are discomfited by the movement. That’s natural. Change is hard. 

But from a historical viewpoint, it’s just the latest iteration of what increasingly seems like a natural arc in the development of any technology. What begins with highly specialized toolkits and knowledge bases is gradually expanded, simplified, and designed to be simpler and more accessible. 

Just look at the history of printing and its business outgrowth, publishing. What began in pre-common-era China hit Europe in the late middle ages and radically transformed culture, making the transmission of knowledge dramatically easier than the manuscript model. But it still required expensive equipment and knowledge that required years of training to properly apply. As printing evolved, the equipment became increasingly simpler and more portable, with platen presses, phototypesetting, and eventually, desktop publishing. 

Fast forward to today, and literally anyone can write and publish a book, pop it on Amazon, and achieve worldwide exposure, with potential audiences in the billions

The business benefits of GUIs

Of course, technological development isn’t natural selection. Machines and software don’t evolve of their own accord. There’s always a business case behind such developments, and in the case of the arc toward GUIs, the business case is simple: 

The more people that can perform a task, the more efficiently and quickly it can be performed at scale. 

Today, web development is an incredibly specialized task requiring years of training, mastery of a broad set of tools and languages, and an ability to keep up with a technological landscape that changes literally daily. And marketing isn’t much different. The latter discipline has benefitted from a broader swath of no code tools, but the knowledge required to be effective in the space is still vast and ever-changing. Just think about how often Google changes how SEO works — often at a fundamental level. 

That’s why we set out to create this book. To help those looking to experience the benefits of no code for their own business, on both the web design and development and the marketing sides of the process. Later in the book, we’ll dig into how to succeed specifically with Webflow’s design and content management tools, but we’ve also aimed to make this book as broadly useful as possible. So even if you’re not ready to dive into Webflow, we think you’ll find value here. And if you don’t, we’d love to hear how we could do better! 

With all that out of the way, let’s talk about the benefits of the no code approach.