November last year, I experienced a productivity miracle.
I found a way to build websites four times quicker. Literally. A website that would have taken a month now took a week.
And the quality improved too. The HTML (code) was cleaner. It didn't feel like we were accumulating technical debt.
Now, I’ve spent the last 15 years making websites. I founded an award-winning agency. I launched a successful startup or two. Damn, I thought I knew about websites! This just blew my socks off.
You might be asking, how did I get 400% more productive?
It's a lesson which many charities can apply in their own organisation. It needs relatively little skills, experience and technical expertise, and it can produce great results.
The power of NoCode
I started using a website building tool called Webflow.
Webflow is like Wix or SquareSpace. But it’s similar only in the way that an iPhone is like a Palm Pilot. It is roughly the same thing but the quality is so much better that it becomes a fundamentally different class of product.
Webflow is part of a new generation of NoCode tools that blow their old counterparts out of the water. Other examples showing the same difference in quality are Airtable (turbo-charged spreadsheets), Bubble (app builder for anyone) and Zapier (connects software together). Collectively they go by the name NoCode. The boundaries of what is NoCode are a bit fuzzy but at the core they are something exciting.
Andrew Wilkinson, the owner of Dribble and MetaLab and all round web superstar, had a similar experience.
Why is NoCode so much quicker?
My role is really a product manager. I can’t design. I can’t code. (In case you are wondering what I can do… I come up with ideas for websites, test them and shepherd them into existence).
Let’s use Webflow as an example of how NoCode speeds things up. Prior to Webflow my process for designing a new section of a website was:
- Sketch up some ideas on paper or PowerPoint. Send them to the designer. (Half a day.)
- Discuss these roughs with a designer. She creates a handful of versions. Further discussion and sign off. (One day, spread over a week.)
- Front-end developer builds the system in HTML/CSS. (One day, scheduled into the next fortnightly sprint.)
- Designer offers feedback on the developer’s implementation. Go round the houses a few time. (Three days.)
Total project length: one month
This is assuming everything goes well, everyone is available, and there are no miscommunications (meaning we go round the houses). To be clear this is only five days work, but once three people are involved, it ends up taking a month to get it through the system.
With Webflow, my process is something like:
- Gather the content and sketch some ideas. (1 day.)
- Create the section of the website. (Half a day.)
I can do it all myself, as Webflow is easier than Photoshop or HTML (neither of which have I ever properly mastered).
Webflow sites in action
Since discovering NoCode I have been super productive. Together with my collaborator Noam, and more recently Will, we’ve built three websites for Catalyst:
- Catalyst - this one has been through a handful of significant iterations.
- Dovetail - this one uses Zapier and Airtable too.
- Digital Candle - introducing over 200 charities to volunteer experts.
Two websites for Refugee Action:
We also built a website for our new agency, Sidelabs.org. And a site for my local kids football club.
This is all despite being slightly derailed by home ‘schooling’ (inverted comma very much needed) my kids for a couple of months.
The true value of NoCode
The biggest benefit of Webflow and other NoCode tools isn’t the time saved. Nor is it the money saved.
It’s how it helps your digital services become more user centred.
Everyone in website-land says that you need to test, learn and measure. They all say you need to iterate. They all say that your assumptions about user behaviour will be wrong; you have to build a prototype quickly and start learning how users respond.
But in practice, it is damn expensive to build a half-decent website. When it finally launches everyone collapses. Budget exhausted. Enthusiasm exhausted. Ambitions of iterating are quietly forgotten.
With NoCode, you save so much time that the dream of iterative development becomes a reality. Instead of wrangling CSS and scheduling team members, you can use your time doing the really valuable things: getting under the skin of your users’ motivations and crafting words and flows that respond to their needs. These are tasks have a chance of nudging the world in a better direction. This is real progress.
Is NoCode for everyone?
Again, Andrew Wilkinson puts it well.
In short, unless you are doing something that has considerable technological complexity then NoCode could be brilliant for you. If you are about to start on a website development project, ask your agency to consider the NoCode option. (Or talk to a NoCode specialist.)
Psst! At SIDE we are starting a NoCode apprenticeship scheme, particularly targetted at getting diverse talents into the sector. If you know anyone who might be interested, please pass it their way.
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