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Organizations are under more pressure than ever to build apps faster and in greater number, a feat difficult to achieve with traditional development methodologies. To expedite app delivery, many are turning to no-code development, especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, how do you successfully build an app without code?
Well, an increasing number of vendors now offer no-code development tools, which have grown more feature-rich in recent years. This makes no-code application development a more attractive option for a wider range of businesses.
The no-code industry is still a relatively young one, however. It can be difficult to know which platform to choose and how to approach no-code development.
Popular no-code app building tools
Numerous vendors offer no-code tools that enable organizations to build apps without having to rely on experienced developers. Most of these tools focus on creating mobile apps or websites, although this is not an absolute. No-code platforms vary significantly in terms of the features they support and types of apps users can build. With growing interest in no-code development, these platforms will likely only get better.
The following list provides a brief description of eight popular, yet diverse, no-code platforms, offering a good cross-section of the types of tools out there:
- Airtable. A cross between a database platform and beefed-up spreadsheet program that enables users to create front-end views for a wide range of use cases. Airtable provides an extensive library of templates as well as a comprehensive API for integrating with third-party products and services such as Dropbox, Facebook, Slack and Zendesk.
- Bubble. Platform for designing, developing and running web applications that users can access from desktop or mobile web browsers. Non-coders can use intuitive drag-and-drop operations to build prototypes or production-ready web apps that contain dynamic content, without having to manage code or infrastructure.
- Carrd. Simple-to-use tool for building responsive one-page sites such as landing pages or personal profiles. User sites can include forms, custom code or widgets from third-party services such as PayPal or Stripe. They can also interface with Google Analytics and publish their sites to any custom domain, with full SSL support.
- Mailchimp. Platform for launching marketing campaigns and building websites that can include forms and surveys. Mailchimp provides an assortment of tools for collecting data, personalizing content, building an audience and turning audience data into insights for driving campaigns. Users can also enable push notifications to receive campaign and audience updates.
- Thunkable. Development platform that enables customers to build web plus native Android and iOS apps, and deploy them to the Apple and Google app stores. Users can create all three types of apps in a single project, using drag-and-drop operations to incorporate advanced features, such as motion and smooth transitions.
- Voiceflow. Platform for designing, prototyping and launching voice apps for Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, as well as for other conversation channels, including chatbots and interactive voice response. Voiceflow also provides advanced prototyping capabilities that support multiple testing scenarios.
- Webflow. For building and launching custom websites that include immersive interactions and animations. AWS hosts the sites, providing high availability and scalability. Users can also build custom databases for dynamic content types, and create and launch marketing campaigns.
- Zapier. Online tool for connecting apps and services together in order to automate workflows and exchange information between apps. Zapier automates repetitive tasks based on user-defined triggers and actions, without needing developers to write code or build integrations. It can integrate with more than 3,000 apps.
There are many other no-code development platforms on the market, offering a wide range of features and services. They include Adalo, Appery, Glide, Gumroad, Makerpad, Parabola, Scapic and Typeform, to name a few. In addition, large cloud vendors also offer their own versions of no-code services, such as Google Sites and Microsoft Power Apps. As no-code development continues to grow in popularity, these platforms will become more flexible and powerful.
Tips for succeeding at no-code development
An effective no-code development tool makes the process of building and deploying apps as painless as possible, abstracting the actual code and logic behind a user-friendly interface that supports intuitive drag-and-drop operations. The platform performs all the heavy lifting behind the scenes, freeing up the citizen developer to focus on the apps themselves and meeting customer requirements.
An organization that's adopting a no-code strategy should consider the following nine tips when determining how to build an app without code:
- Pick the right platform. Choose a platform that offer a full no-code experience, with an interface that's easy to navigate and has the ability to add advanced features through drag-and-drop operations. It should also be scalable enough to meet future needs and, if it hosts your applications, deliver the needed performance and reliability. In addition, the platform should support workflow automation and include built-in integrations or APIs for interfacing with third-party tools.
- Identify goals and objectives. Before you start building an app, understand why you're building it and what business value it will provide. The goal is to have a clear vision of the app's purpose from the onset. Take the time to understand what challenges the app is trying to address and how it can meet those challenges. Also, understand how the app fits into your larger organizational goals and objectives so you have a big-picture view of its role in your organization.
- Consider the operational environment. Even if you're moving to a no-code platform, you must still take into account the larger environment in which that platform will operate. Consider the impact on IT and development teams, and plan how the new platform might need to integrate with their operations. Some apps may also need developers to create custom code or build supporting systems. Collaboration between all stakeholders is essential to successful application deployment, no matter how self-contained the no-code platform.
- Put users first. Your customers should be at the forefront of your thinking when choosing a platform, designing apps, building and testing the apps, and deploying them into production. Creating apps that customers don't want or refuse to use wastes everyone's time. Know who your users are, what they need and what they have to say. Their feedback is essential to effective app development.
- Start small and keep it simple. When moving to a no-code platform, it can be tempting to build complex apps that try to address multiple problems or target large sets of users. It might also be tempting to add features that users don't need, especially if the platform makes it easy to integrate advanced capabilities. In most cases, it's better to narrow your focus, starting with small efforts and simple apps for a targeted set of users. After you've become familiar with the platform, you should still let simplicity be your guiding principle.
- Think agile. No-code is well-suited to an agile software development approach because apps can quickly be updated and deployed, making it easier to respond to changing business requirements and customer needs. Even if your organization hasn't formalized its development efforts around agile methodologies, you should still adopt an agile mindset. For example, deploy updates in smaller chunks and with more frequency, emphasizing continuous delivery rather than one-time hand-offs.
- Prioritize security and compliance. Even if you're using a no-code platform, you must still ensure your apps don't put sensitive data at risk. This is especially important because the people building the apps might not be familiar with security and compliance best practices. If necessary, they should be educated in how to safeguard data and protect sensitive information. Professionals trained in security and compliance vetted the apps, and you should take full advantage of the protection mechanisms built into the development platform, such as encryption and rights management.
- Test and retest. Although all the coding is done behind the scenes, no-code-developed apps must still be thoroughly tested before they're released to end users -- whether it's the initial rollout or subsequent releases. An inferior product frustrates users, increases support costs and tarnishes reputations. Test apps for both functionality and security, and address all issues before customers get their hands on them.
- Get the right citizen developers. The idea of the citizen developer is a big selling point for no-code platforms, but this doesn't mean everyone should be an app builder. These platforms are best suited to those who understand the business context in which the apps will be deployed. Even then, these individuals should be properly trained in how to use the platform, deploy applications, solicit user feedback, protect data and interact with other teams, such as development and IT.
Not every organization can benefit from no-code tools, but those that can take advantage of them have much to gain -- whether building apps for internal business users or external customers. When a no-code platform is used carefully and to its fullest capabilities, businesses can save time and money while being able to deploy more apps at a faster rate. Many vendors now offer no-code tools, and those tools continue to mature and grow, providing more options than ever for organizations ready to take the no-code plunge.