What happens when designing and building websites gets easier? (It’s never easy, but it’s definitely improved.) Better question: What happens when technologists don’t hold all the keys to the creation of the web anymore? That’s the question we’ve been asking since Webflow dropped onto the scene, giving designers their first real glimpse of freedom from hard-coded development via professional no-code tools. We think the answer is that more chairs are going to get pulled up to the digital table. And that writers and other authors should claim a whole mess of them.
I feel compelled to offer a quick primer on what no-code is, even as I know you all are perfectly capable of a good Google of the term. So, here goes:
No-code tools allow someone to create something professional looking and functioning on a screen – websites mostly, sometimes apps – without popping the hood and coding in the programming language that makes up the behind-the-scenes of any digital thing. It means you can work on what we call the “presentation layer” (where graphics, type and layout live) and not worry alot about what’s pulling the strings backstage. As you can imagine, this opens up a lot of possibility to people who aren’t developers to make digital things more quickly and with fewer dependencies. We built an entirely new process around this nearly seven years ago; one that has us mostly designing in the browser for maximum speed, testing potential and iterative ability. It gives designers a lot of control over what their work looks like and does. And it made design folk very happy.
But that was just the first wave.
Today, you’d be unlikely to create a site any other way, at least in part. (I’ll say it: If your agency or in-house crew are insisting in2020 that a flat PDF is all you’re going to get until the developers finish their work, or that you need to go back to them every time you need to add a headline or change body copy on your simple website, you should start shopping around.)
Now that design and creation of a site is easier, content becomes the hard part.
It was already the hard part, TBH. The number of proposals and RFPs I’ve seen that either downplay or entirely exclude time and effort on writing and images is criminal, and it’s opened the door to atrocities like content mills and sites with confusing copy that might look good, but doesn’t help users achieve their goals.
This is why no-code’s second wave belongs to writers, because with the visual design language defined, and the structure of a site more easily set, it’s really up to the storytellers to use their narrative powers – and powers of collaboration – to complete a brand’s vibe, to communicate the right information, to direct users down the right paths, to educate or delight, and on and on. In a way, it’s about asking designers to join arms more closely with storytellers to create the full picture from the start, while also as writers saying in someways ,“we got this,” once a visual aesthetic has been set and the building blocks of a site are defined. Both work, by the way, to create websites that aren’t lop-sided showcases of either pretty pictures or empty words.
So, here’s my pitch to creatives everywhere working on this site or that experience:
Designers: It’s time to scoot over and let someone else help drive for a bit. It’s time to think harder about not just what boxes we are putting on the page, but how intentional we can be in filling them. The writer across the room knows the information. The brand’s tone and verbal quirks. They feel the user experience in their gut. And they can shape the narrative like no-one’s business. They are your greatest ally in creating something amazing on that screen. Let them into your process and they will let you into theirs. I promise, you’re gonna make great stuff together.
And to the writers, it’s time to step up and own your 50% of the site experience. Get your work out of those word documents. You have your toolbox.You understand the flow and features of a good story. You get the nuance of one brand voice against another. You know a pithy headline means little if you don’t get a button click somewhere. So, cozy up to the nearest UX person and learn how a site is put together. Jump into a figma file with a designer and move stuff around. (Don’t worry; it saves revisions.) Read about content strategy and start building that three-dimensional map in your head. Get schooled about mindsets and persona creation, in journey mapping and the psychology of user flow. Do it now.
The next phase of the no-code movement is yours to write.