Build Apps with No Code

Most of the articles I (plan to) write are designed to be interesting and useful to people for whom tech exists to help them in their work and play, but it isn’t their job or hobby. I cover those tips, tricks and tools that often remain undiscovered, but are actually very easy to incorporate to inject a bit of fun or improve productivity. Today I’m going to take a slightly deeper dive for the more adventurous amongst you…

I’m going to introduce you to programming (without code) so that you can build your own web or mobile app!

So let’s start by clarifying the distinction between programming and coding. For our purposes, programming can be understood as the creation of a set of instructions. It’s true that in the past it was necessary to write code to tell a computer what those instructions were — but that is no longer the case. You can now create a fully functioning app (application/program) without writing a single line of code (and this is called Visual Programming).

My favourite tool for this is Bubble.is — and I highly recommend you try it out and grab yourself a free account. It’s a great tool that is constantly being improved, with a strong and helpful support community.

You might be wondering how this all works, and why you should even care (I’ll answer the ‘why’ in a moment). To answer the ‘how’…

With visual programming you simply drag and drop Elements (buttons, input boxes, etc) onto a page (just like you would in PowerPoint). In plain English, you then define what happens when ‘events’ take place. For example:

When Button ‘Click Me’ is Clicked, display Alert ‘Hello’

The Button and the Alert are ‘elements’ and the Event is the user clicking the button. The Event triggers a Workflow (one or more actions). I built this simple app so you can see what the page with the Elements looks like:

Bubble.is Visual Editor

And this is what the Workflow looks like:

Bubble.is Workflow

Try it out for yourself. Pretty simple, eh?

Now, whilst that is very simple (and not very useful), building something more complex works on exactly the same principles — you just keep adding more elements and workflows. The hard part is thinking through what you want to happen in a logic manner.

You might still be wondering why you should care. Well, if you’re anything like me, it’s kinda fun building your own stuff. But, on a more practical level, with a bit of practice you can ‘scratch your own itch’. It’s very satisfying to be able to quickly build solutions to your own problems.

One personal example was building a To Do app that worked the way I wanted it to… that meant enforcing good habits (such as keeping lists short and prioritising the important), having a ‘distraction free’ mode (to hide things I wasn’t working on right now), and being able to handle interruptions. I also wanted a Pomodoro timer to help overcome procrastination and enforce focussed bursts of productivity. The result was Priority 2 Do which is available on the Chrome Web Store…

Another reason why visual programming is really useful is because business people (who are not coders) can now rapidly and inexpensively build prototypes of products to get feedback from potential users. Gone are the days where you need to spend months and a fortune paying developers to create software only to find that no-one wants it or it needs to be completely redesigned. This is one of the principles of Lean Startup — something close to my heart and that I’m very actively involved with.

The video below shows a prototype I created for a Real Estate VR solution.

I hope I’ve been able to dispel any fears you might have had about programming and whet your appetite to give it a go yourself.

If you have any questions or ideas for apps — or even want to share something you’ve built yourself, please pop them in the comments below.


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