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Low & No-code tools. Friend or foe?

Lately, there has been more and more noise about low-code and no-code platforms. As the flexibility and intelligence of these platforms evolves, the possibilities of their application in product development projects also evolves, allowing us to tackle ever-increasingly complex solutions.

The emergence of these platforms also brings with it a perceived fear from the boots-on-the-ground developers. How can what they do be bottled up and served up so anyone can do it? How clean is the code that is created by these tools? and the list of questions and holes to try and poke in these tools goes on, and on, and on.

But are these fears justified? In my opinion no, because they are largely defined by a mindset which is the real hurdle to get over. As a designer, I can look back at a fairly long journey that has been shaped by a constant stream of applications and tools that impact how you work and, at times, are seen as a threat that may take away the need for non-designers to use us “designers” to get design tasks done.

Machines can’t replace me!

This type of attitude is where the problem lies. It's how a lot of people (and in my experience most developers) think. Things are binary, black and white, good or bad, you’re either with me or against me. It's the protective nature built into all of us, a need for self-preservation, the need to justify existence.

But that's not how the world works. We didn’t get to where we are as a planet by everything remaining in status quo. The planet, and everything on it, has evolved and adapted with new discoveries and learnings. That's true for each and every one of us, regardless of our skills or job.

There is always a human touch

To a large degree, developers can be viewed much like artists. It's a comparison that is easier made with designers because a lot of the outcomes are the same, creative and visual. Our work is experienced very tangibly at the point of interface with a viewer in the same way that a painting or sculpture is right in front of you, and you react (good or bad) to it. Development is far more behind the scenes, mechanical nuts and bolts, machinery under the skin, and, as a result, unseen. But is it really so different? I’d argue no. There are still new mediums to play with, fresh new canvases to play with, and new outcomes to explore. How a developer (creatively) pieces together all these elements to create new outcomes is where the artistry in development lives, and as long as there is “artistic” creativity to anything, there is always the need for human input.

So where does low/no-code fit?

As a product designer, I use tools and applications every day in my workflows that I could argue are “taking away my job”. There are so many aspects of a product design job that need to be covered off. Concepting and prototyping ideas, crafting a design system, creating identities and branding, formatting assets for a variety of outputs, animating microinteractions, producing assets for varieties of screen sizes and outputs… and the list goes on. But that's not the client's focus. They’re seeking you out for your unique creativity, your ability to unpack the problem and repackage it all up in a more effective way. Their focus is not the “production” involved and, although agencies and larger design teams can slice and dice these tasks across a team ranging in experience and skills, a client doesn't attribute the creativity they are seeking to a broad (expensive) team.

Working as an individual, you ultimately end up breaking down a job into something like 25/75% split (if you’re lucky) with the 25% being the creative piece that the client feels they are paying 100% for. More importantly, that's the piece that NEEDS a human. That’s where leveraging any or all tools that take on the mundane and time-consuming aspects of production DOESN’T replace your role. It simply allows you to focus time and effort towards the more directly personal and human aspects of these projects to create better results and give people more of what they are paying for.

If we look at development, the same applies. I am, as a client, asking for a large bigger picture puzzle to be solved, and in this day and age, it's more likely to revolve around some special aspect OF the product idea that makes it different and valuable. So that gem of thought on how to use technology is where our effort should be focused. Why take up that valuable time with rinsing and repeating the same nuts and bolts aspects of products? The same technical flows built over and over again, the same integrations into different services and tools done the same way 95% of the time, the same foundational setup of components and styles that you’ve done on a plethora of projects over a career. We’re past the time when every new product is a wildly new, ground-up idea. So an ever-increasing amount of coding “challenges” we see project to project have, in reality, all been done an infinite number of times before.

Use low and no-code to cultivate your uniquely human intuitions

In conclusion, it is my hope that these tools are embraced by developers, and the result is an ever-increasing divergence of design and development that allows creativity and innovation to flow far more freely.

As a creative individual working in product and software development, but with a background in marketing and advertising, I often refer back to the Art Director/Copywriter teams from that world as a model that I want to replicate. Two different approaches and viewpoints are being brought together in a pairing that respects each other's strengths, and understands that together the outcomes are tenfold in their effectiveness. For those in the product building world, this pairing is the Product Designer and the Developer, and it's not the skills difference that makes that work, it's the combination of the different approaches to problem solving that creates more value.

These intuitions and blending of human brainpower working together cannot be fully replaced by code or machines (yet 😜). These are what we must cultivate and grow, and put as much of our energy towards.

Low and no-code tools can be adopted by all of us and the result may be to flip the 75/25% split from one favoring production to one in favor of collaboration, creativity, innovation…and far more valuable outcomes.

About the Author:

Dave Papworth is Finlabs Creative Cultivator and Product Leader. His career so far has taken him through multimedia, development, design, innovation, and ultimately Finlabs.

While working in the advertising industry he led teams focused on technical innovation and how it can be leveraged for marketing campaigns and brand building platforms, creating forward-thinking projects that have been showcased at events like Googles Sandbox, and even recognized in Time Magazine as an “Invention of the Year”.

At Finlabs, his focus is on building a team that can tackle any challenge, look beyond their boundaries, and grows the collaborative relationships we desire with our clients.

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Insights and news from Finlabs and our dedicated team of product design and development experts.

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