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Many moons ago, in the midst of yet another industry-wide dust-up about “whether designers should code”, I wrote a short article with the following quote:
Find the way you can most effectively contribute to the success of your team.
I found the constant back and forth to be quite annoying, with valid points to be made on both sides. The solution in my case was to learn how to code, expanding my skill-set to involve competent front-end dev, some Rails, and a strong understanding of how databases *work*.
However, I think much of the future of entrepreneurship will be focused on “low code/no code” solutions. We’ve already seen the growth of online tools that can be easily connected together to build products without writing a line of code, and it’s likely to get continually easier. It will become increasingly valuable to have the knowledge around how to piece things together vs. writing solutions from scratch. Makerpad is a great resource if you want to learn more about building #nocode products.
Let’s talk about Webflow
Today, I want to talk about one of my favorite new nocode/lowcode tools. Webflow is the most complete tool I’ve ever used when it comes to visually manipulating code and building websites in a browser. It feels a lot like any other design tool, with a few more constraints related to how things actually behave in a browser. And it’s changed the way I design + build things.
I often still start with sketches, but more often with a long-form brief/doc that has inspirations, requirements, and more.
If I’m building a full Webflow site, I’ll do some additional work on the front-end of the process to understand the site structure so I know how to set up any CMS functionality. The huge benefit here is the ability to *easily* create different types of content with different properties — something platforms like Squarespace/Wix can’t do, and is complicated in Wordpress.
From there, I jump straight into designing. It’s quick and efficient to use, and I can see what things will look like at various screen sizes in real-time. I can quickly test different animations, interactions, and page layouts.
I typically publish sites to a Webflow domain to share for testing purposes while I’m working on it. It’s not as real-time as Figma, of course, but in my experience, stakeholders end up with a much stronger understanding of what’s being built when they can click around and see how things fit together in context.
Much of the work I do in Webflow doesn’t end up as a published site. That doesn’t make it any less valuable — I can design and troubleshoot complex layouts visually, and then export the html/css code for use elsewhere.
The opportunities to connect a Webflow to other platforms are extensive. A “basic” site can be supercharged quickly by tying together other services for managing members, submissions, real-time filtering, and more.
I wouldn’t call Webflow an easy platform. It’s not really targeted at the plug-and-play market that Squarespace/Wix/etc are for (yet).
If you’re a designer that isn’t super comfortable with html/css, you might struggle at first with understanding basic page structure. Because Webflow conforms to how elements will actually be handled in an webpage, it’ll likely be harder for you to do crazy layouts at first.
If you’re building full Webflow sites, the CMS functionality isn’t quite up to the level of customization as a platform like Wordpress offers. They have some work to do before you can (easily) do extremely complex content management in Webflow.
The same goes for plugin architecture, hand-off to clients, and ecommerce capabilities. However, I would say that most Wordpress sites are incredibly overbuilt and stuffed with unnecessary code. I’m hoping the Webflow dashboard gets some re-designs soon that makes it easier for me (the developer/designer) to hand it off to a client and be easier for them to understand/use/create new pages, etc.
A few things I’ve built on Webflow
Bolt’s previous site was built on Squarespace and involved a significant amount of manual work to manage. I worked with the folks at Makerpad, and we took a #nocode approach to building out a re-designed site. A design refresh is always nice, but the real cool stuff here is behind the scenes. We connected a few different services: Airtable (to manage updating users/trips), Memberstack (for login functionality), and Zapier (to tie it all to Webflow).
My personal website. I’m using the CMS collections for photo galleries, but not for case studies, since the content varies too much there.
A simple little #nocode gear website. I don’t post on it as much anymore, but it's simple, useful, and hopefully it'll make you laugh. I also have a way to turn on community submissions (using Airtable connected to Webflow via Zapier).
A simple one-page microsite for the Outbound's #EveryoneOutside campaign. We've been releasing short films focused on equity and inclusion in the outdoors.
It’s hard to understate the effect I think Webflow is having (and will continue to have) on the web. As someone who hates dealing with Wordpress, the simplicity and customizability of Webflow has been a godsend. I’m able to spin up fully functional sites, with complex CMS relationships and more in a relatively short amount of time, with no additional help. If you add in the capabilities of Zapier, Integromat, Jetboost, and other #nocode products, there’s a seemingly endless array of possibilities. I’m excited to see what the next few years of design/development looks like -- I’m certain that Webflow will be a key part of it.
If you know any tourism/destination marketing sites that could benefit from a refresh, let me know :)
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