How visual web development can change the landscape of web design

Web design has been changing constantly since its big boom in the mid 1990’s when JavaScript hit the scene to provide more dynamic, engaging websites. Then with the easy access to powerful Content Management Systems, it became easier and more accessible to those that didn’t have a comprehensive background in coding. Fast forward to 2017 and responsive web design reigns supreme, much of it being implemented through those same content management systems. With laptops, phones, and tablets all varying in size, and all with internet connectivity, having websites that look great regardless of viewing device became a key factor in the user experience.

But what’s next, what comes after responsive web design? Could it be artificial intelligence driving web design? Maybe, but that is still a long way off. In the interim, we should look more at things like visual development. You see, one issue with many web design/development projects is the disconnect that many companies find between their programmers and their designers. Designers mock up and create ideas for what the website or app should look like, then it is left up to the programmers to understand and implement that vision. It’s not a bad system, but one that could use some improvement to help with that disconnect.

That’s where visual development comes in. By bridging the gap between designer and developer, websites can be built quicker and more efficiently, while also being truer to the original vision because visual development is very hands on. “It allows creatives to design with the code, instead of creating a representation of it,” says  Bryant Chou, co-founder and CTO of Webflow.  Webflow is one of the companies leading the charge in this new visual web development world and helped me understand some of the more intricate aspects this growing aspect of web design. Their platform allows anyone to create dynamic websites with a true drag and drop system that builds the code in the background as new building blocks are introduced.

With visual development, it alleviates most of the need for hard coding to be integrated, and instead, the CMS and visual tools actually build the code for you as you create your landing pages and functionality. For now, these new “visual designers” will most likely be working hand-in-hand with traditional web development teams, but as implementation becomes smoother and more widely used, we should expect visual designers to start playing larger and more significant roles within the teams.

I asked Chou about the future of visual development and where he saw it heading in the next five to ten years.

“In 5 years no one will be writing HTML and CSS anymore. It will die a slow death, like Postscript, the language typesetters used to write in the 90s when they used it to instruct printers how to lay out magazines and newspapers. Nowadays no one codes in Postscript, as print designers rely on visual tools to do it all for them. The same thing will happen for HTML/CSS & Javascript. Once designers see how quickly they are able to build software visually, they will use it whenever they can.

In 10 years, it’s inevitable that we’d build the majority of web and software applications without code. Software will continue to improve to the point where we’ll be building apps within apps, and software with software. The future Twitter/Etsy/Airbnb will be created entirely visually. We’ll only be coding extensions on top of visual tooling to fill in gaps,” states Chou.

For years, creatives and entrepreneurs alike have taken classes, self-taught themselves how to code, or forked out large amounts of cash to build websites the traditional way through coding and traditional CMS platforms like WordPress. All in the name of seeing their vision come to life. While visual development may still be some years off from becoming a “typical” web development method, it’s exciting to see where it is heading and that there are companies like Webflow that are looking into what could be the next big thing in web design.