How Visual Web Development Can Change the Web Design Landscape

Web design has changed constantly since its great boom in the mid-1990s, when JavaScript entered the scene to provide more dynamic and engaging websites. Then, with easy access to powerful content management systems, it became easier and more accessible to those without a full coding background. Fast forward to 2017 and responsive web design reigns supreme, with much of it implemented through those same content management systems. With laptops, phones and tablets varying in size and all having internet connectivity, having websites that look great regardless of viewing device has become a key factor in user experience.

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

This is where visual development comes in. By bridging the gap between designer and developer, websites can be created faster and more efficiently, while being more faithful to the original vision, because visual development is very practical. “It allows creatives to design with code, rather than creating a representation of it,” says Bryant Chou, co-founder and CTO of Webflow. Webflow is one of the companies leading this new world of visual web development and has helped me understand some of the more complex aspects of this growing aspect of web design. Their platform allows anyone to build dynamic websites with a true drag-and-drop system that builds code in the background as new building blocks are introduced.

With visual development, this alleviates most of the hard-coding integration needs, and instead the CMS and visual tools build the code for you when you build your landing pages and features. For now, these new “visual designers” will most likely work hand-in-hand with traditional web development teams, but as the implementation becomes smoother and more widely used, we should expect visual designers are starting to take on bigger and bigger roles within the teams.

I asked Chou about the future of visual development and where he envisions the next five to ten years.

“In 5 years, no one will write HTML and CSS anymore. It will slowly die, like Postscript, the language typographers used in the 90s when they used it to tell printers how to lay out magazines and newspapers. No one is coding in Postscript these days, because print designers rely on visual tools to do everything for them. The same will happen for HTML/CSS and Javascript. Once designers see how quickly they can create software visually, they will use it whenever they can.

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

For years, creatives and entrepreneurs have taken classes, taught themselves to code, or shelled out big bucks 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 a few years away from becoming a “mainstream” method of web development, it’s exciting to see where it’s headed and that there are companies like Webflow investigating what could be the next big thing. in web design.

James S. Joseph