Few people realize that visual software development has been around as long as there has been software. Unqork's Amar Vedula explains why no-code represents the latest—and most exciting—chapter.
When most people think of programming, they think of complex coding languages that translate human commands into something machines can understand. However, traditional coding only represents one branch of the vast, fascinating world of software development. There’s a long history of using visual tools instead of code-based verbal tools to build applications. No-code and low-code have only started trending in recent years—around 2010—but they are just the latest in a long history of visual-based development.
What Is Visual Programming?
Visual programming is a type of computer language that allows programmers to execute complex processes using modules, components, and illustrations rather than text. With traditional coding, programmers must use the software to translate their thoughts into something computers can understand. Visual programming, on the other hand, empowers programmers to build processes in a way that already makes sense to the human brain.
Visual programming, on the other hand, empowers programmers to build processes in a way that already makes sense to the human brain.
For example, if you wanted to use a visual programming tool to create an application that allowed users to apply for a loan forgiveness program, the programmer might first draw out the flow of the app rather than describing it in the language of code. The resulting flowchart would describe the overall trajectory of the user experience, illustrate different screens, show the results of various user interactions and what happens to data at each stage, and more. The visual programming tool would automatically translate these various inputs into usable software.
A key benefit of visual programming, as we no-code fans know, is that the programmer gets to focus on the program rather than the process to get there.
A Brief History of Visual Programming
So how did visual programming come to be? As we hinted at above, it all started with flowcharts. In 1921, industrial engineers Frank and Lillian Gilbreth debuted their “Flow Process Chart” to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). These flowcharts would be used frequently over the following decades to simplify work processes and make operations more efficient at major corporations like Procter and Gamble and the Standard Register Industrial. In 1947, ASME even adopted a symbol system that drew heavily from Gilbreth’s work to standardize Flow Process Charts.
Two years later, computer scientists Herman Goldstine and John Van Neumann used the logic behind flowcharts to develop computer programs, and “diagramming” became a popular way to create algorithms. In 1963, Internet pioneer Ivan Sutherland created Sketchpad, a computer system that, like the name suggests, used drawing as its primary communication medium. Sketchpad used input, output, and computation programs to interpret information drawn on a computer display.
Watch the above 1-minute demo to see how easy and intuitive it is to develop a new application in Unqork.
In 1975, computer scientist David Canfield Smith created Pygmalion, an executable electronic blackboard that helped translate sketched diagrams and mental models into something a computer could understand. Soon after the arrival of the PC in the ‘80s, computing took off and visual programming started to pick up steam. More mainstream visual programming options like Prograph and HyperCard for Apple computers emerged. From there, visual programming branched off into a few modern tracks—games and education, multimedia visual programming, and business visual programming.
Despite this rich history, the question remains: Why isn’t visual programming as commonplace as code?
How Unqork No-Code Enables Complexity
The reason why visual programming hasn’t taken the world by storm until recently is that historically, visual programming hasn’t been able to offer enterprises the complexity they require. Tools like Squarespace, for instance, work well for simple no-code websites but fall short when it comes to business logic. What’s more, as software development becomes more complex, it becomes harder to model problems visually.
As such, many people mistakenly believe that no-code is only a solution for simple applications. With Unqork no-code, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The Unqork platform visualizes complex features and capabilities into drag-and-drop logic blocks that help the creator build enterprise-grade applications—all in a fraction of the time. Creators can organize flows and have blocks interact with each other in ways that simplify the app-building process and result in incredibly complex software.
Visual programming might have flown under the radar in previous decades, but today’s no-code has brought this programming method back to the forefront. With Unqork no-code, it’s now possible to move away from text-based languages without sacrificing complexity.