Visual Programming – A Comprehensive Guide

A major challenge facing web application developers today is the competition between the increasing complexity of the back-end technology and the need to make that technology easier to use by more people. Visual programming software offers a cost-effective way to resolve this conflict, enabling business owners, educators, and individuals to build their own customized and even complex applications without the need to learn programming languages.

What is Visual Programming?

Simply put, visual programming uses graphical objects instead of written code to represent computing logic functions. It is the programming equivalent to how modern computer and mobile operating systems have abandoned the old keyboard command line for desktops icons, mouse pointers and increasingly voice recognition. Visual programming is the future of web app development. But before we discuss how it can help you today and its potential for tomorrow, it is helpful to understand its origins.

In the Beginning: High-Code Programming with The Command Line

Whether you create them with Java, Python, C++ or Perl, all web development applications rely on written code to work. The trouble has been that these coding languages have a strained relationship with plain English, thus making them hard for non-developers to learn. Early programming languages, dating back to FORTRAN in the 1950s, were entirely text based. Programmers had to spend countless hours keyboarding at the command line to build even simple program functions. For example, consider how many lines of code it takes in C++ to simply say, “Hello, World”:

#include <iostream>

int main()

{

 std::cout << "Hello,World!\n";

 return 0;

}

The problem with building applications at the command line is that most people do not have the time or interest in learning a programming language. To the average person the “Hello World” example above is largely gibberish. This made application development the province of programmer experts who themselves could be expensive to hire and retain, be difficult to communicate with, and who did not always share the application owner’s vision for the end product. This combination of learning and language barriers effectively precluded most people from developing their own applications.

The Late 20th Century: From Flowcharts to GUIs

Visual application programming technology is not new. A picture may not “paint a thousand words,” but since the dawn of computing programmers have sought to combine graphical objects with programming languages to save time and typing. It took decades to develop the necessary technology, but today modern visual programming has made great strides in usability and capability compared to its early days, to the point where it is now a practical alternative to programming with scripts.

The development of graphics-based programming languages has largely tracked with advances in computer monitor technology. As monitors became able to display basic graphics like those used in flowcharting, beginning in the 1960s graphical input languages like GRaIL and Pygmalion did pioneering work in associating images with machine functions. They were limited in what they could do, however, and relying on flow charts to guide program behaviors leads to the same problem as using flow charts on paper: the more complex the process, the more convoluted hard to follow the flow chart becomes.

In the early 1990s, improved computer monitors that could support a graphical user interface helped to advance visual programming to the next level of utility, the integrated development environment (IDE). The most well known of these IDE languages is Microsoft Visual Basic, along with other“Visuals” including Visual C and Visual Java. These languages use graphical tools in connection with a terminal window to make it easier to program with them. Still, at their core they are text-based languages that feature a visual element and not a full visual programming language. You still needed to learn the underlying coding to use them, which limits their utility.

Modern Visual Programming for Web Applications

Text-based coding is also known as “high-code” development that requires skilled application programmers. Today’s most advanced front-end web development, visual-based programming languages like Blaze, are generally known as “low-code” or “no-code” development environments that work with domain-specific languages used with web applications.

Visual programming software for web applications commonly feature the following characteristics:

  • Built-in templates for commonly used commands and elements like buttons, search bars, and data entry fields.
  • A plain English way to add additional graphical representations of logic, usually by assigning a command or function to an element.
  • The ability to perform custom integrations with other design user interface tools like Wix, Figma, Sketch, React, and Flask.

Low-Code Versus No-Code: What’s the Difference?

The difference between low-code and no-code development solution is that when you use low-code you will likely still need an application developer to complete some of the coding and to connect the app to other applications. In effect, low-code development is mainly a tool to help developers to work faster.

A no-code solution is just that: you do not need to write code to build your application, and neither does a programmer. This makes no-code application creation through Blaze the better option for business users who are not programmers and need a less expensive option than to hire or contract with one.

No-code development is as easy as dragging and dropping on an-screen object with a mouse, the computational logic being built into the visual elements you include. Building the program is as straightforward as arranging the graphic elements on the screen into a logical web flow sequence.

Benefits of No-Code Application Development

No-Code Application Development
Blaze's visual interface to drag-and-drop components to build your application.

Building web applications in a visual programming environment like Blaze offers multiple advantages to anyone who wants to save money, save time, and have more control over the development process and the finished application. Here are a few advantages of no-code versus high-code app development:

Affordability. In 2022 the average salary for a web application developer in the United States is more than $100,000.[i]If you provide employee benefits, that cost increases even more. Hiring a programmer on a contract basis will cost you more than $40 per hour.[ii]Contrast this with the subscription-based Blaze development solution: a basic annual subscription averages to as little as $25 per month, with customizable growth-based and enterprise options available that offer more capabilities, increased customizations, and priority support. If you run a small business,Blaze can make the difference between having the front-end web application you really need and having to forego it as too costly.

Simplicity. The reason you won’t have to pay for a web application developer is because Blaze is purpose-designed for people who are not programmers. All you need to build a web application withBlaze is a vision of what you want the application to accomplish and how you want it to work. The Blaze workflow design process helps you to assemble your program by dragging and dropping the elements into place to create a working application that does exactly what you envision, no coding required.

Functionality. Just because visual programming is easy to use by non-programmers does not restrict you to building simple applications with few features. While Blaze comes with many templates for frequently used functions and workflows, our customizable options let you develop even complex web applications.

Reliability. Programming with objects can reduce the risk of one of the inherent weaknesses of text-based programming languages: their reliance on exact syntax. All it takes is one mistake in aline of code, like leaving out a closing bracket, to cause program errors. By eliminating the need to enter code flawlessly, visual programming also cuts down on one of the most aggravating sources of coding errors.

Productivity. No-code application development means that more people in your organization can participate in the development process. Even people for whom English is not their first language can benefit from using visual programming because it does not rely on entering text using English words. Lastly, faster application development and faster application rollouts also mean that you can begin recapturing faster time spent during development.

Security. Application security is essential to any web application in today’s cybersecurity threat environment. That is why we built Blaze on enterprise-grade SOC2-certified infrastructure and are compliant with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) data security requirements. Exercise full control over user permissions and who can make changes with either single sign-on or two-factor authentication. Track accesses with auditing logs.

Speed. Every great invention begins with an idea, but to realize its benefits for you and your customers you must bring it into the real world. Having a simple, visually based, inexpensive rapid application development tool like Blaze means you can design, test, and field your applications much faster than by hiring application developers to do the work. Some simple applications you can easily build in a few minutes by yourself.

Agility. The key to building front-end web applications in a no-coding environment is to not let simplicity act as a limit on functionality. Blaze gives you much more than template-based application development tools. You can add your own customizations and enhancements to your applications, so they do exactly what you need. And if you need help, with our Enterprise-level service our Implementation Team is ready to assist you as much as you need, including building your application for you if you choose.

Applications You Can Build Today with No-Code Visual Programming Tools

It used to be, back in the early days of visual programming software, that application developers would claim that no such software could compete with the ability of script-based programming – especially regarding coding new complex applications or customizing existing ones. Technological advancements have steadily been enhancing the power of visual programming, though, and today the limits of the web applications you can create with a no-code development environment like Blaze are largely those of your imagination.

Remember, simplicity of creation does not always mean simplicity of outcomes. Here are some examples of the kinds of applications that others have already built using no-code development:

  • Customer portals to help you track onboarding of new customers. Store and access signed agreements and important files, track payments and billing histories, manage customer support and support ticket tracking, and more.
  • Back-office applications for administration, operations, vendor management, contract workflows, document management, inventory management, and customer support services.
  • Employee onboarding tools.
  • Digitizing legacy processes.
  • Enhanced spreadsheets and meeting notes capabilities for project workflow management, project tracking, customer tracking, and sales reporting.
  • Visual programming as an educational tool for employees, customers, and vendors.
  • Customer care centers that feature live chat, texting, support ticket tracking, and that integrate with customer support software like Zendesk, Freshdesk, or Zoho Desk.
  • Sales lookup applications and other automation tools to integrate and automatically search your sales, marketing, and customer support contact resource management from one application.
  • Customized internal applications to help your employees and team members collaborate more efficiently.
  • Product analytics and data reporting to help you identify key performance indicators and to optimize existing and new products.
  • Building a modern digital headquarters for your organization.

Visual Programming and the Future of Web Application Development

A constant of technological innovation is that when a newer, simpler, yet still capable technology gains enough of a foothold it will supplant the technology that came before it. For example, no one today talks about going back to dial-up Internet access now that cable and wireless access is widely available, phone calls, emails, and texts have made hand-written letter writing a largely extinct practice, and you cannot buy a new computer anymore with a floppy drive or – increasingly –even an optical one.

It is the same with how you develop applications for the web. The days of developer gurus who use script-based coding languages that are unintelligible to the average person, hunching over a keyboard for days and weeks while charging you hefty hourly rates or salaries, are coming to an end. As the drag-and-drop interfaces and object-oriented programming become more refined and increasingly prevalent no-code visual application programming will become the democratizing standard that lets anyone build, refine, and field custom web applications in hours or even minutes.

You do not have to wait for this practical, empowering, and affordable future, because it is already here in the form of Blaze. To find out more about how you can take your web app building from the command line to the visually-oriented future of software development, visit our website where you can learn about our basic, growth, and enterprise solution options, gain inspiration from our customer success stories, or request a product demo.