Do we really need low-code user experience tools?

Low-code tools are everywhere, so will their impact be felt positively in the customer or user experience (CX or UX) space of our enterprise software applications - now that ‘top down’ roadmap rollout gives way to so-called ‘bottom up’ user-centric development, could this be the next software engineering next must-have, or is this a bolt-on too far?


The rise, popularisation and penetration of low-code software platforms and tools designed to bring templated, pre-architected and ready-to-integrate ease to the software development trade has been widespread in recent years. As the use of these shortcuts and accelerators continues to proliferate, do we really need front-end customer or user experience tooling as well?

As we know by now, low-code is not a question of no coding at all, because that’s drag-and-drop visual interface-based no-code. Low-code software tools sit firmly in the professional software engineer’s toolbox and - as Gandalf himself would remind us - although many exist in this world, like magic rings, they should all be used wisely.

As the low-code toolbox expands and the ‘me too’ low-code offerings spring up from the non-specialist vendors who all want a finger in this part of the software zeitgeist pie, should we be considering the importance of this approach for the user-facing front end of our apps?

Top-down trumps bottom-up

Now that enterprise software companies have to build so-called ‘bottom-up’ user-driven applications that work the way real world users want them to, the ‘top-down’ ways of the past where software vendors simply chugged out their take it or leave it roadmap plans of the past are slipping away.

We used to just perform a degree of User Acceptance Testing (UAT) and if nobody threatened to jump off a bridge, the software was probably okay to take forward to final production and release stage. Today’s users have it arguably far better i.e. software vendors have to build the right kind of Customer eXperience (CX) or User eXperience (UX) into the final product too.

The trouble with anything that purports to be an ‘eXperience’ platform, tool, product (or vehicle of any kind, to be honest) is that it sounds a little like marketing-fuelled puff and fluff. 

Insistent that we should think more positively about this space is Adam Evans in his capacity as co-founder and CTO at Airkit, a low-code platform purpose-built for customer and user experience management. Evans’ view is that UX and CX are essentially different in that the former is centred around design, whilst the latter incorporates the data, processes and people that touch a customer.

With a background in smart applications, and previously CTO of Salesforce’s relational AI business, Evans claims to be having frequent experience-centric conversations with enterprise customers. So how are these discussions playing out and what impact could they be having on software developers?

The real challenge is that today, software (as with all products and services in life) has to move at fast-paced dynamic speeds to keep up the speed of the consumer generation. In a swipe left click-away world of short attention spans, software applications and their front-end functionalities often need to change fast.

Hard & solid or small & quick?

“When you need to develop a new customer software application journey and endpoint, engineering teams have a choice between (i) hard coding a solid branch-off of an existing custom app or commercial platform by hand; or (ii) developing small quick and dirty apps in low-code development environments typically bundled in commercial enterprise applications,” said Evans.

He explains that custom hard code has traditionally always provided more flexibility in building the UX required. This is because the software could be more precision-engineered into existing Continuous Integration & Continuous Development (CI/CD) processes and pipelines. This in turn meant that it delivered hardened scalability, performance and security.

“But this engineering came at a high cost in terms of infrastructure instantiation, front and back-end developer time, data integration, testing and monitoring. On the other hand, legacy low-code tools traded flexibility, support for developer processes and hardening; for speed. While legacy low-code was suitable for prototyping and testing, they were not a viable alternative for a scaled, production-ready user experience-aware application,” explained Evans.

The five pillars of low-code UX

So what has changed? The advancement in the maturity and specialisation of low-code tools into next-generation low-code user experience platforms is what has changed.

Airkit’s Evans talks about working with a next-generation platform is defined by the following five pillars:

(i) customisable front end templatisation that enables teams to create and redeploy a precise look, feel and even sound to their apps

(ii) a configure once and reuse capability for components, API-driven integrations, or even customer journeys

(iii) journeys that can be triggered any number of ways and maintain state across channels

(iv) support for CI/CD, debugging, UAT and deployment processes

(v) built-in scalability, compliance and security for consumer grade apps. 

The rise of micro-applications

“Another factor that’s driving adoption of low-code CX and UX platforms are consumer and enterprise trends that favor the micro-app. Consumers demand and companies need more customised, consumer-driven experiences that are also easier to maintain. By breaking apart a large app, whether it’s an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) tree or a multi-function smartphone app, you can give the consumer a more personalised experience that can be triggered by a call, webhook, call centre agent interaction,” said Evans.

He insists that we simply can’t just expect consumers to download and use a smartphone app or log into a web portal anymore. Engineering teams also see small apps as a way to innovate faster. They can develop new apps or journeys without disruption to your existing digital properties. For CIOs this (arguably) makes a lot of sense because of their experience with how microservices changed IT.

What this all amounts to is supposed to be the ability to give consumers a better, more customised experience, faster, with a development platform that provided end-to-end enterprise app capabilities.

So there is still marketing here and there is a little puff and fluff, but there is some substance to be felt as well. Low-code UX and CX could be part of the low-code universe after all, we just need to work out which orbit and trajectory it’s on before we book our seats.