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Beginner’s guide to visual programming

October 2, 2023

Visual programming? What the heck is that? This short article will explain the brief history of simplifying programming because anyone should be able to create.

Let's be clear: you used to need to learn programming languages to tell your computer what to do. Now, you can just talk to devices like Alexa or Google Home. It’s nice to have from the consumer standpoint, but what about actual development? 

If typing out code isn't your thing, there's visual programming. It's another way to communicate with computers without all the text. With every passing day, it’s becoming easier to get into the development of quality software, thanks to no-code and, yes, visual programming, which is one of its main perks. Anyone can do it, and anyone can create. This article will give you an introduction to what this is all about.

What is visual programming

Visual programming lets you show computer logic with pictures instead of just text. It's been around for a long time. Computers talk in machine language, but visual programming is one step away from that.

People made visual programming to simplify computer use. The first graphic interfaces were a huge upgrade from just typing stuff into a box. Nowadays, it’s far simpler.

Here are some visual programming tools:

  • Visual Basic
  • Hypercard
  • GRaIL
  • Scratch (which is hella fun)
  • No-code tools (like Directual!)
Speaking of Scratch and no-code tools, for game development in particular

Visual programming in its infancy heavily relied on flowcharts. As early as the 1960s and 70s, there were pioneers testing the waters with graphical renditions of logic, leaning on flowchart-based frameworks like Pygmalion and GRaIL (Graphical Input Language). 

These avant-garde visual languages took on the task of correlating machine tasks with a series of interconnected images. Yet, visual programming truly soared only in the early 1990s, once computers were equipped with proficient graphical interfaces. Marking a significant step in this evolution, Apple rolled out a tool known as Hypercard in 1987 to expedite app development via visual abstraction. Yeah, feel old yet?

Then, a few years later in 1991, Microsoft introduced the world to Visual Basic. This groundbreaking tool enabled anyone to forge new applications by manipulating code blocks and crafting flowcharts. Alongside features like the source code editor, Visual Basic became synonymous with the term Integrated Development Environment (IDE). Here, a text-centric programming language, Basic, amalgamated with an array of visual aids, simplifying the coding experience. 

Back in the day, using visual tools for making user interfaces was a no-brainer. As of 2022, there are tons of cool tools for designing websites, like Wix and Squarespace, and tools like Figma and Sketch for mockups.

But when it comes to the heavy-duty logic behind websites and apps, visual programming is the right choice. Some say it can't match the power of traditional code. For a long time, visual programming was nowhere near as popular as coding for this reason... but that might be changing now.

Enter: Directual

Directual is a versatile cloud no-code platform designed for web and mobile app development. Originating from the idea of making the app-building process easy, Directual has an intuitive visual interface. Directual is more than just a UI-building tool—it's genuinely a visual programming platform. With it, you can craft logic for intricate web tools, similar to the capabilities of text-based systems. Sorry for the sales pitch—if we won’t pat ourselves on the back, who will?

On no-code tools and IDEs

IDEs make programming visual. Directual's foundation has roots similar to Visual Basic. It's like building a tool first, then deciding what it should do. Old school IDEs, even with their fancy tools, are grounded in text-based languages. But these tools matter because they paved the way for visual programming.

Visual programming is great for beginners. Let’s take Scratch again, a visual programming tool from MIT in 2002. It's famous, with 57 million users, and uses "blocks" instead of text—much akin to Directual’s logic cubes which you can just drag-and-drop. 

However, Scratch has flaws. Block-based designs can get messy when logic gets complicated. Ever tried creating an intricate flowchart? It's often a jumbled mess, no better than lines of code.

Debating if visuals or text is better for our brains is a waste of time. It's subjective. A big reason for text-based programming's popularity might just be tradition (thanks to systems like Unix) and what was easy for the creators, not the users. Most programming languages use English. That's not fair to the billions who don't speak it.

Visual programming can help here. It can be more inclusive. Scratch got it right by offering translations in 70+ languages, and letting kids program in their own language.

Right?

But there's a stereotype: Visual programming is child's play, a starter before diving into real text-based programming. That's a flawed view. Simple doesn't mean weak.

Why push kids to learn visually and then, later on, shove them into a world dominated by words? Can't we have a visual programming system that's both easy and powerful, even outside a classroom? That's something to think about.

Directual, visual programming and you

Directual is a simple solution for those wanting to tap into the potential of visual programming without the fuss. Simply put, Directual lets you design web applications without touching a single line of code. This means you can bring your online business idea to life faster and cheaper than traditional development methods.

At its core, Directual's editor isn't abstract. It's a visual tool that mirrors common UI design practices. It’s simple and ensures that the pitfalls of outdated flowchart languages and the chaos of block-based languages are gone.

With Directual, you're essentially piecing together clear, understandable instructions. Imagine telling your app, "If a user fills out a form, send them an email confirming it" 

Grouping tools like Directual under "no-code" or "low-code" labels a shift away from traditional, text-heavy web design methods. Not every tool in this category is created equal. Some excel in crafting mobile apps, others in creating landing pages, and others have niche specializations. Directual stands out with its powerful backend, web3 capabilities, and AI support.

Speaking of AI support, did you know that you can even skip all the visual programming spiels as well and just ask the platform (in plain words!) to create what you want? Yup, it’s possible now.

From startups to tech-savvy individuals, many have turned to Directual to bring their projects to reality. Those with a tech background enrich Directual's ecosystem by adding plugins, while other software entities collaborate to expand Directual's integration capabilities. It's not just a tool—it's a thriving community of creators.

Looking ahead, we see a world where "no-code" isn't some fancy category. Visual programming will be the standard way to craft web apps and other tech stuff, because, well, it's the smartest way to go about it.

Afterword

Want to learn more Directual and how you can get started with your own no-code virtual programming journey? Explore our Directual No-code Academy courses, or better yet, join us in one of our communities—Facebook, Discord, Telegram, and others. The links are in the footer below.

FAQ

What is visual programming and how is it different from traditional coding?
What is visual programming and how is it different from traditional coding?

Visual programming lets you communicate computer logic with visuals or pictures instead of traditional text-based code. Tools like Directual make it easy for anyone to dive into development without typing out lines of code.

How has the history of visual programming tools evolved over the years?
How has the history of visual programming tools evolved over the years?

From the early days of flowcharts, tools like Pygmalion and GRaIL in the 1960s and 70s, to Apple's introduction of Hypercard in 1987 and Microsoft's Visual Basic in 1991, visual programming has seen significant growth. More recently, platforms like Directual have made no-code development more powerful and accessible.

Why is Directual considered a powerful platform for visual programming?
Why is Directual considered a powerful platform for visual programming?

Directual has an intuitive visual interface that can help you craft logic for complex web tools. It combines the simplicity of visual programming with the capabilities of traditional text-based systems, making it a standout in the no-code and low-code development world.

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