Interface Designer, our newest feature for building visual and interactive interfaces for teams in Airtable, is an evolution of our product that engineers say has been a long time coming. It’s something our team started talking about back in 2014, when this company was just a handful of people working towards one big idea—empowering people to create their own software.
With Interface Designer now in the hands of customers around the world, some of our earliest team members took some time to reflect on what it took to get here and why this moment is so exciting for our community.
“I think this is a huge step in the Airtable product vision and the evolution of our product,” Product Manager JB Bakst said.
I think this is a huge step in the Airtable product vision and the evolution of our product.
Bakst started working at Airtable back in 2016 as a Software Engineer when the team was seven people, compared to the more than 700 employees at Airtable today.
Bakst says, “We've talked about ourselves as a software creation platform for a long time, and I think historically it’s been a bit hard to understand what we mean by that.”
Interface Designer allows new users to experience the platform in a much more accessible way. Bakst says he expects this feature will make it easier for people to realize the end goal of actually creating their own software. When most people use Airtable for the first time, they’re seeing what looks like a spreadsheet. The grid view makes it easy to manipulate data, but turning that data into a functioning application can take some training.
Most of the apps we all use are built on databases—we just don’t usually experience the database itself. Typically, we only see the user-friendly interface. “When you use Twitter, for instance,” says Bakst, “you don't need to know how Twitter's back-end database structure is set up, you just come in and use it. Similarly we're trying to push towards a world where you understand the database structure you've built, you understand how to create automations, but you can package the product up for your collaborators and stakeholders,” Bakst said.
Interface Designer is “the third and final pillar of the software creation story in Airtable,” according to Alex Dytrych, a Software Engineer who joined Airtable in 2017 and helped write the code for Interface Designer.
It’s the culmination of years of work, which started with the data layer—Airtable’s spreadsheet-like grid view. The second layer—logic—came in 2020 when Airtable launched scripting and automations, so people could spend less time on repetitive tasks and uncover deeper insights about their data. The final interface layer is a beta feature that helps users build visual, interactive interfaces using the existing data in their base.
Check out a recording of our weekly livestream, Table Talk, with three Airtable staffers who helped create Interface Designer.
The ability to create custom interfaces simplifies and personalizes what your teammates are looking at, so you can display the information that’s most critical to them. This makes it easy to understand the status of a project, and allows teammates to go into Airtable and see what part of a project they’re responsible for.
Dytrych learned to code back in high school, and always saw the skill as a superpower, which inspired them to teach classes on coding. But “teaching people to code is hard because programming is hard,” they said. “Ultimately, I hope Interface Designer makes Airtable and software creation as a whole much more accessible to an even wider number of people.”
Dytrych thinks Interface Designer is a jumping off point to really leveling the playing field of software creation.
“For the most part the way that we interact with technology is defined by what huge tech companies allow us to do. If we can take the bar for that superpower and lower it, then so many more people can use technology on their own terms,” Dytrych said.
For the most part the way that we interact with technology is defined by what huge tech companies allow us to do. If we can take the bar for that superpower and lower it, then so many more people can use technology on their own terms.
It’s a significant turning point, one that opens opportunities for creation that can change the way we all think of and interact with software. Dytrych says, “that's always been one of my favorite things about Airtable, people use it to make things that we never would have thought of ourselves.”
Or, as Bakst put it: “We have a long roadmap ahead of us, This is just the first step.”