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Progressive enhancement – an alternative approach to halting IE6’s longevity.

Progressive enhancement – an alternative approach to IE6’s longevity.

Heard the news? Websites don’t have to look the same in every browser! Someone has even created a website dedicated to the subject;

That’s shocking news for many clients coming from the print world and find it hard  to understand that every browser renders web pages differently.

This varying interpretation (and some poor implementation) of standards by browser manufacturers has resulted in web designers ‘filling the gaps’ with hacks, browser specific style sheets or working to the lowest common denominator – typicall IE6  all to meet the demands of clients who cannot accept asthetic differents in  browser rendering.

Often these same clients cling onto old versions of Internet Explorer, failing to accept the browser upgrades that Microsoft releases to address page rendering issues, updated standard support and most importantly, fix security vulnerabilities.

And we designers perpetuate the problem by not educating our clients of the benefits of working to web standards and accomodate their demands. With the result that sites take longer to build, are harder to maintain, potentially stop working and prevent us designing standards compliant sites that make use of new  browser functionailty.

Support for IE6 is an extreme case that many now clients do now accept, with the release of IE9, is not a priority worth the effort to fix asthetic issues any longer. Having said that we had a client who was adamant that IE6 must be supported because his client base used it extensively. Was this a business client base whose IT dept retained IE6 for legacy software reasons? Perhaps their clients were public sector departments for whom browser upgrades were not a priority? Not a bit of it. Their client base was China; a country for whom purchasing software  is an alien concept – no wonder China is such a prevalent user of IE6; their pirated copies of Windows XP can’t be upgraded!

Lets consider some of the advantages of dragging our client base towards a  standards based website where they accept asthetic variations across browsers.

Reduced Build Effort = Reduced Cost

As browsers increasingly support HTML5 and CSS3 designers are freed to incorporate   their new features such as css gradients, rounded corners, box shadows, text shadow, multiple backgrounds without having to use image slicing and Javascript.

Animations can be done in CSS rather than resorting to animated gifs and Flash. Video can be presented natively within the browser rather than requiring browser plugins.

These new features make things we’ve alway done easier for us designer and this reduced development effort benefits our clients by reducing build costs to them.

Easier Site Maintenance

Over the lifetime of a website designers will need to fix bugs, incorporate changes and meet ongoing client expectations and their business evolves. If HTML5 and CSS3 reduce initial site build effort it should be obvious that they also have an impact on reducing site maintenance.

Improved Performance

Building websites that conform to web standards has two major benefits for the site owner; less reliance on background images makes web pages smaller and faster to load in the browser; faster loading pages results in a better user experience. Secondly, faster loading, standards compliant code is respected by search engines and can help placement in search results.

The Mobile Factor

The wide variety of devices that we use to access the web has never been greater; PCs, tablets, mobile phones, all have varying screen sizes and capabilities. Reliance upon browser plugins such as Flash creates gaps in our audience especially across mobile operating systems. Much better to use CSS3 for transitions and animation with the advantage of building once for all audiences.

Future Proofing

The web that we have now is one that incorporsates hacks and workarounds in order to meet the demand of clients who insist on no variation in asthetics across browsers. As long as we designers bend to the demands of the building websites that incorporate browser specific hacks and workarounds we will continue to build websites that don’t conform to web standards. Not confirming to standards makes sites at risk of ‘breaking’ as new browsers remove support for these hacks. Building websites for old browsers is not just a problem for designers but doesn’t  help our clients in the long term. Web designers can help future proof their work by incorporating new standards.

Browser Support

In the last 12 months browser upgrades have come think and fast as browser manufacturers has come to accept that support for web standards will help websites evolve and offer advanced functionality that we can’t yet anticipate. Browser manufacturers fearful of losing market share now leapfrog each other to incorporate this new functionality into their browsers. Of course not all browsers incorporate all the emerging functions and this is where we have to use our judgement to incorporate these new features and realise their benefits.


Progressive enhancement turns the current headache of ensuring identical cross browser rendering on it’s head. It suggests that no longer do we designers overtly worry about minor asthetic differences across browsers, instead we incorporate emerging standards and encourage ourclients toaccept that browsers will incorporate these new design elements at different rates.

Working with emerging web standards necessitates that us web designers start educating their clients on the benefits of incorporating these standards.

By incorporating these new features into our websites we will start to leverage browser manufacturers to incorporate them sooner and so move away from the unsustainable practice of continuing to build for obsolete browsers.