As simple as possible, as complex as necessary

The simplicity of progressive enhancement

7 May 2011

Paul Boag is a well-known voice in the web design world, often to be heard extolling the virtues of simplicity.

As well as a long running podcast he also regularly puts out bite-size AudioBoos aimed at website owners, the latest of which sets out clearly why it's not worth expending effort to ensure visual design features such as rounded corners work in Internet Explorer (version 8 and below) and other browsers that don't support the necessary CSS standards.

Among the reasons he lists:

  • developing the necessary "hacks" takes time away from the more important work of making the site effective;
  • the extra work is solely for the benefit of browsers which are already shrinking in market share and will eventually disappear;
  • the extra code involved slows down the page loading time which can have an impact particularly on users with mobile devices, as well as on Google rankings which now take speed into account;
  • the hacks in the code may have unanticipated effects on future browsers;
  • code bloated with such hacks is harder to maintain and less flexible;
  • where a design feature requires a combination of these styles, such as rounded corners and a gradient, all of these problems are amplified;

In short, he advises against...

...wasting money for short term aesthetic gains

I can't help but respect the man: a visual designer who understands that on the web visual design is not as important as other factors, such as usability, page performance and the integrity and maintainability of code.



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