Responsive Web Design and Progressive Enhancement: The Right Approach

Progressive enhancement is a strategy for responsive web design that emphasizes accessibility relational to the user’s device. The aim is to allow everyone access to basic content and functionality of a website, starting with the smallest of devices (eg, your smartphone) and then gradually enhancing the experience as you move up to larger devices that have more advanced browser software, greater bandwidth and more powerful processing.

With progressive enhancement a basic markup document is created that is geared towards the lowest common denominator of browsers and features. Once this has been completed a developer can then introduce new functionality to the web page, using modern web technologies such as Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) or JavaScript. Only devices and browsers that support the advanced functionality will display them. The strategy is an attempt to subvert the traditional web design approach known as “graceful degradation”, wherein designers would create websites for the latest browser technologies, then remove features so that the site would function on older browsers and less capable devices. The core principle of progressive enhancement is that basic content and functionality should be accessible to all web browsers. Web pages created using progressive enhancement are by their very nature more accessible, because the strategy demands that basic content always be available, not obstructed by commonly unsupported or easily disabled scripting. Progressive enhancement focuses on the content, not the browser.

progressive enhancement

progressive enhancement and graceful degradation

From a philosophical perspective, progressive enhancement is vastly superior to graceful degradation. As opposed to punishing us for using less capable devices and older browsers the strategy rewards us as we progress through each platform. Progressive enhancement comes from a happy place. It’s a Zen thing.

Developing responsive websites with progressive enhancement should be a best practices standard for web design agencies. Sadly, most of them still cling to the old graceful degradation legacy approach, because that is what they know. If you own or manage a website in 2013 you should be very concerned with content availability, overall accessibility and mobile browser compatibility. I strongly recommend that you take the time to learn more about progressive enhancement and responsive web design as they relate to your overall web strategy.

Frank Farris

Frank Farris is Founder and CEO of DeepBlue. He has been an active thought leader in the application of emerging web technologies since 1998 and is a champion of the movement to make the Responsive Web Design approach the new industry standard.

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Don’t Be a Luddite! Embrace Responsive Web Design.

In 1779, legend holds that a youth by the name of Ed Ludd broke two stocking frames – mechanical knitting machines used in the textiles industry – in a fit of rage. Stocking frames represented the first major stage in the mechanization of the textile industry, and played an important part in the early history of the Industrial Revolution. To Ed Ludd and others of like mind, these machines forewarned of a dangerous new world in which machines would replace English textile artisans through less-skilled, low-wage labourers, leaving them without work.

Thus, the Luddite movement was born.

Dont be a luddite

Dont be a luddite

For years, the Luddite philosophy endured as the emergence of technology created a sense of fear and helplessness that coincided with the rise in difficult working conditions in modern factories. In modern usage, “Luddite” is a term describing those opposed to industrialization, automation, computerization or new technologies in general. Neo-Luddism is a viewpoint opposing many forms of modern technology; an inherent – perhaps misguided – belief that technology has a negative impact on individuals and communities. This dictates that humanity was better off before the advent of specific new technologies, labeling these technologies dangerous. These technologies are seen as so foreboding that it challenges faith in all technological progress. Because of this, Neo-Luddites are apprehensive about the ability of any new technology to solve current problems without creating more, potentially more dangerous, problems.

Technology Infiltration

During this era of technological proliferation across all facets of society and into our personal and professional lives, the luddite philosophy has manifested itself into a kind of sub-conscious, heuristic rejection of anything new. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – so they say. Although much of the trepidation with new technology can be attributed to the headaches and annoyance of actually having to use our minds to learn something, the intuitiveness and innovation in handling these emerging technologies makes this argument obsolete. Take the iPad Mini, for example. It is a device of supreme simplicity. Take it out of its box, hit the power button, and you are up and running. Anyone can learn how to use it in a matter of seconds. Period. No exceptions. We love our iPad Mini’s because they fundamentally destroy the Luddite living within all of us. Intuitiveness trumps primal fear.

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Slaying the Luddite

This brings me to the point of this posting. Anyone can embrace and learn emerging technologies, but you must consciously confront your internal Luddite.

In 2013, Responsive Web Design will emerge as the new standard in web architecture, and DeepBlue will be at the forefront as a thought leader in this new approach. As I have proclaimed on several occasions, Responsive Web Design represents an elegant solution to a complex problem. The approach allows developers to create a website from a single-data source and adjust its layout accordingly to provide an optimal viewing experience – easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling – across a wide range of devices (from desktop computer monitors to tablets to mobile phones). RWD satisfies the user experience demands of today’s multi-platform consumer. Is RWD perfect? No, and I have written previously on the subject of RWD pros and cons (see Responsive Web Design and the Acceptability Threshold: What You Should Know). However, it is our fundamental belief that Responsive Web Design is the right approach for all organizations, large and small.

responsive devices

Embracing Emerging Technologies

Although most of the folks I have spoken to regarding RWD are truly excited about the new approach, I have taken notice that a few remain hesitant. You see, Responsive Web Design represents a SIGNIFICANT departure from the “traditional” way of designing websites. It is a total reinvention of the web user experience and it is only a matter of time of WHEN – not IF – all websites of integrity and reputation go responsive. Companies, particularly the larger ones, tend to err on the side of caution and can be more reactionary than proactive when embracing new technologies. The Luddite prevails. They prefer to sit back and watch as the thought leaders seize the opportunity and establish best-practices. Then, they will play perpetual catch-up as market shares drop and they finally understand and embrace the benefits of emerging technologies and their impact. They allow the Luddite to cage the beast of Innovation until it finally devours its keeper. For any of you out there – CEO’s, Marketing Directors, IT Directors, etc. – who allow themselves to feel the trepidation of the Luddite and decide to sit this one out in 2013, allow me to share with you a small sampling of industry leaders that have already embraced Responsive Web Design:

There is a reason why these icons represent some of the most recognizable and loved brands in the world. They are thought leaders and innovators (although the case can certainly be made against Microsoft on this assertion  ) and they are not afraid to challenge conformity and set new standards. These organizations made the conscious decision to put their Luddite in its place and embrace emerging technologies, particularly Responsive Web Design.

As we head today into a new year full of questions and uncertainty, I challenge anyone out their hearing my words to heed my advice…

DON’T BE A LUDDITE!

Frank Farris

Frank Farris is Founder and CEO of DeepBlue. He has been an active thought leader in the application of emerging web technologies since 1998 and is a champion of the movement to make the Responsive Web Design approach the new industry standard.

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