Progressive Enhancement seems to be the buzz word in Web design these days, the idea behind it is that web designers will spend less time getting websites to look perfect in dated technologies.
The “progressive enhancement” term is the way we code that leaves the full functionality, usability and accessibility for older browsers with the base layout, the majority of the styling and design work will be worked on for more modern browsers by applying some advanced CSS that is unavailable for any version of IE (Internet Explorer).
A good example of this is Internet Explorer 6 which was released over 9 years ago, it has never been fully compliant with W3C and CSS standards and proves to be very difficult to code correctly in. There are a few people who still use IE6 (even though we are now on IE8), these people often don’t have the administrator access to download updates or have gotten used to it so don’t feel they wish to change.
Due to the bugs in IE6 we have now learn’t a lot about CSS and the web so with new browsers it is easier to account for. New browsers are being released all the time, and they are being developed to be compliant to CSS2.1 standards, and now Microsoft have announced the first drafts of CSS3.
Because of these new browsers, such as Firefox, Chrome, IE8 it means the efforts put into cross browser testing for the older browsers very time consuming for little reward. In the case of IE6, very few people still use it, and studies show that the user doesn’t notice little styling errors, especially with nothing to benchmark it to. As long as the site is user friendly and accessible there is no need to test and change for IE6, this is progressive enhancement.
Certain styling techniques like nice shadows and rounded corners will polish a design but not necessary and as IE cannot interpret it without causing issues with functionality it is better to give them a more basic design hoping they will upgrade to more modern browsers.
There are certain hacks that web designer can do that will make the browser work in IE6 these will fix any serious ussues with compatibility. At SEO Creative we use progressive enhancement, and rarely code for IE6. Although recently a client came to us and told us that another agency had not fixed some major bugs in IE7, IE7 is still the most widely used browser and accounted for nearly 80% of this particular client’s traffic. The client responded that it was ok as the other Agency had told him all about Progressive Enhancement and that IE7 has been out dated since the release of IE8.
IE8 still has a lot of bugs, and admit it themselves, which may be the reason a lot of people haven’t upgraded. Due to the popularity of IE7 as a browser I am surprised a reputable agency would use Progressive enhancement as an excuse to fix some serious bugs.
Progressive enhancement is an approach to getting rid of browsers and technologies, this means designers and users can get better quality websites using CSS3 and HTML5. This however is no excuse not to do work that will inevitably affect the whole user experience.Don’t mistake Progressive enhancement for the reason a site may not work in cross browsers, but merely striving for better standards using newer technologies and making sure they degrade gracefully in older browsers.