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What is Progressive Enhancement?

Why You Should Use Progressive Enhancement for Your Next Web Project

Designing a website or web application is not an easy process. Not only must developers and designers consider the various browsers that the user will utilize (and we all know that all browsers are not created equal), they must also consider the multiple devices that may come in to play.

So how do web designers approach this conundrum? There are two main ways of solving this issue and ensuring a positive experience for all users. The first method known as ‘graceful degradation’ involves designing with the capabilities of the most modern advanced browsers in mind. But what about the less advanced browsers, you ask? Older browsers, within the graceful degradation framework, will render a less complex, degraded design that still provides an adequate and functional user experience (that’s where the graceful part comes in). But is this really the best way?

Progressive enhancement, in comparison, takes the opposite approach. As described by the W3C, starting from a baseline of functionality and design, progressive enhancement creates a richer user experience through testing for browser capabilities and applying design and functionality based on these findings. Instead of “fixing issues”, progressive enhancement is based on developing from a common starting point and “adding extras” where appropriate.

Why Progressive Enhancement?

Progressive Enhancement has certainly become the favoured approach within the industry. According to the W3C, “Degrading gracefully means looking back whereas enhancing progressively means looking forward whilst keeping your feet on firm ground.”

There are certainly many benefits of a progressive enhancement approach to design and development. For example, as noted by Smashing Magazine in
this article , progressive enhancement allows developers and designers to focus on producing a solid foundation for their web site or application. There is also the confidence of knowing that all users will have a positive user experience despite differences in browser, device or available functionality. Finally, progressive enhancement also allows developers to release a site or application with the option of adding to and enhancing in the future.

Further Reading

Interested in learning more about the Progressive Enhancement approach to developing for web? There are many really great articles that delve deeper into the subject that may interest you. If you like progressive enhancement and candy, check out this article brought to you by A List Apart. If you are interested in learning how to apply a progressive enhancement approach, Smashing Magazine offers this excellent read. Finally, the W3C also has a few great tips about progressive enhancement that you can find here.

Are you a progressive enhancement kind of guy or girl? Share with us your ideas and thoughts about this particular development approach below.

* Special thanks to a great web Prof from Georgian College, Derek Buttineau, for introducing and discussing the idea of progressive enhancement!

 

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