Two weeks ago I travelled to Cardiff to take part in “The Web Is…”, A Conference celebrating 25 years of the world wide web. There were over a dozen speakers talking about what the web is today and more interestingly, where it is going in the future. My biggest take away from the conference is “The Web is for for everyone”. It actually became a bit of a meme from the conference; it felt like every second speaker had the iconic picture from the opening ceremony from the Olympic games in London.
The Web is for everybody
What does that mean for people designing for the web? My take away from the conference and a workshop run by Brad Frost is that we need to be designing for device independence. These aren’t new ideas but they’re far more important than I had originally realised. This web thing is fairly new. We’re still working out the best way to design for it and we haven’t got all the answers. What we do know is, things move fast and new devices are coming every day. The web is no longer a thing that’s just on our desks. It’s on our phones, our tablets, our laps, our wrists, our cars and if Scott Jenson has his way it’ll be on every vending machine, bus stop and coffee machine in the world. We simply don’t know what the state of the web will be in just a few short years from now.
There is only one constant we have and that is content. Your content is king and the job of the designer is to make the content sing.
Anna Debenham gave a fantastic talk about browsers on consoles. The message was “Don’t dismiss devices because you don’t use them”. If a device has a browser, people will use that browser. In fact, 20% of 16-24 year olds in the UK visited websites from their console in 2011 and that was 3 years ago! That number will continue to increase and so it’s our job to support those devices. So we ask ourselves, with so many different devices and browsers out in the wild how can we possibly support them all? Well, the key here is how you define support. Brad Frost explained there’s a difference between support and optimisation. Support means users can accomplish all goals. Maybe they get redirected to a new page rather than having the page pull in new content with ajax, but that’s OK. Maybe their browser doesn’t support SVG so we serve them up a jpg instead, but that’s OK. It’s OK because they can still accomplish the task at hand and this is the key. Using the concepts of progressive enhancement we can support the majority of devices out there under this definition of support. Sure, IE8 may not have rounded corners, but that’s OK.
Some people out there are questioning the value of progressive enhancement at the moment. Is it holding us back? Shouldn’t we be able to develop applications using all the features of modern browsers? Well yes, of course, and that’s exactly what progressive enhancement allows us to do. Jeremy Keith has written a great blog post recently discussing this in detail.