Progressive enhancement vs. graceful degradation

08 July

Progressive enhancement vs. graceful degradation

There is no doubt that the world of website creation is complicated. Even back in the day when almost everyone was using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, you still had several old versions floating around with one version supporting one plug-in and another browser not. Although it can be extremely frustrating to have to create websites and content for users of all shapes, sizes, and ability levels, those outdated Internet users can be absolutely key to the success of your page or your product, so you exclude them at your own risk.

To ensure that as many people as possible are reached, designers have their choice of two main browser support strategies: progressive enhancement or graceful degradation. These two systems sound very similar to the untrained ear, but designers know first-hand how different they are.

First, graceful degradation is based on how a web page looks, or the presentation of the data you have posted on your website. If someone with an ancient browser accesses your site, they will receive as much data as their browser will support. With progressive enhancement, the content of your website will come through loud and clear, but it may not look the way you intended. What this battle really comes down to is presentation versus content. What is more important to you and your company? The information you have on your site or the way that information is presented?

You can also look at the two through the scope of user experience. Today’s websites are about a lot more than just giving sports scores and the latest news headlines in a static, almost newspaper-like environment. They are about entertaining, about immersing the user in an environment that is user-friendly, fun and exciting. Graceful degradation will allow as much of that total presentation, the total website experience, to come through to users as possible, while progressive enhancement will screen out the goodies that make your website exciting and get the nuts and bolts, the information and the basic functionality through.

As you can imagine, most companies would prefer progressive enhancement since it screens out less of the basic message your site is trying to get across. If you have a graphics or video heavy site, you may be better off with graceful degradation. No matter which option you choose, it is a major choice that every business has to decide on since there will always be people out there using browsers from a decade ago or using computers at work that have scripts disabled. How do you effectively reach these people?

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