Responsible Web Design

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There’s been a good deal of discussion lately around one of my favorite Web design topics: progressive enhancement. Aaron Gustafson, Jeremy Keith, Stuart Langridge, and Tim Kadlec have all written and spoken eloquently on the subject in recent days. Stuart’s and Tim’s posts in particular expertly outline what progressive enhancement is actually about: making your website’s content reliably available to your users regardless of their capabilities, connectivity, or circumstance.

As Tim concludes in his post, “Thriving in Unpredictability”:

It’s about the users. It’s about finding ways to make our content available to them no matter how unpredictable the path that lies between us and them.

Hashtag nailed it.

There’s an undercurrent in the conversation around progressive enhancement, though, that the term itself is now too divisive and that carrying on referring to it as such is causing potentially receptive audiences to tune out. Stuart sums it up thusly:

In the past, we’ve called this “progressive enhancement,” but people don’t like that word. Because it sounds hard. It sounds like you’re not allowed to use modern tools in case one user has IE4. Like you have to choose between slick design and theoretical users in Burma.

Tim also writes:

I’m not sure what we call it now. Maybe we do need another term to get people to move away from the “progressive enhancement = working without JS” baggage that distracts from the real goal.

I completely disagree that we should change nomenclature because there exists some small segment of Web designers unwilling to expand their development toolbox. I think progressive enhancement—the term—remains useful, descriptive, and appropriate. But, okay fine, if the desire is to ditch the term and shed whatever baggage it may have accumulated over the years, then I have a proposal.

Let’s call progressive enhancement what it truly is: Responsible Web Design.

If you’re interested in learning more about progressive enhancement and how you can apply it to your Web design process, I’ll be speaking on the topic next week at the seventh annual CSS Summit. Use the discount code “JASON” and save 20% off the ticket price!