Posted by Steve mid-evening on Wednesday the 4th of April, 2007

Graceful degradation.

Innocuous little phrase, isn’t it?

If one takes a moment to consider it, however, the idea can be taken to it’s logical conclusion: ‘You (or your browser) are incapable of handling the full experience we want to present, so here’s a cut-down version.’

At its core, the mere concept of ‘graceful degradation’ belies a lack of respect for one’s users and, more critically, a fundamental misunderstanding of the medium in which we work.

The fundamental building block of the web is not JavaScript. Nor is it CSS. If your user experience relies on either of these, rather than features native to HTML, then that user experience is fundamentally flawed for use on the web.

The key is to design user interactions with naught but HTML‘s base features in mind, later using CSS and JavaScript to enhance that experience (most likely streamlining it or making it more efficient). Done right, this enhancement can even be done in progressive levels, based on the availability of given features in the browser.

As a community, we coin phrases with nary a thought to deeper connotations these might have. Under scrutiny, the idea of ‘graceful degradation’ simply doesn’t align with user-centric design and development.

Progressive enhancement it is, then.

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  1. So are you not able to attend Highland Fling or did you just decide to pre-blog everything you’re going to hear about tomorrow? ;-)

    1 hour, 34 minutes after the fact
  2. I’m not able to attend Highland Fling, no, but this is something Norm! and I have been talking about for a while now and I figured this post would make a nice counterpart to his talk.

    I guess the crux of the matter is that so many people talk about graceful degradation but so few (including some supposed experts) realise that they’re approaching problems in entirely the wrong fashion.

    2 hours, 48 minutes after the fact
  3. I think it’s a good post, I just thought the timing was ironic ;-)

    10 hours, 5 minutes after the fact
  4. Funnily enough, I’ve always thought of it that way: I see graceful degradation as the result of progressive enhancement, if you see what I mean.

    That said, some form of degradation is often nicer that nothing at all.

    1 day, 1 hour after the fact