Progressive enhancement explained simply
This is a little excerpt from Form Design Patterns, a book about designing and coding simple and inclusive forms.
Progressive enhancement is about users. It just happens to make our lives as designers and developers easier too. Instead of keeping up with a set of browsers and devices (which is impossible!) we can just focus on features.
First and foremost, progressive enhancement is about always giving users a reasonable experience, no matter their browser, device, or quality of connection. When things go wrong – and they will – users won’t suffer in that they can still get things done.
If everything loads OK, perhaps various HTML elements aren’t recognized. For example, some browsers don’t understand
<input type="email">. That’s fine, though, because users will get a text box (
<input type="text">) instead. Users can still enter an email address; they just don’t get an email-specific keyboard on mobile.
Maybe the browser doesn’t understand some fancy CSS, and it will just ignore it. In most cases, this isn’t a problem. Let’s say you have a button with
border-radius: 10px. Browsers that don’t recognize this rule will show a button with angled corners. Arguably, the button’s perceived affordance is reduced, but users are left unharmed. In other cases it might be helpful to use feature queries.
Progressive enhancement makes us think about what happens when things fail. It allows us to build experiences with resilience baked in. But equally, it makes us think about whether an enhancement is needed at all; and if it is, how best to go about it.
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