Webvanta Blog: Creating Effective Websites

Coding for Today’s Web: Are You Hardboiled?

Coding for Today’s Web: Are You Hardboiled? Image

There’s a variety of approaches designers have used to deal with the diversity of web browsers. From the earliest days of the web, “graceful degradation” was a guiding principle, suggesting that you design for the best browsers but take care to ensure that the experience on less-capable browsers degraded in a graceful way. Graceful degradation is built in, to some degree, to HTML and CSS, such as in the use of ALT attributes for images, and font stacks for specifying fonts.

Progressive, Responsive, …

In the past decade or so, there has been a shift toward progressive enhancement, recommending that you start with a minimal experience and add enhancements for more capable browsers. With this approach, you start from the content, marking it up minimally, so that anything that can render basic HTML can display the content reasonably. All styling and interaction enhancements are added conditionally, using various techniques to test whether the browser supports a particular enhancement.

More recently, Ethan Marcotte began advocating for an approach he calls responsive web design. Responsive design is focused more on accommodating mobile devices, especially using CSS3 media queries.

… and now, Hardboiled

Now, Andy Clarke brings us hardboiled web design: an approach, an attitude, a book, and a workshop. Riffing on the hardboiled detective of the Sam Spade ilk, Andy describes hardboiled web design as follows:

“‘Hardboiled’ web design is about never compromising on creating the best work we can for the web. Hardboiled is about challenging assumptions. Hardboiled is never being afraid to push boundaries, break rules or invent new ones. Hardboiled is stripping our markup to the bone to make it more adaptable to whatever the web might throw at it. Hardboiled is not hesitating to make the most of new technologies.”

The hardboiled approach differs from progressive enhancement in part by calling for using the latest HTML5 and CSS3 features for more than embellishments. If you create your design without these features, and then layer them on, you’re all but guaranteed to make only incidental use of them. Instead, Andy advocates creating the best design you can, for the most capable browsers—and then building versions of the design that work well in less capable browsers.

This is a little different from graceful degradation, in that it disposes with the ‘graceful’ piece. You might choose, for example, to deliver a simple, typographic style sheet to IE6, providing a clear rendering of the content but with minimal styling. This approach discards not only the outdated idea that a site should look the same in all browsers, but even that it should look similar in all browsers.

The book Hardboiled Web Design explains this philosophy, and goes on to explore specific features of HTML5 and CSS3 and how you can use them to design better sites. Following the maverick approach, you won’t find the book at Amazon, which lists it incorrectly as ‘out of print’. It is very much in print, but the small UK-based publisher, Five Simple Steps, has chosen to sell direct. Shipping from the UK makes delivery slow and expensive for U.S. purchasers, but you can can download a PDF version quickly and inexpensively.

Workshops Coming to U.S. in August

Andy is also leading workshops covering this material, including two in the U.S.: August 26 in Seattle and August 29 in Boston. August may seem far away, but it’s a safe bet that these workshops will sell out well in advance, so if you want to attend, grab your seat now.

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