…or, Defragmenting Design For Browser Fragmentation…or, How I Learned To Love Browser Discrepencies And Get On With My Work

In Illinois, First Degree Murder is punishable from a minimum of 20 years in prison to a maximum of life, including the possibility of a death sentence, if aggravating factors are present as provided for in 720 ILCS 5/9-1(b)1 through (b)21.*

This is good to keep in mind when considering the proliferation of new devices and browsers and operating systems and how exactly we are supposed to make the stupid design render consistently when the frigging standards we are supposed to adhere to aren’t being consistently applied by the device manufacturers or the OS creators all of whom I want to…

…OK, another deep breath…

In the first part of this 2-part series, I wrote the following:

This means letting go of pixel perfection and no longer hinging success on complex functional requirements. It means focusing on the message and the way the message becomes concentrated given a small amount of working area.

I went on to cheerfully urge you to embrace content degradation the same way an entrepreneur might distill a 175-slide presentation deck into a 30-second elevator spiel. A valid notion, but hard to do. Digital marketers, developers and designers have been trained to seek absolute pixel perfection across all platforms. This has resulted in some wonky workarounds to support some not-dead-yet browser and OS combinations.

The Chinese symbol for "Nothing"

Continuing to chase the greased pig that is 100% consistent display across every device is like, well chasing a greased pig: Let’s say you do manage to corral the slippery porker…then what? My recommendation is to de-emphasize adherence to standardized theoretical knowledge in favor of direct self-realization.

In other words, take a more Zen approach to your display.

Making this happen will be hard because your team really wants only the best, but they define it differently than you should:

  • Developers, because they think like engineers, want to solve the problem to perfection every time
  • Designers become absorbed with exercising their God complexes, and thus want everything exactly as they ordain it to be

In the process of tackling the exact issue for, oh, just about 15 years of my career – through the first Internet explosion and now into the Age of Mobile – I have a little insight as to how to avoid chasing the same pig that everybody else is chasing, but nobody really wants.

  1. Apply and enforce content hierarchy – View each page as a pyramid, where there can ultimately be only 1 item “on top”. Sounds obvious, but you might be surprised how crowded that “Most Important” category can become. Translated to the Web 1.0, not everything needs to be above the fold.
  2. Focus on feature success over consistency – If your online content requires a specific feature that is complex or unique to a particular handset, then focus on the perfection of execution in places where the feature will perform best. Mobile device users are self-selecting; they use what they want or what they have to use; it’s not as easy as downloading a different browser.

    We are not as close to having a uniformly kitted-out user base as in the days of pre-mobile Internet. If there is a whole family of devices that cannot do what you want to do, you might need to reconsider reworking the feature – either adapting the codebase or changing the feature itself – to achieve the desired ubiquity.

  3. Change the objective – This is another way of saying, “Let the team know they’re off the hook” so they spend their time and talents on what really matters – delivering the best experience given the data, the content, and the user’s physical context.

This topic will continue to be bandied about for the foreseeable future, with various developers worrying endlessly over work-arounds for problems that don’t have anything to do with the central point: delivering excellent content and information and experience.

The fact is, users don’t really notice variations between browsers and devices; they notice what they see, and if they like what they are experiencing they’re none-the-wiser. When a friend comes along with a “better” device and shows off a “better” version of the same experience, the user at that point has to make a device decision that has nothing to do with you.

Do yourself and your team a real service, and set the metrics of success to measure delivery of excellence relative to the device. Make data architecture the focus of the team’s efforts, then deliver those goods as cleanly as possible. Avoid allowing the device’s plumbing to become clogged by the coding of low-value work-arounds.

It’s time to stop the insanity and realize that, sometimes, even though we can do something, it doesn’t mean we should.

* – This paragraph was lifted directly from this source, fwiw…