Progressive Enhancement: Putting Content First For Everyone

Last week we all went to Responsive Field Day right here in Portland, OR. It was entirely focused on responsive design for websites, which we are big fans of. If you missed it this year, you should definitely keep an eye out for it next year — we’ll be there and you can grab lunch with us when you visit! Double bonus!

One concept that was discussed multiple times was progressive enhancement, which I’ll try and broadly define:

Progressive enhancement is the practice of making your website’s core functionality and content available to everyone first, regardless of browser and connection speed.

If you want to get slightly more technical, this article does a great job of explaining it. Or, if you are like me, you can get the gist from this image of a peanut M&M from the same article:


People are coming to a website for the peanut. If it weren’t for the peanut, there wouldn’t be any reason for it to exist. (Unless you are into plain M&M’s, but let’s not stretch the analogy too far). Of course the sweet stuff makes your content more pleasant to look at and flow more logically. However, if your user has a browser or a connection that is substandard, it can get in the way.

If we design a website with this core concept in mind – that the content is first and foremost what the user has come to the site for – then by default it should be more functional than if we didn’t.

As a minimalist, I love this idea. And as a member of Staffing Robot’s content team, that means that I need to think about how the content is presented to the user in ways that I didn’t think about before. This also means working hand-in-hand with the developers to make sure that the content we are presenting shows up for everyone.


Remember me?

For instance, you can make sure your content is available to people on outdated browsers, no matter how creative your webpage design. That doesn’t mean that it will look good, but if someone is visiting your page on an older browser they can at least get the core content you are presenting.

Another example of progressive enhancement is presenting content in relation to connection speed. We can feel spoiled with super-fast internet, but that isn’t the case for everyone (especially on mobile).

We can help that user by loading the content that they are most interested in first, while the other stuff loads around it. Amazon does this with their product pages, and if you start to look for it as you poke around the internet, it becomes obvious (and neat).

Overall, it’s a philosophy that takes a lot of things in mind: design, content, and development. When done correctly, it also has the added benefit of working better with screen readers and other tools that help accessibility.

When working on your content (no matter what it is), consider using the ideas around progressive enhancement as a framework. I think it’s something we’ll be talking a lot more about here at Staffing Robot.

Want to talk more about how to modernize your website? Contact Staffing Robot!

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