Why design to IE?

So as I was downloading the Sockwave player onto my Internet Explorer, which I haven’t used since I bought this computer except to check how my web pages look on a non-standards-compliant browser, something I asked a couple members of this class last week came back to me:

Could someone tell me why we should even worry about how our web pages look in IE? Why bother with the little hacks and fixes?

Seriously. If the entire web starts ignoring IE, and users’ experience on all websites just starts slipping, won’t that just encourage a) users to jump over to Firefox or something that’s similarly compliant and open-source, and/or b) Microsoft’s developers to realize that there’s a real problem with being non-compliant, and getting with the program?

What really drove this home was reading about (and in the case of WebAim, simulating) the experiences and difficulties of those with disabilities using the web. The fixes are all doable, and not too hard to implement on an example-by-example, but overall, it’s a lot of extra coding, a lot to keep in mind, a lot of extra work.

Don’t get me wrong– the work is worthwhile, and even admirable. People with disabilities use the web. If anything, my experience as a big ol’ geek who spends too much time in internet communities, BBS’s, and networking sites seems to indicate to me that it’s actually a disproportionately high number– or at least that the handicapped have a disproportionately high presence on the web. My personal experience having a roommate with Parkinson’s has only backed up this concept– he spends more time online than almost anyone his age I know. It’s his livelihood and a major connection to the outside world for a guy who has to take a van to go even a block from home.

So I’m all for implementing accessibility measures on my web pages. It makes sense. It’s the humane thing to do. And it’s catering to a good potential audience of highly-engaged users.

But at some point, the camel’s back will break. I’m all for geeking out on doing your design, etc, but at some point you really just want to put the stuff up on the web and get it out where people can see and use it. If you’re looking for somewhere to cut corners for speed or convenience, it just makes a lot more sense to try to make your page accessible to the greatest number of people. Cut corners by not designing to the people whose only "handicap" is having a rotten web browser. And then, if you feel like trying to get those people to come over to the non-IE, compliant side, don’t coddle them, but prosthelytize!  Try to tell– or even show– people just how easy it is to install a nice, simple compliant browser.

My comments in other blogs can be found here, here, and here.

4 replies on “Why design to IE?”

Tad, thanks for the offer to help with Photoshop, I may very well take you up on it (Jennifer was nice enough to offer as well). I think I have everything down but coloring and I’d like to figure out the layering thing for the stenographs.

As for your IE bashing, I am with ya! I have installed Firefox on both Ben Carton’s cpu AND Michael Chang’s! Mainly for my own work, of course, as I use their offices a lot for office hours and HW. But I am also hoping it rubs off on them a little! Maybe that would be a good plan: we break into offices and schools around the country and install firefox on all the computers while deleting any record of IE!! It would be like a modern-day, technological version of Robin Hood, you in?

I think you have a interesting idea that when pressed for time, standards compliance and accessibility should trump maintaining page for the dreaded IE6.

Unfortunately, if the goal is, as you say, “to make your page accessible to the greatest number of people,” then designing for IE6 is far more important. As much as we might want to force users into a better browser, moving 80+% of the web-population is unlikely at best. Not as long as much of the web operates on a business model geared toward serving, not changing, audiences.

Beyond that, one of the disabilities Clark discusses is the technological one. Many users worldwide do not have their own computers. Their online time is rented, borrowed, stolen on computers they can find, and utilizes the software available. Others work at jobs that mandate IE use. Still others have the smallest of technical know-how, could not download and install Firefox if they wanted to, and are stuck with pre-installed software.

These issues and more unfortunately mean design must continue to appease bad browsers. Thankfully, IE7 seems to be a major improvement in standards compliance (mostly because of the competitive pressure Firefox has put on it). Perhaps one day, these fixes and tricks will no longer be necessary.

Tad — your willingness to stick it to the Man in Redmond is admirable, but I’m afraid it’s going to take more work than just ignoring Internet Exploder. Firefox has done a remarkable thing, but there are still two computers using IE for every one that uses some other browser. And since the information deluge continues online, those two people will simply look somewhere else for information. That’s a lot of people you’re going to miss!

Still, it’s quite enjoyable to envision a world where web standards reign supreme. I’ll come over to Tad’s World as soon as possible!

Didn’t we use to include a caveat on web pages: best viewed in [insert name of browsers]? That was, I believe, because of the Netscape/IE disconnect. Perhaps a return to that convention would help erode the rock.

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