As a user, we believe a website should work. We don't care how
or where we're viewing it from - our computers, phones, a tablet;
it should just work. If it doesn't work - if its core functionality
is inhibited - we lose faith in the brand. Our chances of returning
to that website are slim.
...and if it does work, we don't even notice it, because in this
age, we just expect it to.
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable
Arthur C. Clarke, "Profiles of The
As developers, we need to make the unnoticeable magic happen,
within the laws of the virtual world. We believe that users
shouldn't be hindered by the device they choose to view a website
In a perfect world, devices would view the web in the same way.
There would be one browser to rule them all. A web developer
naively dreams of this day, in the same way a physicist dreams of
the Theory of Everything. A single browser would give us one set of
rules to build to.
In reality, there are many browsers, attempting to best each other
with the way they present the web. There's a multitude of
devices and operating systems, further complicating the way things
as simple as text displays.
We cannot count on users having a particular browser, or never
viewing the website in multiple ways. The opposite in fact; we
want those return visits, we want them to visit
our site from home, work, and from their phones on the daily
commute. We need to make the web work for them, so they don't even
notice it's working for them.
So, how does one make the same website work in so many different
ways? Careful planning, and vigorous testing during development to
make a website as cross-browser1 compatible as possible.
All browsers, both Mac and PC versions, Android, iPhone, iPad. Test
on each, adjust to suit.
But, adjust what?
Like every other aspect of the web, the application of
cross-browser compatibility measures have evolved over time. Due to
the sheer number of devices and browsers one is required to support
in order to make the magic happen - and due to new devices
constantly being released to add to the mix - the mindset is in
The flux state can be (very generally) narrowed down to
- Those who believe a website should look exactly the
same on every device.
- Those who believe a website should function on every
A balance is found, leaning either way, depending on the
underlying goal of the project. Websites need to be both functional
and beautiful, or people won't like visiting them.
As a web developer, I am inclined to believe in method two. A
website should function, before all else. To better explain my
school of thought, an analogy:
Let's build a bridge. Architects, engineers, and a multitude of
other people, all with varying goals and skillsets, touch the
project during its evolution and eventual build.
Now let's imagine a moment in time where there is a challenge. The
engineers advise the project managers that if the bridge is built
using a particular design feature, it will shake dangerously in
high winds, scaring and potentially injuring anyone on it at the
time. They advise the design feature be dropped, and support struts
be put in its place for added stability. The architects aren't
happy - why can't the engineers make their version work?
By removing it, they are hindering the emotional response the
architects intend to express in that design feature. To counter,
engineers cite the laws of the physical world; the parameters that
they are required to work between.
So, a decision must be made. This is, in my opinion, when it's
important to address the reason for building the bridge. It needs
to join two banks of a river. It needs to be used by people, so it
is required that the bridge be safe without anyone having
to question its safety. In addressing the purpose of the bridge, we
also find an underlying user-generated emotional response in
amongst the functionality. Safety.
Through this we find our answer. What is the point of this bridge
if it can't achieve its underlying reason for existing in the first
These are the questions developers ask constantly. We are the
engineers, and we cite the laws of the virtual world to explain
what is and isn't possible, what is and isn't advisable, what will
function and what will hinder the online experience.
Pick what's most important to your users
A website is like a bridge; connecting your users from one side of
the computer to your brand. Many parties are involved with its
creation, each with their own set of rules to guide their
decisions, which will lead to inevitable conflicts of
But within each challenge lies an opportunity to reassess the
project's goal. With the user in mind, you will find that the
resolution to the challenge is easier to come by than you
1 Cross-browser on Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cross-browser.