idsgn (a design blog)

User experience: the future of web design

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November 18 2009

“None of this stuff matters,” a slide from Dan Cederholm’s presentation at FOWD '09 (Photo: placenamehere, Flickr).

For web designers, it has always been a struggle to make websites look the same in every browser. With new technologies like web fonts and forthcoming versions of HTML and CSS, it’s even harder to keep up with the numerous browsers and devices out there. And that’s okay.

At the Future of Web Design conference yesterday in New York, web designer Dan Cederholm showed off some ‘fancy’ new tricks made possible in the latest versions of Safari and (to a slightly lesser extent) FirefoxTransitionsrotation, opacity, shadows, and rounded corners are just some of what’s possible now, but as Cederholm’s presentation boldly stated, “None of this stuff matters.”

Echoed in Elliot Jay Stocks’ presentation, a recurring theme emerged from yesterday’s conference: It’s okay for websites to not look the same in every browser. Web designers should take advantage of new advancements to progressively enhance content today—as long as the focus remains on user experience, other browsers aren't going to know they are missing a few rounded corners.

Do websites need to look exactly the same in every browser?

Do websites need to look exactly the same in every browser? The answer as seen in Safari 4 (left) and Internet Explorer 7 (another example).

We should treat these visual details as rewards for the browsers that support the advanced code… rather than something missing or broken in the browsers that don’t yet support that advanced code. That’s a big shift in thinking for a lot of folks.

—Dan Cederholm, Handcrafted CSS

If you are reading idsgn with Internet Explorer you might notice our rounded buttons look square, or if you are using an iPhone you’ll have to read our headlines in Georgia instead of Auto—but that’s okay, it doesn’t affect the overall user experience.

Perhaps best put by Bill Buxton (author of Sketching User Experiences), the quality of user experience is the only consistency that matters. “Just forget about graphical consistency across browsers. When you think about browsers and the interactions we have over the Internet as being this rich, it’s just absurd… Basically, the only thing that matters in terms of consistency going forward is consistency of the quality of user experience. And until we get that, by trying to make things consistent on every single browser on every single platform, we completely degrade the quality of user experience—or we homogenize it to the point where it’s just boring and mediocre.”

So go ahead, don’t feel guilty about going into the future (and leaving Internet Explorer in the dust)—focus on user experience and, as Dan Cederholm reminds us, “Subtle is key.”

Filed under: interaction

By Skylar Challand