Last week Paul Irish coined a new term: TAFEE, which stands for Tiered, Adaptive, Front-end Experiences. The concept is nothing new.
It’s basically the prettier cousin of the concept of progressive enhancement, with a little bit of Andy Clarke thrown in for good measure. I won’t explain TAFEE here; you can read Paul’s post to understand the concept better, and to understand the reasons behind this approach.
Here’s a summary of the basic premise of this debate, and then my thoughts.
The TV/Browser Analogy
Old browsers are like black and white TVs. New browsers are like High-definition TVs. No one expects to see color on a black and white TV, so likewise no one expects to see modern effects on old browsers.
The Objection to the Analogy
A comment from Niels Matthijs started the criticism of the analogy. He said, in part:
[N]o matter what you do and how hard you try, there’s no way to get color on a b&w TV screen. People know this and will accept this.
Then Ole Oleson said:
TV content is optimized for one format. It doesn’t change based on the type of tv you use. Your TV (browser) does all of the changing to make it work on it.
And he further added:
If we used this analogy it would mean we could design one site, no tweaks or hacks or browser specific items and be done with it. It would then be each individual browsers responsibility to make it display correctly, not the other way around.
Unfortunately, he’s right.
Why Aren’t Browsers More Like TVs?
The truth is, web developers should be able to design and code a site according to a single set of standards, and the web browser should adapt our code and design to be virtually identical to all other browsers.
Think about it: Can you imagine watching an episode of The Office and noticing that Dwight Schrute has a missing arm, and then finding out the arm is missing because of a “bug” in the TV set?
But, due to browser inconsistencies, we see that on the web all the time. Because of the basically “open” nature of the web, we work in an industry where anyone can “view source” on a web page, where a 15-year old can contribute to the specification, where every developer and their dog is offering free code on code repositories like GitHub.
The TV industry is not like that. The TV industry is a commercially-driven, closed platform that does not encourage the type of collaboration that we see in our industry.
While the openness of our industry certainly has many benefits, it also has great drawbacks — one of which is the problem of cross-browser inconsistencies.
But We Don’t Care, Do We?
While I will still continue to promote some hacks and workarounds for older browsers like Internet Explorer 6-8, I am leaning more towards smart progressive enhancement techniques like that encapsulated in the concept of TAFEE.
Although it is a sobering reminder that browsers aren’t TVs, the truth is: I don’t care. Taking the TAFEE approach means we’re putting the future of web design in our own hands, and not at the mercy of endless bugs and inconsistencies.
So I say: So what if browsers aren’t TVs? We can still treat them that way and encourage more and more developers, clients, and users to understand that getting modern CSS and HTML techniques to work in IE6 and IE7 costs time and money, and creates a slower experience for browsers that are already slow to begin with.
So understand that browsers aren’t TVs, but embrace the TAFEE approach, because it’s the best option for our rapidly-changing and legacy-obsessed industry.