SJ (Scott Jehl)

You May Not Need Progressive Enhancement, The Term

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By Scott Jehl

Recently, I’ve heard several peers lament that Progressive Enhancement, a term describing a process of building resilient, user-first websites, isn’t working anymore–that it has been redefined, even maligned, to mean different things to different people, with some even understanding it to mean reducing our online experiences to a sad, minimally-viable bar. As an early investor in the term, I have been bothered by this trend too, especially as I find that the practice and mindset of designing with progressive enhancement is just as critical today as it ever has been. The web is constantly gaining complexity and progressive enhancement remains the best approach that I know to create sites that put users' needs first.

At work lately, I’ve been experiencing this discussion first-hand. I’ve been working with the folks at Begin, who build the Enhance framework, and it’s been a great opportunity to learn how they’ve applied the concepts of progressive enhancement to modern application workflows that use web components. (I have to say, I think they’re onto something quite elegant here.) Part of the work we’re doing together involves finding ways to communicate the benefits of their toolset that will resonate with people from a variety of backgrounds. In the process, I find that I too am using progressive enhancement, the term, less than I used to. But that’s not so much because it may be misunderstood, but because it describes a means rather than an end, and the ends are the most important concept to communicate about progressive enhancement.

That’s why I find it’s helpful to lead with the outcomes that progressive enhancement helps you achieve, like resilience, performance, accessibility, and longevity. If you can convince someone that resilience itself is a smart goal for their website, they'll seek technical patterns that help them get there. If they want a site that is slick and modern, and also usable for folks who happen to be on a slow or intermittent connection, or a phone with limited processing power, or when there’s an outage somewhere in the world causing their site's scripts to fail, you may not even need to tell them about progressive enhancement at all.

Frankly, what else are they going to use?

By the way... I am currently exploring work opportunities for 2024! If you think I might make a good addition to your team, whether full-time or as an independent contractor, please reach out.