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Why I still design for IE6 : Apr 28 2009

Web Design / Comments

IE in sign language

With the life of IE6 coming rather slowly to an end (as discussed in my previous post), the talk of designers and developers dropping support for the browser is rife in blog posts and tweets all over the web.

Some pretty large sites have already got the ball rolling - possibly one of the biggest being FaceBook.

There is also a trend of developers, not dropping support entirely, but only providing it if their client specifically requests and pays for the work necessary to accommodate the browser.

So, where do I stand on IE6 support?

Like most decisions I make in my web development work - at both the planning and design stage - I make my choices from statistical analysis.

This analysis is from:

  • the stats from the website in question (if already live and gathering statistical data)
  • research into the stats and trends from similar websites
  • general global stats (usually from a source such as www.w3schools.com/browsers/browsers_stats.asp)

The stats that can effect your design decisions are often those concerning: screen resolutions, operating systems / platforms (PC / MAC etc.), and - as we are discussing here - browser usage.

Let's have a quick ganders at the numbers ...

Well, according to w3cschools, IE6 usage throughout the web in general is at 17% (March 2009).

That, in my opinion, is a statistic you can not ignore as a professional web designer. Especially if the site is a new build with only general market research to go on.

This isn't about how rubbish the browser in question is. This isn't about how much of an inconvenience it is for the developer.  It's a percentage that represents a significant number of people who have come to view and use a website. Would you lock out visitors if that 17% of users were using the Safari browser? Of course not, and when you consider that Safari users currently stand at 3.1% (March 2009), it further hits home what the responsible way of looking at this situation is.

I have designed and developed a number of e-Commerce websites, so I am well accustomed to dealing with the direct link between traffic and sales.

So, let's say that a site has sales of £30k in a year. When you consider that every visit could lead to a sale, that 17% IE6 visitor stat could represent £5100 in annual sales for your client. Not to be sniffed at. That's not an 'optional extra' in my mind.

This is why I feel it is up to the developer to decide whether IE6 support is necessary or not, it is not a decision for the client to be making, and the developer should put aside any opinions on the quality of the browser and go with the reality in which they are faced.

This site here what you is looking at now

You'll notice that this very site displays and functions near enough the same in IE6 as it does on faster, modern browsers. This is because, at the time I started my re-design (December 2007) my stats showed that 17% of visitors were using IE6, and even when I finally got around to launching the new site earlier this year (March 2009) stats showed IE6 users at 10% - still a significant number I think you'll agree.

Don't get me wrong, if you read my 'about this website' page you'll see that I - for the obvious reasons - don't recommend that visitors use IE6, and I provide links to the better alternatives. All developers should do this as part of educating users.

Also, would you say that my design, and its functionality, has suffered from my choice to cater for visitors using IE6? Hmm ...

C'mon people! Remember what 'Accessibility' actually means

I find it baffling when developers quote 'accessibility' as a reason for dropping support:

"IE6 is a rubbish browser in terms of accessibility and web standards, so that is another reason to drop support for it"

What?! Accessibility is about giving the best access to your site - for standard visitors, search engines, other sites and apps, and - of course - for those who may be impaired in some way.

Therefore, if you are purposefully making things difficult for 17% of users who have committed to coming to a site, you are falling at the first hurdle of accessibility.

Are these visitors of less value than others, because they happen to not fully understand the difference between browser types and versions? Would you stop a friend from coming in your house because their trainers aren't the latest Nikes, or the car they have driven to your house in doesn't have a passenger side airbag? No. You let them in (you perhaps make a suggestion about comfier trainers or safer cars). Why do you let them in? Because not to would be just plain snobbery, and would also make you a bit of a dick.

Charging 'extra' for IE6 support

Well, I already do this. I look at the brief, I look at statistics, I do my research, and if the conclusion of this is that a significant number of users will be accessing the site using IE6 (or any other possible method - perhaps the research shows that most users, in this case, will be be accessing the site via their 1998 mobile phone, pressing the buttons with their nose, whilst drunk, on a raft in the ocean, with cramp in their right thigh - my point is you deal with the reality of the situation you are faced) ...

Erm, where was I? Yes, you discover that a "significant number of users will be accessing the site using IE6". It is therefore your responsibility as the designer to cater for this and - of course - work out how long this will take for you to do and, therefore, how much it costs. Nothing new there folks.

Of course, you will also need to try and come up with methods to get the best out of the situation - a design that still looks and works great despite a heavy "17% IE6" anchor hanging around its neck. This may require some compromise and also some "graceful degradation" and "progressive enhancement" where appropriate. Hey, if it was easy it would be boring, right?

When you are asking the client if they "would like you to support IE6", or leaving it as a separate optional cost because "the browser isn't very good and it makes it difficult to do really clever things", what your actually saying, when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, is "would you like to have a possible 17% of your visitors unable to access and use your site properly?".

Just to set the record straight

IE6 is rubbish. If you are able to, use another browser - Firefox, Chrome, Safari, even IE7/8. Don't interpret the above as if I am in someway 'pro' IE6.

I know it's probably not 'cool' to be showing this much respect for a browser that has been such an absolute pain in the arse to developers and users alike for so long, but it seems many have forgotten what 'accessibility' actually means.

I realise that many will disagree, and also that - come 2010 - all this will be 'by the by'. Roll on 2010 I say. But in the meantime: it's raining outside and I have to walk the dog, and - whilst I don't particularly like my waterproof jacket - I'm going to have to put it on, otherwise I'll get wet or the dog won't get her walk.

Yer get meh? :P



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