Progressive Enhancement VS Elegent Degredation | Forethought VS Afterthought

I don’t claim to be the genius who thought of it but I’ve been getting a lot of mileage out of this approach lately.

After attending a UIE conference in San Diego last year I started to think a lot about the phrase Elegant (or Graceful) Degradation and its counterpart Progressive Enhancement.  I’ve found that the concept of Elegant Degradation can be quite damaging if taken as the view as the best way to think about making user experiences accessible to all.

What I mean by that is that rather than creating the “killer app” and then dumbing it down (aka taking away features) we need to take the Progressive Enhancement approach by thinking about the best lowest common denominator experience and then piling the “sexy” on top of it.

As I thought about it more, I equated the two to Afterthought and Forethought.  Elegant Degradation reeks of afterthought to me.  “Here’s a killer app, now how can we make it work for users without <insert technology here>?”  By applying a little forethought, or Progressive Enhancement, we can attempt to ensure that a site, application, or any experience scales UP nicely rather than trying to pare it DOWN to meet user needs.

This next part may seem controversial or heretical to some but a colleague and I were just comparing this approach to how Vista was delivered to the public.  Vista has all kinds of sexy and exciting visualization features that work really well on the right computer.  However, if your computer isn’t “the right computer” the experience can be pretty painful out of the box.

Run the install or unpack the computer and you get hyper slow visualizations and the potential for crashes until the USER slowly turns off the unnecessary features.  This puts the user in the position of having to be in charge of their own “elegant” degradation when all they really wanted was to type a document, check their e-mail or surf the web.

After saying all that, it’s probably good that comments are disabled on this blog for now!