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Do Websites Need to Look Exactly the Same in Every Browser?

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Do websites need to look exactly the same in every browser? Let’s find out.
From the book
  • I’ve always thought of myself as an 80 percenter. I like to throw myself passionately into a sport or activity until I reach about an 80 percent proficiency level. To go beyond that requires an obsession and degree of specialization that doesn’t appeal to me.
  • —Yvon Chouinard, Let My People Go Surfing, founder and owner, Patagonia, Inc.

Ever try talking to (or working with) someone who is 100% obsessed with a single task? The danger is that they’ll get bogged down in details. Every detail. On the other hand, an “80 percenter,” as Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard defines it, might eventually learn to know which details to focus on. Determining which details are the most important and beneficial can be just as useful as knowing them all.

Like Yvon, I’d also call myself an 80 percenter. It doesn’t mean I’m lazy; it means I acknowledge the possibility of being obsessive about details that might not matter as much to others.

If we apply this thinking to Web design, it’s easy to become obsessive about details. Years ago, I used to pride myself in being able to implement designs down to the pixel-level across every browser I could get my hands on. I wasn’t alone, of course. Back in the days of nested tables and spacer GIF shims, accessibility, findability, flexibility, and other -ibilities didn’t matter. What mattered was that a design rendered exactly the same—no matter what.

We’ve come a long way since then. And so have browsers. The speed in which browsers are adopting standards has increased rapidly. We’ve spent the last two chapters talking about CSS3 goodies that some browsers are already implementing—before the spec is even finished. This accelerated adoption is exciting, and arms us designers with more tools to work with and techniques to make our lives easier. However, not every browser is on the same track, and therefore we need to be careful about what we pick and choose to utilize.

But most important, is a shift in thinking: It’s okay if a design looks slightly different in one browser than it does in another. Once the designer and decision makers accept this, and embrace it, it’s then that the concept of progressive enrichment can be fully leveraged.

So. Do websites need to look exactly the same in every browser? Let’s find out.

The Answer I’m Sticking to

When I registered the domain, I set out to design the appropriate answer in a simple, straightforward manner (Figure 4.1). While somewhat humorous, this simplistic site actually renders differently, depending on the browser you’re viewing it in (more on that in a bit).

Now that we’ve answered the question this chapter’s title asks, I think we can move on.

No? If only it were that simple.

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