Crash Test Dummies

Crash test dummie reading "Crash Testing for Dummies"No, this isn’t a post about the band. It’s about real crash testing, also known as progressive enhancement testing.

Of course, this had to be Another Progressive Enhancement Post, didn’t it!

Ever thought about why car manufacturers test their cars under crash conditions? Is it because people deliberately drive their cars into walls or ditches? No; not usually, anyway. They test the safety of their cars because we live in an unpredictable world where things go wrong, all the time. Exceptional circumstances surround us every single day. Often we experience near misses – sometimes we’re no so lucky.

In fact, things go wrong on the roads so often that we’ve created thousands laws and guidelines that try to minimise the possibility of these exceptional circumstances occurring. We have speed limits and training before anyone can get behind the wheel of a car. We have street lighting and pedestrian crossings, kerbstones and crash barriers.

Yet things still go wrong on our roads. Sometimes through carelessness and stupidity, sometimes though negligence. Sometimes the blame can’t really be applied to anyone in particular.

Car manufacturers invest in making their cars safe, so that when the unexpected happens – which, at some point, it will – the occupants and other road users are kept as safe as possible. We expect nothing less, and safety features are rightly promoted to help sell cars. That’s good; we should strive to create a safer world where possible.

Yet on the web it’s a different story. No-one believes that things never go wrong online. In fact in my experience there’s rarely a web browsing session where something didn’t break. Images fail to load, sites respond so slowly they appear to be down, JavaScript throws an error because two scripts from different 3rd parties can’t co-exist, web fonts don’t load and so text is invisible. The list of what could – and often does – go wrong when loading websites goes on, and on, and on.

What’s happening here? Do we as web developers, designers, business owners not realise the inherent unpredictability of the Internet? Do we not understand that the web was designed to be like this – to keep going even if all that is delivered to the browser is the HTML? No, many of us understand but sweep this reality under the carpet.

We are dummies.

We’re dummies because we chase after the latest JavaScript framework-du-jour without considering if it supports the core principles of the web. We overload our pages with unoptimised images and gargantuan CSS files generated by a pre-processor. We fail to deliver first and foremost what our users fundamentally require – the content.

We’re dummies because we leave the crash testing to our users – the very people we should be protecting from those exceptional circumstances! And then we have the gall to complain that they aren’t using the latest browser or operating system, or that their device is underpowered. Here’s the reality for you: even when browsing conditions are optimal, things still often go wrong.

So, in my opinion are JavaScript frameworks bad? Do I detest CSS pre-processors? Do I have an allergy to beautiful imagery online? No, of course not. It’s our use of these tools which I rail against. Enhance your pages as mush as you want, but start from the beginning. Semantic HTML content and forms.

Don’t be a dummy.