A Portfolio and blog for Mustafa Kurtuldu

The dangers of designing for one browser

How we should always try to design for everyone

Ithought the phrase; “best viewed using Internet Explorer version 4.0 or higher” would have been killed off by now. It seems someone forgot to tell NASA. Ok to be fair that site is there for historical purposes, still, that message was littered all over the web in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.

These days we are bombarded with websites asking you to download their apps. So not much has changed.

In those early days browser share was in Internet Explorer’s court, they dominated the web and essentially won the browser wars. Then something odd happened, Microsoft stopped developing their browser. Internet Explorer 6 and the like were the bane of many developers as they had their quirks, so if you were trying to design a layout in one browser, you had to write a whole different set of code to make it look marginally similar for another one. In order to make a site cross-browser compatible you had to complete the same job multiple times and test it in not only each browser but in some cases versions as well. Of course, there was another way, choosing the most popular browser to develop and design for and then pasting the message above; “best viewed in browser X.”

In 2002 saw the release of Mozilla’s Firefox and users flooded to the new browser. This was followed by Apple’s Safari in 2003, Opera becoming freeware in 2005 and Chrome in 2008. The browser wars had heated up again. You would think with more choice came more freedom and opportunities for developers. However, more browsers meant more quirks and more development time. You can feel for the web designers and developers because it was difficult doing simple layout designs across all browsers, and it is this reason global usage and stat counters are so widely used as a bar to focus on.

Bruce Lawson on the set of Designer Vs Developer
Bruce Lawson on the set of Designer Vs Developer

n our conversation with Bruce Lawson, he spoke about Ignighter, a dating site set up in New York, which targeted the Jewish community, who wouldn’t usually go out on a singular date but rather in groups. The site helped organize these group dating sessions, where ten guys and ten girls would go out together. But despite positive press, the site never took off as New Yorker communities didn’t quite get it, “They thought it was a site for orgies,” founder Adam Sachs explained in The New York Times. That was until the founders noticed a large number of user signups in India. It turns out that communities there also had a social stigma attached to dating and preferred the group setting, so they rebranded as Stepout, relocated to Mumbai and became India’s biggest dating website. The point is that you never know where your customers will come from. So designing for yourself and your setup may prevent you from seeing golden opportunities.

“We always have a choice, either we remove complexity for the user or we leave it to the user to deal with complexity.”
-Sven Laqua, Head of UX, Digital Science

Ican empathize with the developer wanting to create their site based on their own experiences and usage, but this way of thinking has serious flaws. Yes, it is true that it is easier for the developer to work on what is currently popular, but ten years ago Chrome didn’t exist, and now it has a large market share. By focusing on one browser, you could end up like the NASA site above, left out of date for some smug designer to write an article about you many years later.

WebKit-based browsers such as Chrome and Safari are currently really popular, and the trend has shifted for site developers to focus on creating experiences on these two alone. This means people are penalized because of their technology status which, in some cases, they may not have chosen for themselves. We have made this mistake on many occasions. I feel there is a degree of ignorance and assumption when forcing people to use the tech you do. For the web to remain open, it requires all of us to keep that balance in check, as if any one company has complete control we could end up in the same situation as before, a web that is stagnant because the leading browser is no longer moving forward.


This article is for a new youtube series called “Designer Vs Developer”, which you can see here on our Youtube Chrome Channel. You can also listen to a longer version of the conversation by downloading or subscribing to our podcast.
First appeared in Creative Review.