Javascript: Complete degradation

I've recently been conducting further research into good accessibility techniques - specifically website behaviour based on the availability of Javascript.

As you may be aware the vast majority of web designers - many of whom make a living from this industry - still fail to invest the extra time required to ensure that their websites are accessible to the minority who browse without Javascript active. There is a strong why should I bother? mindset when weighed up against the extra unnecessary development time. I say unnecessary because clients almost always overlook these important issues, rendering them unnessesary from most business perspectives.

The question of this observation

It doesn't take a genius to recognise the power of Javascript, or the flexibility it provides us with. We can achieve a great many things more than would be possible without the language. But even so why should our websites and software applications become any less attractive, or in worse cases inoperative without it? Just because we don't have Javascript doesn't mean we don't still have all the power of languages such as CSS to utilise.

Now obviously the importance of Javascript depends on your website. A site heavily utilising the benefits of the language will suffer the effect of its deactivation far more than a website that does not. Therefore the more we use the language the more emphasis and time we should place on ensuring a backup plan for a worst-case scenario.

Putting it in context

So how does your site fair up? Does it utilise much Javascript, and more importantly if so how does handle without it? Your site may be like this one, and rely quite heavily on the language. It might be accessible too, and work without Javascript. But on the subject of your site ask yourself this; without Javascript is my website still as user-friendly and attractive? Furthermore if not; Is there anything I can do to improve on this?

Just because a website is still accessible without Javascript doesnt automatically make it user-friendly as well. And just because we dont have Javascript available doesnt mean we should take a back seat on aesthetic presentation!

So let's improve

We must analyse the type, context and quantity of the information our webpages are to hold, and with this decide which design and layout would best display that data, keeping in mind that we will not have the benefits of Javascript.

For this site I decided upon a two column layout; one column for content, the other for navigation. For your site it will no doubt be different, and generally speaking the size of the changes you will need to make to maximise on aesthetics and usability will generally stay relative to the amount of Javascript your fully operational website incorporates. More Javascript = more adjustments.

In summary

Creating a gracefully degrading web-based interface is not just about ensuring that all the content and links are still accessible. It is about ensuring that the best possible experience is sought with whatever toolkit is available, be it including Javascript or not.

Javascript is no longer the black seed it was in the 90s. With time, skill and discipline it can be a beautifully powerful tool to any web designers toolbox. But like everything else in web design, if we're going to use it then let's use it right.

Dated: 12/11/2006. Filed under: Web Design.


On 13th November 2006 Rik Lomas said:
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Slightly off-topic here, Steve, but I've tried your site without Javascript, just to check whether things like your menu still work, and I must say I rather like it more with the menu on the left. It's a lot easier to naviagate, and looks much better. The menu is nice, but after a few visits, it can get a bit gimmicky and hard to use. I would recommend having the site like it is without Javascript. Good article by the way!
On 13th November 2006 Stu said:
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Unobtrusive JS for the beginner:
On 13th November 2006 Steve Tucker said:
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@Rik: I can see exactly where you're coming from with that one! And I agree with you.

The site is clearer and easier to use without Javascript, due to the layout. Were it a functional website (ecommerce etc) or a client site I would opt for that layout rather than the main one. However being my own website with no real importance I reckon I can secrifice some ease of use for an aesthetic presentation which currently befits me best :)
On 13th November 2006 kitsimons said:
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It's the golden rule isn't it - is this feature of my site still usable without Javascript? If not, there's some work to do.

Nice article.
On 15th November 2006 mark rushworth said:
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I think the issue with javascript is simple - why are you using it? AJAX style stuff is great and will get you PR, but like 2advanced does with flash, do the wizz bang project, get notoriety then re-do the project in html so everyone can see it and it starts making money :)
On 15th November 2006 Steve Tucker said:
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But why shouldnt we have the notoriety AND the wizz bang at the same time?? With DOM manipulation that is possible. I've always felt that flash is not as accessible, or appriciable (from professional perspective) as Javascripting when done in the correct fashion. Besides, the most important argument for me is that I dont actually know flash... ;)

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