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Names have power(ful effects)

I’ve been a long time proponent of building things for the web using Progressive Enhancement. I even gave a talk about it at the UX SA conference a few years ago. These days I’m wondering if the name is a bit of a problem, in a similar way to how saying that you “do Agile” is. I’m wondering about talking more about the qualities and values, and less about the name.

A quick agility recap

(Capital A) Agile? (Lowercase a) agile? Eh, agile? Or just agility? There’s been lots of talk about being post-agile, perhaps most famously in Agile is Dead (Long Live Agility) by Dave Thomas. There are a lot of people who don’t like agile because they’ve had bad experiences of it. It seems like this is often in the form of things like SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) which tend to focus on the process and tools over the individuals and interactions (which seems a bit wonky when you look back at the manifesto).

My feeling is that some of the people that are strongly anti-agile that I talk to, or that I read posts written by, have experienced the dogma of it. They’ve been given a rulebook and told they must follow it, because then they’ll Be Agile and That Is Good. They maybe haven’t had the chance to experience (what I consider to be) the real core of it: inspect and adapt (in short loops).

The problem is that a terrible experience has become mentally linked with a specific word: agile. Now when someone mentions it, you might roll your eyes and switch off.

How this is similar to PE

I think a similar thing has happened with the term Progressive Enhancement. Over the years, some of the principles and ideals have become a bit misunderstood. The most extreme versions of the ideas have become interpreted as rules. “Be careful how you use your JavaScript” becomes “Don’t use JavaScript, ever.”

The (actual) underlying principles of a PE approach are ones that I think most people will generally get behind. Responsible Web Design. Inclusive Web Design. Resilient Web Design. But when we use the term PE when talking about these things, the mental shorthand that many people have goes to a bad place: super-nerd killjoys talking about supporting IE5 on a Mac.

No Name?

I would like to start using the term Inclusive Web Design as a kind of drop-in replacement for Progressive Enhancement (even though they’re not quite the same thing). But I think the same naming problem could occur. So perhaps I should be talk about the qualities that I value. Things like making sites responsible, inclusive, and resilient so that they can handle the wide range of user devices, networks connections, and disabilities.