Responsive styles respecting old IE 6/7/8

I attended the second #anoraks talk last Thursday at AKQA in London. It was great to hear @denodell speak on responsive design. He did a really great job looking back at the past and some creative ideas for the future.

One thing which caught my attention was how he covered the topics of supporting older versions of IE. We’re in an intermediate stage with media queries where there are still a significant number of users out there who are on browsers which don’t support them.

Dennis covered a couple of valid options and I want to highlight a third which has worked really well for the responsive projects I have been involved with over the last 8 months.

With all these options you need to approach the build mobile first and not want to use jerky JavaScript polyfills.

Mobile version for IE 6/7/8

<link rel="stylesheet" href="core.css" />

The first option is to just serve the mobile site to any browser that doesn’t support media queries.

When this could be an option:

  • Analytics show a very small amount of users on those browsers
  • Client is completely aware and happy because of the time savings you may gain from this approach.
  • If the responsive nature of the site is so complex that the other two options aren’t feasible

Issues

  • You could be excluding a good number users from seeing important relevant content.
  • It may be very hard to persuade a client who currently uses IE8

Mobile version with IE specific stylesheet

<link rel="stylesheet" href="core.css" />

<!-- load all progressive styles for ie7/8 but not ie mobile:
     http://adactio.com/journal/4494/ -->
<!--[if (IE 6|IE 7|IE 8)&(!IEMobile)]>
<link rel="stylesheet" href="ie-old.css" />
<![endif]-->

This is when you serve the mobile first designs alongside a single style sheet loaded by IE using special comments. This takes the mobile site and makes small tweaks to use more of the width of a desktop screen.

When to consider this

  • If you are pretty happy with serving the mobile version but just want to make a few minor changes so that IE 6/7/8 fit the desktop a little btter

Issues

  • You’ll have more maintenance for the IE specific style sheet which has bit me in the past. So you don’t want a lot in this stylesheet.
  • You could be duplicating work and code.

Apply media queries incrementally

<link rel="stylesheet" href="core.css" />

<link rel="stylesheet" href="minw768.css" media="print, screen and (min-width:768px)" />
<link rel="stylesheet" href="minw990.css" media="print, screen and (min-width:990px)" />

<!-- load all progressive styles for ie7/8 but not ie mobile:
     http://adactio.com/journal/4494/ -->
<!--[if (IE 6|IE 7|IE 8)&(!IEMobile)]>
<link rel="stylesheet" href="minw768.css" />
<link rel="stylesheet" href="minw990.css" />
<![endif]-->

I code the css mobile first and then apply css for incrementing sizes according to a minimum width. We put those styles in separate style sheets with the appropriate media queries attached to the link tag.

Because IE 6/7/8 don’t understand media queries we reference them inside a special comment without the media queries.

Because the styles are incremental, when we have them all in the page for IE 6/7/8 you always get the desktop version of the site.

Considerations

  • When you need to support and serve a full desktop site to older versions of IE
  • You can have quite complicated media queries being used as long as they work incrementally.
  • You can also add media queries inside the files which you don’t want to affect desktop sizes. e.g. max-width:480px etc

Issues

  • You’ve got to remember to use styles incrementally
  • You often need to be overriding styles already set

Conclusion

I hope this gives a few ideas for implementing responsive designs. I am really enjoying building sites that work across devices. As always any questions or comments are welcome of course.

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Dave is a cohesive team member, widely popular with his colleagues and always inspiring quality, exploration and innovation. One of the true ‘greats’ we’ve had the pleasure to work with

I believe in community, in inspiration and creativity. I believe it's an inspired team and a laser focus on the user's experiece that will produce the best results. I want to help frontend teams live inspired, be productive and scale better.