Don’t break my browser!

The sins web designers and developers commit are many, but few strike fear in my heart like sites that break the functionality of my browser. Seriously. If you can’t design a website that allows me to use my back or forward buttons, bookmark a specific page or print without having to use a “Print this page” link, you have failed at a very basic level.

This all stems form an experience I had tonight with the Tourism Montreal site. Apart from being an overly busy site, the Javascript used for the animations is flawed and causes numerous browser hiccups. Maybe they only tested it in IE on the PC? Who knows. However, the true mortal sin was this pleasantly written little box that popped up when I tried to leave the homepage.

Montreal Warning

What’s wrong with this, you may ask? Well first of all, it’s written in a very authoratative tone that isn’t at all pleasant. “WARNING!”. To me this says “GO AWAY!”. It’s in all caps which screams at you. It’s not friendly in any way. Just because I’m a little bit of a rebel I tried using my back button. It seemed to work just fine, but I’m wondering why on earth someone would scream this at their users and who thinks that’s a good idea? If you can’t make a site that works without breaking my back button, you’ve failed.

This is also one of the number one concerns with Flash sites. Most Flash sites take away the browser’s back button, they don’t allow you to bookmark specific content or pages. This is why we use content replacement techniques that take advantage of javascript libraries and allow users to continue to use their browser as normal even in full Flash sites such as MLS Architects and Journeyman Film. We don’t want to inhibit users from their normal behaviour.

The same holds true for printing. Users should be able to print content (especially text content) without having to resort to a special “Print this page” button. Print style sheets have been around for a very long time, yet very few designers use them on a regular basis. I have to admit, we’re part of that crew sometimes too, but we’re trying to include it as part of everything we do from now on. Some examples of this behaviour can be found at and MarlinShare, which we recently completed. It’s quite straightforward and easier to implement than a “Print this page” feature.

A big part of following web standards is ensuring that sites are accessible to as many people as possible. If you are scaring users with poorly-crafted warning messages and not allowing them to use their browser, not are you missing the letter of web standards, you’re missing the spirit of standards too.

Previously posted on

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