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“But The Client Wants IE 6 Support!”

Frequently, when I discuss CSS3 with other developers, the issue of stubborn clients comes up. They tell me that even though they personally don’t think a website should look the same in all browsers and they’re eager to try all of these new techniques, their clients insist that their website should look the same, so the developers are stuck with the same Web development techniques that we used five to ten years ago. Their clients just don’t “get” graceful degradation.

Is this really the issue? Are our clients incapable of understanding these things? Is the problem that our clients don’t “get” the Web and need to be educated? I don’t think so. We got ourselves into this. We are the ones who caused this problem for our industry. We are the ones giving ourselves this trouble and making our profession less creative and enjoyable than it could be. It’s entirely our fault and no one else’s.

Wait, What? Link

If we choose to make a website pixel-perfect in Internet Explorer 6 to 8, then we are doing up to 100% more work. No matter how many frameworks, polyfills and other scripts we use to ease our pain, we will always be doing at least 30% more work for those browsers. How many of us actually charge 30-100% extra for this work? I haven’t heard of many who do. Clients get this kind of extra work for free, so of course they will say that they want IE 6 support. If I was a client, maybe I’d say so, too, especially if I didn’t know how these technologies work. They won’t care about our extra time if we don’t care enough ourselves to charge for it accordingly.

Of course, faster download times and better SEO are compelling arguments, but let’s face it: one of the biggest advantages of the new CSS features and new JavaScript APIs is the huge chunk of development time they save us, including making maintenance easier and quicker. As long as that doesn’t translate to reduced costs, clients will not care. And that’s perfectly understandable and natural.

Money always wins.1
Money always wins the argument. (Image: HikingArtist2)

I don’t do much client work these days, but every time I’ve taken on a client project in my career, I’ve always presented options for browser support to my client. They want pixel perfection in IE 7? It will cost them more. They want IE 6 support? It will cost double. I explain to them that this is because I will have to do double as much work for this browser. I’ve never had a single client opt to pay more to fully support older browsers. If it doesn’t come free, you’d be surprised at how many don’t care about it as much as you think. But even if they do, at least I will have enough motivation to do it without hating them, my job, browser makers and the universe. It’s fairer for everyone, including me.

“They’ll Just Go To Another Professional Who Doesn’t Charge Extra” Link

Whatever you do, don’t let the client think that you are charging extra for doing the same work as another professional. Not only will that look bad, but it’s also inaccurate. Explain to them that you just want to give them options and not decide on your own which browsers to support and charge for accordingly, without ever involving them in the process and letting them have a say about it.

How Much More? Link

You might have noticed that I implied above that supporting old Internet Explorers requires 30 to 100% more time. That’s a huge range, isn’t it? Actually, it should be even wider. I remember a case of a client coming to me with a CSS challenge that his developers weren’t able to solve. Making something that worked in modern browsers took me half an hour, then an hour to make it work in IE 8, and then three(!) more hours to get it to work in IE 7. Who knows how much longer it would’ve taken if I had to support IE 6, too! And that wasn’t the only occasion when it took me very little time to build a prototype that works in modern browsers and then a grossly disproportionate amount of extra time to make it work the same way in old Internet Explorers. If you’ve been in the field for more than a year, I’m sure this has happened to you, too.

On the other hand, if you don’t use any modern technology and you stick to CSS 2.1, then I guess you would only have to face the old IE bugs, which would take some extra time but not double. Or, if you used a ton of frameworks and polyfills, you would still have to spend some time making them work together and debugging potential conflicts, but still not double the time. 30% was an estimate for cases like those.

As you can see, the range is huge and depends on a number of different factors, including but not limited to the following:

  • You
    How modern are your development techniques? The more cutting-edge they are, then the more effort you will need to put into making good fallbacks or coming up with alternative techniques for old Internet Explorers (but less effort to make the original prototype)
  • The project
    If it’s a brochure website, the main thing that will need extra effort in order to work in old IEs is the styling. If it’s a Web application, it gets way trickier (and more time-consuming).
  • Level of support
    Supporting a browser is not black and white, either no support or full support. How good your fallbacks need to be will greatly determine how much extra time you have to spend on them.

So, I’m sorry but I can’t tell you how much extra you will need to charge to support old Internet Explorers. You’ll have to decide yourself, case by case, taking all relevant factors into consideration.

“But What If They Just Want To Pay For Firefox?” Link

Of course, there is a baseline of browser support that I won’t go below, even if the client doesn’t want to pay for it. We have a responsibility to ourselves and to the Web to follow the principle of universality3. Even if a client wants to pay only for Firefox support, for example, my responsibility is to ensure that the website is still functional in the other browsers. Even if they are not willing to pay for mobile support, my responsibility as a Web developer is to at least add some media queries and make it decent there. Even if they don’t care about accessibility, my responsibility is to make the website somewhat accessible. These things don’t take up much time anyway, and they should be factored into even your lowest price.

So, What To Do With Old IEs? Link

So, what do I do for those wise clients who don’t want to pay for support of old Internet Explorers? Usually, I try to keep graceful degradation in mind and provide decent fallbacks for old browsers, so that at least the content is accessible in them. But in cases of really naughty browsers, like IE 6 and 7, sometimes even graceful degradation doesn’t work very well. Then, what I usually do is split my CSS into three files:

  • base.css
    Fonts, basic colors, etc.
  • screen.css
    Everything specific to the screen. Most of the CSS goes here.
  • print.css
    Print-specific styles, such as for hiding contact forms, etc.

Then, I just don’t serve screen.css to IE 7 and below. They get something like a print style sheet, without the hidden elements. It’s not very pretty, and it’s not modern, but at least they get the content. The same could be done with JavaScript. Check whether an API is present before using it, or simply don’t serve those script files to old Internet Explorers. If you’ve coded your JavaScript properly and it’s unobtrusive and all, then old browsers won’t get that extra functionality, but they won’t get JavaScript errors and broken functionality either. All of those require minimal effort on your part.

“Does That Mean I Always Have To Charge Less For Using Modern Stuff?” Link

While discussing my point of view with another developer, he asked me, “So, you’re saying that I shouldn’t charge more if I use responsive design and add a bunch of media queries?” Absolutely not! I’m not saying we should feel sorry for being cutting-edge or punish ourselves for that with less income! What I’m barely advocating is the common-sense idea of charging more for more hours of work. If you code some JavaScript that does the same thing that media queries do, then of course you should charge more for the JavaScript, because it will take you more time. But if you weren’t going to do anything like that, and the media queries were icing on the cake, then of course you should charge them more than you would for a non-responsive version of the website.

Conclusion Link

We may love what we do, but we certainly don’t love catering to the whims of old browsers. We do a lot of extra work to hide their incompetence, and that work needs to be compensated for properly. You don’t have to work for free, especially on something you don’t like doing. Explain the situation to your clients and they’ll understand how it goes, I promise. After all, “extra work = higher costs” is an established rule in every industry. The concept is not hard to grasp, and it makes the benefit of modern Web technologies much more tangible for technologically unsavvy clients.

What do you think? Link

How do you account for browser support in the pricing of your work? Do you charge extra for legacy browsers or do you provide a basic version of the design to legacy browsers? Let us know and leave a comment!


Footnotes Link

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Lea is currently busy doing research in Human-Computer Interaction at MIT CSAIL. She has previously written an advanced CSS book for O’Reilly (CSS Secrets) and worked as a Developer Advocate at W3C. She has a long-standing passion for open web standards, and is one of the few Invited Experts in the CSS Working Group. Lea has also started several popular open source projects and web applications, such as Prism, Dabblet and -prefix-free and maintains a technical blog at Despite her academic pursuits in Computer Science, Lea is one of the few misfits who love code and design equally.

  1. 1

    Recently, my work place and I stopped supporting IE6. All of our clients request browser support to IE7+. Also, I figured that the only way to make people stop using IE6 is by forcing them to upgrade. So, the websites that I build usually have a redirect custom page error that tells the user that their browser is out of date, and provides them with links to the latest browsers to upgrade.

    I think if we all start forcing users to upgrade, we can eventually kill IE6!!!! If people can protest in millions to take down their leaders and governments, we sure can start blocking IE6 users to make them upgrade…

  2. 2

    Totally agreed!

    • 3

      Dennis Jenders (@djenders)

      November 7, 2011 11:17 am

      The problem here is not that we should be charging extra, but that as professionals we should know the requirements going in. If you know that 20-30% of visits are coming from IE6 or IE7 then you will be able to properly quote the project from the beginning.

      The real problem is that many designers are only concerned with design masturbation and that many front-end professionals only want to do cutting edge work with CSS3.

      The reality is that if the site is primarily about consuming content it doesn’t need to be over designed or over worked in HTML5 and CSS3. I’m all about pushing standards forward. As professionals we should be mad at W3C and the lack of getting new standards out quickly. That combined with the decline of IE that we are seeing could help jump start innovation again in the browser world.

      When I started back in 1994 we had new HTML rules and markup happening every six months. Nowadays it’s about plugin architecture, socializing the browser and other non-critical improvements.

  3. 4

    It seems like a fairly common sense approach to, what is becoming, the most annoying part of webdesign: supporting a browser which should have died many years ago!

  4. 5

    You couldn’t say that much clearer! I agree.

  5. 6

    lol I haven’t read the article yet but just had to comment… I arrived on the page, saw the title and couldn’t help but LOL.

    (Beavis voice) “DIE IE! DIE!!”…

    • 7

      And now that I’ve read it, I completely agree… charging them more is completely appropriate. We should have been doing this from the beginning!

  6. 8

    ho! ho!
    Yeah… it is happening. Client don’t want to lose the share of the less tech savy customers.. who still prefer to stick to IE6. In asian countries.. IE6 still has the share!

    So, more or less.. run or hide..! Some client deliberately want the support for IE6!

    • 9

      The question is then do those viewers contribute any revenue to your company.

      If they don’t, who cares?

    • 10

      Tech savy is not really relevant, if your customer’s primary customer is mostly corporate users, it can come down to an upgrade cost. I have one customer that 38% of page hits still come from IE6 and their business is primarily US based. Corporate structure is such a burden at times.

      • 11

        I work on a huge webapp in a company that sells only to corporate users. We currently only support IE9, not even IE8 because the cost of including new machines with an OS that supports IE9 is much lower for my company than to pay developers to support older versions as well.

    • 12

      Lets face it in Asian countries IE6 only has majority share because of the prevalence of cracked windows os in use. If they can’t upgrade because they are using illegal software who cares?

  7. 13

    John McClumpha

    November 3, 2011 5:53 am

    Always an interesting, and often challenging position to be in with clients. The approach we take is to support current major, and previous major release of chrome/firefox/ie/safari by default with others (charged for) upon request, with the proviso that support is via graceful degradation, rather than 100% consistency. Of course the issue of how to best handle different resolutions, particularly with the rise in mobile device use, comes into play on top of all this.

  8. 14

    Johan van Tongeren

    November 3, 2011 5:57 am

    Good article and I do agree on charging more for the extra work involved in supporting older browsers. They difficulty is in selling this the client. You’ll have explain them why IE6 is more expensive. Why they didn’t pay extra when they had theire old website built and now they do have to.

  9. 15

    So long as you make it a business case then generally the client will agree, if your reason for not supporting IE6 is that you don’t like it then you will have a lot of pain in this industry :)

    Cool article Lea

  10. 16

    Amanda Soehnlen

    November 3, 2011 5:59 am

    One of the things that I’ve found the most helpful is that if you can get some analytics, don’t say ‘327 out of 16,384 visitors use Internet Explorer 6’ because 327 people is still a large amount when you think about it -AS PEOPLE-. If you asked someone what % 327 is of 16384, they’re going to inflate the %, because 327 is a relatable number of people – you can invision it – and 16 thousand is not.

    If you say ‘2%’, that helps keep it in perspective. It’s even better if it’s like my situation, where IE6 users are only 0.5% of our total visitors.

    • 17

      Excellent, excellent point!! I love such small but very real insights in human psychology.

    • 18

      Sam Parmenter

      November 8, 2011 8:29 am

      I agree to an extent but you are trying to mislead the customer into agreeing with you. Its not quite so cut and dry in most cases when it comes to IE.

      What if you have a large client whose workforce is limited to IE6 but their business makes up 30% of your revenue. Purely statistically they may represent 0.5% of users but if you ignore them you won’t be losing 0.5% of revenue.

      I know that showing them numeric figures that represent that same user base won’t be strictly any different but as you say, 350 sounds like a large number of people even if it is a very small percentage of the user base.

      We need to understand the clients needs and also the context in which they sit to be able to honestly and accurately provide them with the best site for their business.

  11. 19

    Unfortunately, that’s true…

  12. 20

    Agreed… Thanks for conclusion :D

  13. 21

    I’m not 100% sure that supporting IE7 and * is actually “extra work”. A lot of our clients won’t have a very good grip on the web – some don’t even know that there are other browsers exist apart from Internet Explorer. I agree with you that it does take a LOT longer to support older browsers and doing it is a pain in the a**, just not sure whether it consitutes extra work or work to be included in a project anyway?

    I like the comment above about using analytics to support your case on browser usage.

    • 22

      The overarching problem, I think, is that it’s a vicious cycle – we support the older browsers, making them continue to “work,” even when they shouldn’t, because that’s what the customer wants; the customer wants that support, because the older browsers “still work,” even when they actually don’t (thanks to us making it that way).

      Even in the case of the large enterprises (which make up the lion’s share of at least the US IE6 following), they fight to keep IE6 because it’s what “works” with their software and upgrading even to IE7 will break another mult-million-dollar title (regardless of the fact that the software arguably never really “worked” to begin with, because it was so utterly dependent on a very specific version of another software title, making it defective by design).

      • 23

        Sam Parmenter

        November 8, 2011 8:40 am

        That is an interesting topic of discussion I think. I have seen a number of very expensive systems that keep a company on IE6 or 7 for fear of breaking everything if they upgrade. The system itself is not not very complex or well built but regardless of its true value, if you have paid £2 million for a system, that it how much you believe it to be worth.

        We worked with a bowling company who’s software cost a small fortune and we were quoting £20,000 to replace it with a better system. They didn’t want to believe that they had paid crazy money for the old system that was only worth a fraction of what they paid.

        Large companies with deep pockets are usually the culprit in these matters.

  14. 24

    Hi Lea,
    Very interesting write-up, nice job!

    I like the approach of putting a quantative cost on supporting old browsers to help explain to clients, the varying degrees of support of cross browser support.

    Though one important thing to remember, is that in theory the client shouldn’t even need to make descisions of cross-browser compatibility. It is the responsibility of the developer to do appropriate research (in collaboration with the client) into the website’s target audience to help determine an appropriate plan for levels of support.

    For example:

    Perhaps a client has a really great idea for a council tax management application for local authorities to use. But they do not want to support IE6, as they are on a budget. However research would find that UK government is using IE6, so IE6 support would then be crucial for rollout.

    Whereas on the other extreme a client wants a “tech blog” created for them. Then the sites audiance is likely to be tech savy and running the latest browsers.

    So the client shouldn’t really be given the choice for what browsers are supported per-say, instead the web developer in their proposal should contruct a “support table” appropriate to the clients needs and provide a balanced quote reflecting support. A nice example is a support table that the BBC have contructed

    However of course clients have budgets that they need to adhere to, so I love the idea of giving them quantitative costs to browser support. But this should be backed up with what the web developer’s research uncovers. So then the client can make informed descisions on where they wish to spend there money e.g. if pixel perfect support IE6 will only help 1% of their audience and it’s going to cost them 10% more, then they probably won’t go for it.

    Great write up, it got me thinking, keep up the good work.


    • 25

      I totally agree. You have to take traffic into account, not just gripe about having to do something the “old way”. This article is merely about increasing charges for work you don’t want to do as a way to buy yourself out of coding something correctly for today’s traffic patterns where there are easier methods (for half the traffic) that cause you less headache.

      Will you risk your client’s visitors perceiving a lack of quality in her company 40% of the time because you want to take the easy way out.

      Stats for a consumer site may well be in the 40% range for IE 6/7/8 usage. You’re telling me you’re not going to design for them because it’s too difficult? You shouldn’t be putting the client in that situation to listen to you basically tell her that’s she’s not intelligent for wanting to support 40% of traffic with nice design details. Worst case, you don’t realize that IE traffic (being average consumers) accounts for most of her online business, and you may be borderline negligent in leading her to believe you.

      If design is in the details, let the traffic stats guide your decisions. While you can attempt to “educate” a client, you cannot “educate” her site visitors. It just needs to work. It just need to reflect her brand the same crossbrowser. You’re just not taking that seriously. I’m starting to sense that this “education” is ingenuine and merely letting the client know what’s easiest for us.

      Do you see or NOT concern themselves with IE7. No, you don’t. Why? Because they want their brand to be reflected well crossbrowser. I hope that blows your mind. Crossbrowser branding. It’s all in the details that you don’t want to take the time to work out, the corner pngs, the shadow pngs, the IE filter styles.

      If you overuse css3 box-shadows and text-shadows and border-radiuses and rgba, then you really risk your client’s site looking like a dog in 40% of browsers to their potential customers. If those 40% of customers get the feel that this design isn’t as nice as another company’s (a company that put the time in), they may perceive a lack of quality in this site and go to the other company.

      Will you risk your client’s visitors perceiving a lack of quality in her company 40% of the time because you want to take the easy way out.

    • 26

      Great point Alex,

      I’m an in-house web developer for the UK’s National Health Service, the hospital where I’m based only uses IE6. This means that although I’m responsible for developing our external website (more people use IE9 than IE6 to view it) I find myself ensuring IE6 compatibility because my manager and others in the hospital use IE6.

      The NHS (and I imagine the rest of the public sector) are starting to go to IE7 (not much of an improvement) as the companies that provide the web apps that we use have updated these apps to be compatible.

      Excellent story and a great way to start the work day!

  15. 27

    I totally agree, but what about a project in a big organisation (> 100.000 users) and 2000 web-users a day, where the default browser (and almost the only one) ie7 is….?!
    Even upgrading to ie9/10 is a pain in the ass :(

    • 28

      Petar Subotic

      November 3, 2011 6:46 am

      Koos touched on a important alternative that the article overlooked, and that is including an option to encourage the visitors upgrade to a new version.

      There are some really neat solutions out there, like this one from Microsoft:

      • 29

        I didn’t overlook it, I just don’t think it’s relevant.

        Also, in my experience most users just ignore these notifications. :(

    • 30

      That’s where you let the stats for your particular site and circumstances guide you, particularly if you’re stuck with that situation (ie – you’re an employee vs a potential contractor; or it’s an otherwise very lucrative gig).

      The problem with articles such as Lea’s is that there are always fringe cases. When speaking generally, such as in this article, the assumption is that the sum usage of the modern browsers are the majority (and for Chrome and Firefox, in particular, this is a pretty safe assumption, thanks to quiet updating), because this article isn’t just written for here and now, but will remain visible and will be referenced for years to come. If you have the stats for your particular site, though, it then comes down to what your needs are. If the vast majority of your users never see something more modern than IE7, then you’re probably better off baselining for IE7 and maybe “rewarding” users of newer browsers with touches of progressive enhancement.

      Even then, though, you actually *are* setting your baseline for IE7, instead of the modern browsers. And doing so is akin to setting your baseline support for any other application to 32-bit Windows XP or Windows 2000, because that’s what your client has, versus setting your baseline support to 64-bit Windows 7 and backporting to 32-bit and Windows XP.

  16. 31

    I think the higher cost will depend on what you are building. I work with a team that recently made the decision that ie 6 was not supported. The result, even horizontal floating lists are broken. If you’ve coded through ie 6 life span, most things will just work. Jquery will work. Most layout issues will be fixed with position relative and display inline. So higher cost, I say only if there’s cutting edge stuff that will require you to do extra work. Otherwise, the client wants it, the client gets it.

    • 32

      Exactly. Totally agree. Most truly experienced developers already have worked these techniques out including filters to make pngs and png bg’s work in IE6, etc, like we do. It’s basic stuff from site to site for someone with true experience.

  17. 33

    Totally agree with this. We’ve recently started not supporting IE6 as standard, with us instead adding additional charges if the client wants it supported.

    Some clients, such as the public sector have to have IE6 support because many of them are still running Windows XP with IE6, and will need it to both view and manage a CMS, but generally we are finding our clients are happy with graceful degredation.

    It does help that Microsoft themselves are keen for the browser to go as well (, and that along with stating the market share that IE6 has, as Amanda pointed out, means that clients will generally agree.

  18. 34

    An interesting post.

    I approach it from a different angle because saying you’ll charge double to support multiple browsers never goes down to well.

    I say something like this:

    “To get this site to work across a lot of old browsers will probably mean you will need to scale back on the fancy things you wanted on the site. We may have to use decade old scripts and techniques to make sure it will work in decade old browsers. We need to make this site as no-thrills as possible to get the site built in the time-scale / budget available.”

    Usually that’s enough to make them REALLY think about it. More importantly it triggers the RIGHT questions like “Why?” or “What’s the alternatives?”. You get to the same point as this post but you do it in a way that doesn’t make the client run straight for the door :)

    • 35

      If you’re only making it really fancy for 50-60% of visitors who may not even be the target average consumer, what is the point?

  19. 36

    Just an idea to show how obsolete IE6 is. That year – in 2001 – NOKIA released 3320, 6310, 5510 and 7650 ( 4mb memory, 176x208px display ). Try to use facebook or youtube on those phones, this is how old IE6 is.

    • 37

      Adam Coulombe

      November 3, 2011 4:21 pm

      completely irrelevant?!

      • 38

        I’d say completely relevant. Most people don’t realize that computer technology has a significantly smaller lifespan than most other things. Therefore, they need an analogy they can relate to, one where they understand that a given time frame may not seem like much, but is a lot for a given item.

  20. 39

    It’s an interesting approach. You’d almost want to give clients a list of browsers and have them check which browsers they want support for. In essence; checking more boxes equals charging more. I’d support that!

    However, to single out IE6 is understandable, but only covers the surface. In my experience, making a site work in IE6 is not that painful. Maybe the sites I make are not that advanced, maybe the way I code is smart enough for IE6 to (mostly) understand it, I don’t know…but I never have to spend all THAT much time to fix IE6 issues. Definitely not 30-100% (more like 10% perhaps?).

    I personally get more headaches from making things work in Safari iOS, but in fairness, those are not really CSS3/modern issues. I fully agree that it will take craploads of work to make CSS3 effects work in IE6 of course, that DOES take 30-100% extra.

    But I’m sure that was the point of this article anyways. I just got carried away a bit, cause one of my pet peeves is that people blame IE6 too easily too often. ;)

    • 40

      Agreed. It’s a small amount of time for an experienced designer/developer. Browsers are what they are. Traffic patterns are what they are. IE is 50%+ total on consumer sites. Is it the client or the designer trying to shrug that responsibility off?


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