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  1. Service manual
  2. Technology
  3. Designing for different browsers and devices

Your service must be universally accessible. This means building it to work on every browser or device that your users access it on.

Meeting the Digital Service Standard

Designing for different browsers and devices will help you to pass point 10 (test the end-to-end service) of the Digital Service Standard.

In your service assessments, you’ll have to explain:

  • how you’ve made sure your service works on your users’ devices and browsers
  • your plan for ensuring this is continually reviewed

To pass point 13 (make the user experience consistent with GOV.UK) you must be able to demonstrate that your service works on mobile devices.

Test for compatibility

Technology is always changing, so users’ experience of your service will vary according to the technical capabilities of their browsers and devices.

Not all browsers will render web pages in the same way. There are often visible differences in the ways that different browsers handle technologies like CSS, HTML and JavaScript.

Services don’t have to look perfect in every browser but users must be able to access and use all the information and features they need, regardless of which browser they use.

Use progressive enhancement to give your service the best possible chance of working for the majority of your users.

Browsers to test in

If you’re building a service for the general public and not solely for use in government, you should test it in the browsers in this table:

Operating system Browser Support
Windows Internet Explorer 8 functional
  Internet Explorer 9+ compliant
  Edge (latest versions) compliant
  Google Chrome (latest versions) compliant
  Mozilla Firefox (latest versions) compliant
macOS Safari 9+ compliant
  Google Chrome (latest versions) compliant
  Mozilla Firefox (latest versions) compliant
iOS Safari 9+ compliant
  Google Chrome (latest versions) compliant
Android Google Chrome (latest versions) compliant
Windows Phone Internet Explorer (latest versions) compliant

Understanding the table

Each browser is assigned a level of support that your service should meet.

‘Compliant’ means your service must look as good as it does in other modern browsers.

If a browser is assigned a ‘functional’ level of support, it means your service might not look perfect in that browser but must still be usable.

In both cases, users must be able to access the information they need or be able to complete their task without layout issues causing any problems (for example vital information or form fields becoming less visible, or inconsistencies causing them to lose confidence).

‘Latest versions’ refers to the latest stable version and the version immediately before that.

This list in the table is based on usage statistics for GOV.UK and represent approximately 95% of the most popular browsers.

Testing for services that are for government use

If your service is aimed at internal users rather than the general public you should use the browsers in the table as a starting point, then use your own analytics data to decide an appropriate level of support.

Design for your audience

When designing your service, you should analyse your users’ choice of:

  • operating systems
  • browsers
  • browser versions
  • screen size/resolutions
  • choice of mobile device

If evidence shows that your users have specific needs or extra support requirements, you can use this to make a case for not meeting these browser requirements.

For example, the trade tariff team chose not to tailor their tool to smaller screens as it’s largely used by office workers working during office hours. Equally, if your audience is likely to include those working in the public sector, there may be higher use of older, more limited browsers.

As your digital service develops, you should encourage more people to use it (this is called ‘channel shift’). You should also consider how this may affect future usage patterns. Channel shift means you must also consider your potential future audience.

Adapt to changing behaviour

Decisions about compatibility can’t be something you specify at the start of your project and then forget about. Digital services need to reflect and adapt to the changing digital behaviour of their users.

Do this by researching your users and checking statistics on a regular basis. You must also make sure there’s an obvious way for users to report problems so you can carry out additional testing and make adjustments to your service.

New products and platforms might not appear in any data, but it makes sense for you to test against them if they’re likely to be popular.

You also have to work out when to stop supporting a product or system if its popularity is declining.

You may also find the Progressive enhancement guide useful.

Published by:
Technology community (frontend development)
Last update:

The list of browsers to test in has been updated.

The table has been updated to reflect current usage.

  1. h3 on browsers to test

    Clarified the different ways of testing depending on services which are for the public and which are for government use.